28 March 2019


Ewu-Esan | Nigeria

St Benedict monastery was founded in 1979 by a group of Irish monks from Glenstal Abbey Ireland, and an English monk from Ampleforth Abbey: Columba Cary-Elwes, OSB. The idea was to bring this brand of Christian monks (The Benedictines) to this part of Africa. This was the fruit of a double co-incidence; on the one hand, the monks of Glenstal wanted to plant the Benedictine monastic life in Africa, while on the other hand the then Bishop Okoye CSSp of Enugu Diocese in Eastern Nigeria was in search of a monastic community that will be willing to come an establish a monastery in his diocese. There was a meeting point and these Irish monks arrived Eke in the Enugu Diocese. Soon afterwards they had to leave Enugu because the land they got at Eke was somewhat stony, not fertile enough and even got reduced in size by the locals, added to the fact that there was already an indigenous monastery within the Enugu Diocese- Awhum monastery which later joined the Cistercian Order. Thus, helped by some of the Irish missionaries working in Benin City Diocese in the then Mid-Western Nigeria, this group of Irish monks relocated and settled at the present site at Ewu-Esan, in July 1979, taking the name ‘St Benedict Monastery’. Today, Ewu is a part of the newly created Diocese of Uromi, carved out of the Benin City Archdiocese.

Ewu-Esan, the village St Benedict Monastery is located is a hill, and it is within Edo State which is part of the Mid-Western Nigeria. This point is exactly 100 Km north of the ancient City of Benin, along the Benin-Auchi Express road. The land is very fertile, and particularly good for food crops such as yam, cassava, plantain, maize oil palms, and tropical fruits such as pawpaw, banana, orange, mango, pineapple and avocado.

Ewu is one of those unique Nigerian villages where one finds adherents of the three main religions in Nigeria- Traditional African Religion (ATR), Islam and Christianity- vibrantly present and living in mutual co-existence. It is a common phenomenon to find from one house and from the same family persons following the different religion. At times parents might be Muslims while among the children one finds some are Christians while others are Muslims. In one family one may find that there are those members who are followers of the ATR, while some others are Christians and still others Muslim. Religious affiliations are no problem in the Ewu village. The monastery is at the extreme end of Ewu. Next to Ewu and sharing a common boundary (north of Ewu) is another kingdom, the Agbede kingdom. This is a different tribe (the Etsako tribe), and very different people from the people of Ewu (Esan tribe). The Agbede people have a different language and they are of a very different culture, even though they are neighbours. Agbede is predominantly Muslim territory, but even more; this is one of those territories where the population are the very strict type of Muslim. Here, one who changes over to Christianity is automatically ostracized from the family and from the village. Thus, St Benedict Monastery is located between two villages with very different attitude to religion; Ewu is positive, fraternal, tolerant and co-existent, while Agbede is hostile and non-tolerant to non-Muslims (especially Christians). For example, the king of Ewu kingdom (The Onojie) has to be Muslim, but he is regarded as father of all and is very friendly and welcoming to all, Christians and ATR adherents alike.

This community of St Benedict, Ewu grew and became a Simple Priory in 1992, had its first Nigerian superior appointed in 1996: Fr Vincent Mordi, OSB. Death struck twice in one year (1999) and made away with two among the Irish founding fathers: Fr Kevin Healy, OSB (July 31) and Fr Abbot Augustine O’Sullivan, OSB (December 7). The last of pioneering European monks left Nigeria for good, returning to Glenstal Abbey in the year 2000, and since then the community has remained homogenously African.

The Ewu Priory gained its independence on 11 July 2006. Following an election on April 30 2010 the monastery got its first elected superior (Conventual Prior): Br Peter Ovoeta Eghwrudjakpor, OSB. 

The Ewu monastic community reflects the rich cultural diversity of the Nigerian people. The 41 brothers come from 15 different ethnic groups in Nigeria with one Togolese. The main source of income for the community is the production of health remedies using Traditional Herbal Medicine. The monastery’s Herbal Medical Centre / Research Laboratories (‘Pax Herbals’ for short) has a network running across the length and breadth of the country thus making ‘Pax Herbals’ a common household name among Nigerians; most towns and cities have retail outlets for the Pax products. Other commercial activities of the Ewu monks comprise keeping a fairly large agriculture farm (including an oil-palm plantation), a fairly large poultry and fish farm. The monastery also has a bakery which is devoted to making whole-wheat bread. Other activities include running a book / sacramental shop, apiary, and a guest / retreat house which caters for retreatants, persons in need of counselling and various other guests and visitors to the monastery, Christians (Catholics and non-Catholics) and non-Christians (mostly Muslims, other religious groupings, and persons of no religious affiliation).


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