St. Justina’s Monastery, OCSO Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Nigeria, West Africa
St. Justina’s Monastery was founded 1st May 1982. While studying in Ireland Rev. Sr. Justina Anigbo, a Holy Rosary sister from Eke town in Udi Local Government Area in Enugu state came in contact with the monks of Mt. Mellary Abbey, a Cistercian Monastery in Cappoquin. She learned that there was a female branch of the Cistercian life. Sister Justina contacted the sisters at Glencairn, later joined them, and made her simple profession with them on 26th of April 1973.
After her profession a number of Nigerian bishops, including Archbishop Arinze of Onitsha, visited Glencairn and expressed a desire to take Cistercian Life to Nigeria. In November 1975, Sr. Justina visited home and found some girls who were interested in monastic life. She took the girls to Our Lady of Grandselve, Obout in Cameroon for their formation. The foundation was approved by the General Chapter of 1981. Sr. Justina became sick and on the 3rd of October 1981, she died in a hospital in London.
After her death, Mother Margaret Hanron was appointed by the Community of Glencairn to bring the group back to Nigeria. Mother Margaret visited Nigeria and the sisters at Cameroon toward the end of January 1982. The 7 Nigerian sisters returned to Nigeria on 1st May 1982 with Mother Margaret and two other Irish sisters – Srs. Anthony and Malachy. Sr. Justina had asked two monks to come and be chaplains. They were Fr. Andrew from Melifont Abbey, Ireland who was already in the Bishop’s house and supervising the work on the building, and Fr. Anthony Delisi a monk from the monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, U.S.A. The group arrived at Abakaliki on the 1st of May 1982. There were no basic necessities. The sisters slept on the floor. They attended Mass in the would-be refectory. After Mass, they ate breakfast standing, because there were no seats.
After the first night, they stayed at the Bishop’s House. They went to the monastery each day for 3 weeks before being able to stay permanently at the site. Five sisters shared a room.
Sr. Justina had wanted the monastery to be called “Loreto Abbey” but after her death, Bishop McGettrick suggested it be called St. Justina’s Cistercian Monastery. The monastery was officially opened on the 6th of April 1983. That year the sisters started farming and managing a poultry farm . . . living by the labor of their hands.
Many young girls started coming to join. On the 12th of May 1987 Sr. Juliana, a postulant, died after a brief illness. On the 17th of May 1987, Mother Chinwe Otito Kelechukwu made her final profession and that same year the church was dedicated on the 15th of August. The sisters continued to live out their Cistercian charism.
In 2003, the community had the joy of celebrating Mother Margaret’s 75th birthday and of electing Mother Chinwe as first Nigerian Prioress. We thank God for such gifts.
In 2007, the community celebrated the Silver Jubilee of its foundation. In October 2008, Sr. Coronata died. She was Novice Mistress for years. Also in 2008, Mother Regina was elected as a second African member of the Abbot General’s Council at our Generalate in Rome. She was re-elected after 3 years for another 6 years. In 2009 the present superior, Mother Maureen Ndubuisi was elected the prioress of the community and she was re-elected in 2012 when we became a Major priory. Mother Margaret Hanron (Ezinne) in 2013 celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of her monastic profession. Presently, the community numbers 43 sisters.
Through the help of AIM, 2 sisters are now studying at CIWA. Through the help of the Commission of Aid, the monastic property was also walled.
As contemplatives, the sisters give themselves faithfully to liturgy, prayers, vigils, sacred readings, fasting, solitude, and silence according to the Rule of St. Benedict and the Constitutions of the Order. There is a good and vibrant spirit in the community.
The community lives by the labor of its hands. The main source of income is the making of Altar Bread. This is supplemented by a large yam and rice farm and garden, palm and fruit tree plantations and some candle making. The sisters generously share with the poor of the area and pilgrims who are never lacking. The community also maintains a spirit of generosity, care of the sick and hospitality.