Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu started as St. Paul’s Seminary, Onitsha in 1922, at the initiative of Rt. Rev. Joseph Shanahan, the then Vicar Apostolic of the Vicariate of Southern Nigeria. The seminary was however, officially opened in 1924. The first senior seminarian that began his philosophical studies in the seminary was JohnCross Anyogu, who was accepted by the Vicar in 1912 and sent to London for his secondary education. The pioneer students comprised five schoolteachers who started with the study of Latin language. From here, the seminary began its peregrination, which lasted several decades, and eventually settled permanently at Enugu with its present name.
The seminary was first moved from the “distractions” in Onitsha to remote Igbariam in the Anambra valley, North East of Aguleri and officially opened on 29th July, 1924 as both junior and senior seminaries in one, with Rev. Fr. William O’Donnel, C.S.Sp as its first Rector. Between 1924 and 1926, twelve candidates were admitted, among whom was Michael IweneTansi in 1925. The second Rector was Fr. Charles Heerey, assisted by Fr. Philip O’Connor; and the third was Fr. Richard Daly, assisted by Fr. Finigan.
The seminary moved back to Onitsha beside St. Charles’ Training College, with Fr. Dennis Kennedy as the fourth Rector in 1929. Then, the theology campus was opened at Eke in 1934, where Fr. JohnCross Anyogu was ordained on December 8, 1930. From lack of accommodation at Onitsha, the seminary faced lack of water at Eke, and had only one person teaching all the Theology courses.
In January 1939, the seminary was moved to the present Holy Ghost Cathedral grounds, Ogui in Enugu, with Fr. Louis Kettels as its fifth Rector. In January 1942, it was situated at Okpala, with Fr. Patrick Walsh as its sixth Rector, and Fr. Joseph B. Whelan as the seventh in 1946. In 1948 when Fr. Joseph B. Whelan was consecrated bishop of Owerri, he handed the administration of the seminary over to Fr. Patrick Walsh.
With the decision of Propaganda Fide to build one regional seminary for both Western and Eastern Nigeria, Archbishop Heerey got permission and fund to build a seminary in the East. Work started at the present site and the seminary was officially opened on March 4, 1951 by the then Delegate to British East and West Africa, Archbishop David Matthews. The name became Bigard Memorial Seminary to perpetuate the memory of two French ladies: mother and daughter Stephanie and Jeanne Bigard, foundresses of the Opus Sancti Petri Apostoli that supplied the fund for the building.
There were 25 seminarians and the eighth Rector was Fr. James O’Neill, the longest serving Rector (1951 1965) then. Fr. John Daly who stayed into the civil war succeeded him.
During the civil war, 1967 – 1970, the seminary sojourned now at Umuowa, then at Awo omamma, now at Afaha Obong, then at Amakohia, according to shifts of military strategy at the war fronts. It eventually returned to Enugu in 1970 and was handed over to a staff of seven indigenous professors, with Msgr. John N. Ogbonna as the first indigenous Rector on March 12, 1970. A new phase began. Bigard trained priests for the Middle belt, the Sierra Leone, the Cameroons and Liberia as well. In 1975, there were over 600 seminarians. On October 20, 1976, philosophy campus was opened at Ikot Ekpene with Fr. Gregory Ochiagha as its first Rector. In 1985, a new philosophy campus was opened at Owerri and this second daughter of Bigard was born with the name Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary. The first year philosophers were therefore sent to both Ikot-Ekpene and Owerri campuses. In 1989, the faculty of philosophy returned once more to Enugu Campus; and Bigard Enugu, Ikot Ekpene (now St. Joseph’s Major Seminary) and Seat of Wisdom became autonomous seminaries with both philosophy and theology departments.
The rectoral train after Msgr. Dr. J. Ogbonna is in this order: Most Rev. Dr. Albert K. Obiefuna, Very Rev. Msgr. Dr. C.S. Mba (Ag. Rector), Very Rev. Fr. Dr. P.D. Akpunonu, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Bernard I. Ngwoke, Very Rev. Msgr. Dr. J. B. Akam, Most Rev. Dr. Valerian Okeke, Most Rev. Dr. John I. Okoye, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. J. Obi Oguejiofor (Ag. Rector), Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Ukoro Theophilus Igwe, and Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa, the incumbent Rector.
Increase in vocation and the need for a very effective formation led to the birth of two more campuses of Bigard at Awkaand Onitsha named John Paul II Major Seminary, Awka (Philosophy Department) and Blessed Iwene Tansi Major Seminary, Onitsha (Theology Department), respectively.
Presently, Bigard has 63 members of academic staff (22 resident as priest-formators and 46 part-time) and 832 students. The seminary has so far produced 3 Cardinals, 13 Archbishops, 32 Bishops and numerous priests as well as prominent Nigerian, Sierra Leonian and Camerounian citizens.