Our Lady of Good Counsel gives ‘gift of life’ to Nigerian village

CHARLESTON — For many people, a source of clean water is no farther than the nearest faucet in their house, or spigot in their yard.

But for the millions living in poverty-stricken countries across the globe, it is not so easy.

Take Ikot Abasi Akpan in Nigeria, home of Msgr. Sylvanus Udoidem. In an e-mail interview with The Miscellany, he said that until recently the only source of water for villagers was a river three miles away.

When Msgr. Udoidem served as administrator of Our Lady of Good Counsel on Folly Beach in 2006-2007, he told the congregation stories of his village and their need for water.

Leo Brueggeman, a parishioner, recalled how men, women and children would set out with containers to collect a supply of water for the day. If they did not want to walk three miles to the river, the adventurous could take a shortcut through the jungle, which was a mile shorter.

The one vessel of water they collected was used for everything: drinking, cooking and washing.

On the 30th anniversary of his ordination, Msgr. Udoidem said, his parishioners asked what gift he wanted. He replied, “A glass of clean water for my people.”

Photos of his village and a collection box were placed at the rear of the church, and parishioners were asked to help, Brueggeman said.

They did. In the six months that Msgr. Udoidem served at Our Lady of Good Counsel, members raised over $15,000, Brueggeman said.

“He was most impressed by the outpouring of our generosity,” he said, noting that Msgr. Udoidem had only asked for $10,000.

“The gift of clean water is like the gift of life,” Msgr. Udoidem said. “Even Jesus, the giver of the water of life, had to beg the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well for water (Jn 4:7-15). He called himself ‘the spring of living water.’ … Surely the parishioners of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Folly Beach, have participated in the mission of Jesus, the giver of the water of life, as they donated the bore-hole water for my people who have been in need of access to clean water,” he continued.

The money was used to dig a well to an identified aquifer inside the village and create a water-collecting station, which was finished in December 2008. Now villagers have clean water at their fingertips.  

Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, diocesan administrator, had approved the fundraising and said he was delighted with the project.

“This kind gesture is a clear testimony of Christ’s teaching that we should be our brothers’ keepers. As Christians we should always remain concerned about the less privileged among us and in other parts of the world,” Msgr. Laughlin said.

Msgr. Udoidem recently sent photos of the completed project to the church, along with thanks from council leaders and villagers.

The priest was given the first official glass of water from the well. That was followed by a celebration marked by a cultural display by village youth.

Parishioners did not do anything special to raise funds, Brueggeman said. They simply donated as often as possible.

He said they genuinely liked the Nigerian priest. “He is a very eloquent, very pleasant man,” he said. “He made a strong impression on us.”

Msgr. Udoidem attended Catholic schools in Nigeria and earned degrees from the Pontifical University Urbaniana in Rome and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  He was ordained a priest in 1977.

While on a working sabbatical in 2006-2007, Msgr. Udoidem served as director of campus ministry, and administrator of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Good Counsel.

In November 2008, the priest received conferment with Papal Honours as Chaplain to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, with the title of a monsignor.