Biography of Bishop Athanasius Atule Usuh



Most Reverend Athanasius Atule Usuh was born to the family of the late Pa Joseph Usuh Anachi and Mama Edna Hilemo Usuh of Mbatyough, Mbagen in Buruku Local Government Area of Benue State on 2nd May, 1942. His mother gave birth to eleven children, Bishop Usuh was the second born. All of whom are now deceased except for the bishop and his younger brother, Emmanuel Ishosen Usuh.


The young Atule Usuh attended St. Theresa's Primary School Abwa from 1951 to 1958 graduating as a pioneer set. Most of the teachers in those days were Igbo. One of his teachers, Mr. Fabian Mwakama is still alive and in his nineties. After graduating from primary school, he went to RCM Abayol at Ukan in Ushongo Local Government Area where he taught for one year from 1959 to 1960. He was then transferred to RCM Kusuv in Mbatitiv, Yandev where he again taught for one year from 1960 to 1961. It was during this time that an old schoolmate of his who was already in the junior seminary while on holiday persuaded him to join the seminary. In response to the call to serve God in his vineyard, the young Atule discussed his desire with his then parish priest, Father Sherwood of St. John's parish Gboko, who advised him to take the entrance examination into the junior seminary. He got the admission and studied at St. James Junior Seminary Keffi from 1961 to 1965. In the junior seminary, his talents in music and sports were evident as he was made the choirmaster and football captain of the school. Leaving the junior seminary, he taught for a while at the then St. Augustine's Teachers College Lafia in 1966.


The urge to continue his call to the priesthood began to come to fruition when he was admitted to the Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu in September 1966. He recalls that all text books were in Latin and it was very challenging. His sojourn at Bigard lasted just three months because the outbreak of Nigeria civil war occasioned his departure from the eastern part of the country in November 1966. Fr. Donald Murray (who later became Bishop Murray) had asked Fr. Rooney to go to Enugu and bring the seminarians back to Makurdi. The young Athanasius Atule Usuh received his cassock and tonsure and went back to teach at St. Augustine's Teachers Training College, Lafia. The then Northern Ecclesiastical Province faced with stranded seminarians sought for permission from Rome to begin a seminary of its own in 1967.


This seminary, St. Augustine's Major Seminary started at Keffi to cater for returning seminarians. It is worthwhile to note that the sojourn in Keffi was only temporary and just after a year, the seminary moved from Keffi to Jos, where it stated in a primary school building at Dogon Dutse. The war had sent many families away and populations in these schools were heavily decimated creating room for the nascent seminary. Here the seminary stayed for a year and half, then moved to its permanent site at Rafinpa. At the seminary, the young seminarian Athanasius Usuh was an active football player and an avid choir master. His love and mastery of the football game earned him the school captaincy from his third year until graduation day. He was also for many years the seminary's choirmaster and music teacher with the help of Sr. Camel Dodd. While in the seminary, Bishop Usuh was made the first editor of the Awakening Light, the seminary magazine.


The young seminarian was also for many years involved in teaching at the St. Louise College Jos where he was a History and English Language teacher. He was also at this time heavily involved in sports development in the school. The priestly ordination of Fr. Usuh took place on 19th December, 1971 at St. John's Parish Gboko. On this day, seven deacons were ordained priests {Fathers Edward Maaer, Moses Adasu, Athanasius Usuh, Stephen Beba, Benjamin Adzor, Dominic Yuhe and Simon Ivever} in their third year of theology and they had to go back to the seminary to complete their studies in 1972. The two surviving in that class are Bishop Usuh and Father Stephen Beba. On the successful completion of his studies, Father Athanasius Usuh was posted to St. Patrick's Parish Taraku in January 1973. At Taraku, the young priest was interested in youth activities and their formation. This interest led to his founding a football team, The mosquitoes, a team of under -13 boys who mesmerized the entire state with their skills.


