April 5, 2017
By Sr. Ann Schulte, SHCJ
It was dark outside March 31 as the Sisters began to arrive about 5.30 a.m. to take their seats around the front porch of Keffi Street, Lagos, Nigeria and join in prayer and song. The main gates were opened to let in the funeral car, and to the sound of small trumpets playing familiar tunes of farewell and hope of the Resurrection, in which the sisters joined in their singing, the casket carrying Sr. Rosemary Ifeyinwa Atuegbu, was laid on the prepared table. When her two brothers Mr. Frank Atuegbu and Mr. Ifeanyi Atuegbu arrived they led the way, as all walked round with a silent prayer, to the accompaniment of the soft music and singing of the sisters.
By 8. a.m. the various buses carrying over 80 SHCJ sisters, together with some family members, the Archbishop of Calabar, Joseph Effiong Ekuwem, who had arrived at Keffi Street early in the morning, had reached The Church of the Assumption, Falomo. The Church filled up with many religious, family and friends of Sr. Ify, some students and staff from Holy Child College, a group of Old Girls and a good number of parishioners from Falomo.
By 9.a.m. Archbishop Alfred A. Martins of Lagos, together with the Archbishop of Calabar, and a number of Monsignori, and priests from different parishes were at the Entrance of the Church for the Reception of the Body, to say the beautiful prayers reminding us all of Baptism with the holy water, and white garment, and then the Gospels to guide SR. Ify and all of us to our heavenly home. The Office for the dead was incorporated into the Funeral Mass, which was beautifully carried out with the sisters taking the readings, sharing in the singing of the choir, and Fr. John Njorteah from St. Gregory’s College, giving the Homily, using a quotation reminding all of us that our life is like a train journey, we all know when we join the train, but we do not know the station where we will alight. Dear SR. Ify has now completed her journey on the train of life, the rest of us are still on the journey.
His Eminence, Emeritus Anthony Cardinal Okogie, stepped down at the end to give the Final Commendation, as he stood by the beautiful casket, with images of the Last Supper and the Pieta of Mary with her dead Son round the side, together with the colourful wreaths of flowers from different people.
Immediately after the Mass, those going to Abeokuta for the burial got into their busses and cars, each being given a “bag’ with a packed snack and bottle of water, all others were also given these bags. A kind parishioner had prepared a meal for all the priests and religious who had attended the funeral mass, which was laid out for them in the Parish Hall.
The “convoy” set off together with a police escort, another kind gift from a parishioner, to help us, in particular, to negotiate the Ibadan Road, a very busy road, which was also being repaired so in parts it became almost a single lane of traffic. To begin with the security went very fast and some got lost, but they came and redirected them onto the correct road, so we finally all got into the “convoy”. Despite the fact that two buses broke down on the way, somehow everyone managed to get to our convent in Abeokuta in time for the burial.
We were happy to find the road to the Convent had been graded and the whole Convent area and grounds around it, together with the painted wall, were looking very neat, as we walked the path which led to the burial ground at the corner, under a canopy with cloth round the sides, and a green “carpet” around the grave.
One of the Priests present led the prayers at the graveside, the Sisters sang “Call upon the Lord”, and SR. Antoinette Opara, did a reading from the Constitution, while Sr. Philomena Aidoo said a special prayer, then the priests, followed by some family members and a few SHCJ, cast the sand upon the coffin reminding us that “unto dust we shall return.” This was an especially sad and sort of “final moment” of our farewell to dear Sr. Ify Atuegbu.
All then returned to the Convent for a Lunch Packet, before going to their respective cars and buses to make the return journey, hoping to get onto the Ibadan road before all the traffic later in the evening. Everyone arrived back safely, thanking God for the success of the whole Funeral and Burial ceremonies, the finale of the other Masses that had taken place during the week. The first was the special Mass organized by the other School Administrators from the 12 Catholic Secondary Schools, to which some students, the staff, parents, Old Girls, religious and students from some of the other schools were present. Later in the week the Jesuits, concelebrated with their Provincial, a Mass for the SHCJ in the Lagos Area, in the College Chapel, together with a few of the International Community, who have Mass there every Sunday said by a Jesuit. Finally there was the Vigil mass, with two of Sr. Ify’s bothers who had come over from USA, and other family members present, which was a concelebrated mass with the Archbishop of Lagos, Archbishop Alfred A. Martins, together with the students, staff, some students from the other Catholic Secondary schools, the Old Girls, and a few parishioners from Falomo, as well as with a number of religious and our own SHCJ sisters who had arrived from Ghana and all over Nigeria to be present for the Vigil Mass and Funeral.
The many messages and prayers in the different Condolence Books showed how much Sr. Rosemary Ifeyinwa Atuegbu was loved and appreciated by people from different walks of life who knew her, as they remarked on her smile, her gentleness, her hard work and her sense of duty, and kindness. All prayed “may her gentle soul rest in perfect peace.”