Jesuits first arrived in the region that would later become the Province of West Africa in 1947. They entered through Chad, where they founded two dioceses and thus gave birth to a Chadian church. The Jesuit mission continues in Chad today through works like the Rôniers Spiritual Center, the cultural centers of Kyabe and N’Djamena, CEFOD (Centre d’Etude et de Formation pour le Development), the parishes of Abéché and Baro, JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service), St. Charles Lwanga College, and the hospital and university project of the Good Samaritan.
In 1957, the Society involved itself with Liberman College, which was founded by Spiritan Fathers in Douala, Cameroon. Then, other works started, including the Spiritual Center of Bonamoussadi and the Jesuit novitiate at Bafoussam and several Church institutions in Cameroon also saw the light of day through the collaboration of many Jesuits.
In 1962, the Society founded INADES (Institut Africain pour le Dévelopment Economique et Social in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Today the same city hosts CERAP (Centre de Recherche et d’Action pour la Paix), ITCJ (Institut de Théologie de la Compagnie de Jésus), and the parish of St. Philip in Abobo.
The Vice-Province of West Africa was created on 31st July 1973 by a decree of the General Superior, Fr Pedro Arrupe. In September of the same year, a team of six Canadian Jesuits arrived in Senegal to take charge of the College of St. Charles Lwanga in the diocese of Zinguinchor. They remained there until 1983 when they moved to Tambacounda, where the Society took charge of a parish and a cultural center.
In 1974, the Jesuits responded to an appeal from the church of Burkina Faso by intervening in the field of education. They founded a cultural center (CERCLE) and the Paam-Yôodo Spiritual Center. One community was also founded in Brazzaville, Congo, in 1976. There, the Jesuits were involved first in parish work and later in intellectual and spiritual ministries.
In 1983, the vice-province became the Province of West Africa. This change followed after decree 3 of the 33rd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus had abolished all independent vice-provinces.
The Society moved to Benin in 1985 and assumed responsibility for the parish of Sehoue. In Cotonou, several companions served in various ministries, including that of CREC (Centre de Recherche, d’etude et de Créativité) in the intellectual world. Jesuit presence in Bangui started between 1979 and 1982. The year 1998 saw the beginning of the construction of a new residence and a university chaplaincy. Since 2010, Jesuits have taken part in the formation of priests in the major seminary of Bangui.
The Province of West Africa currently covers 14 countries. It is actively present in 9 countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, the Republic of Central Africa, Senegal, Chad and Togo. Although Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Niger are within the jurisdiction of the province, Jesuits are not yet actively present in these countries.
By Pierre Maurel SJ and Eric Goeh-Akue SJ
Source: JHIA diary