The life of a priest is basically a missionary one and so, by December 1974, Father Usuh was transferred to Sacred Heart Parish Udei where he served until early December 1975. By January 1976, he was again called to take up a new challenge; His Bishop sent him to the St. Augustine Major Seminary Jos. At the seminary apart from his duties as a lecturer, he was made a dean of formation and director of music. While working at the seminary in Jos, he was also appointed as the Diocesan Vocations' Director. He spent two and half years in the seminary and was sent to the United States of America to study at the Catholic University, Washington D.C. His interest was liturgical music. Bishop Murray initially objected to this and wanted him to study religious education. So, he started studying religious education and later changed his course to music. He completed his studies in liturgical music and returned to the Diocese in 1980. In 1981, he was appointed Rector of St. James Minor Seminary, Makurdi where he stayed for five years. During this time, he was responsible for selecting and forming students who will be trained as future priests for the Diocese.


It was based on his love for soccer and his organisational skills that the Benue State Government made him chairman of the State Football Association from 1984 to 1985. Gate takings at the stadia rose by over 300%. Having served well as chairman of Benue Football Association, the state placed another responsibility on his shoulders to serve as chairman of the Benue State Christians Pilgrim Welfare Board after the tenure of Bishop Achigili of the Methodist church. In 1986, he was appointed parish priest of Holy Ghost Parish, Makurdi and was also the Vicar General of the Diocese. He had a fulfilled ministry at Holy Ghost Parish and was very happy. In November, 1987, Fr. Athanasius Usuh was appointed a Coadjutor Bishop for the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi to replace the soon to retireBishop Donald J. Murray, CSSp. Fr. Usuh's Episcopal ordination took place on the 6th of January, 1988 in Rome and he was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. He was installed the first indigenous Bishop of Makurdi Diocese on the 21st of October, 1989.


Bishop Usuh chose his motto: Lord I am not worthy Ter M Kuma Ga. According to him, this saying captured the circumstances leading up to his becoming bishop and the challenges ahead. It was also a sign of deep humility for the honour given him to serve as a bishop. He felt he was not the most intelligent of his mates, yet God found him worthy to be the Bishop. So he submitted in humility to God's will in his life. Since he took over the leadership of the Diocese twenty-five years ago, there has been phenomenal growth of the Church in this part of Nigeria: the increase in the number of Catholics evident in the number of priests and bishops ordained, dioceses created and the many young people in the seminaries. During these twenty-five years, we witnessed the creation of Otukpo, Lafia, Gboko and Katsina-Ala Dioceses, with the following as bishops: the late Bishop Fidelis Ogah, Bishops Matthew Audu, Michael Apochi, William Avenya and Peter Adoboh.


The Bishop is also known for his willingness to aid other dioceses, especially in the area of personnel; dioceses in and outside of Nigeria are benefiting from the personnel sent to them by Bishop Usuh. The bishop is grateful for the cooperation he has received from both the priests and the laity as chief shepherd of the diocese. He is impressed by the zeal, strength, courage and intellectual capacity of young priests who have brought so much vigour into the ministry. Despite the large number of priests in the diocese, there has been no major complaint of disunity amongst them. He constantly advices young and old priests to learn from each other whenever he notices some tensions among priests as a result of generational gaps. On June 29, 2013, a big celebration was organised for Bishop Usuh in honour of his Silver Episcopal Anniversary and the occasion was used to raise funds to build a retirement home for him.

Bishop Usuh is facing serious health challenges lately but he remains as cheerful and doughty as ever in ministering to his flock. He has been in and out of Germany for treatment. On November 14, 2013 the bishop commissioned a new complex at Bishop Murray Medical Centre where patients can also access dialysis services. The ceremony was witnessed by Governor Gabriel Suswam, priests, religious and the general public. On November 23, 2013 the bishop performed the solemn ceremony of investiture of Papal Knighthood on 14 candidates he had applied for to the Holy Father in 2012.


By Father Moses Iorapuu, Director of Communication

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