To many people, February 15, 2020 was just an ordinary Saturday. But for Rev Sister Elizabeth Njokuh of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus (EHJ), it was a red- letter day.
It was the day the Divine Mercy Catholic Church, Ijede Road, Ikorodu, in conjunction with St Raphael Divine Specialist Hospital, celebrated her on her 70th birthday.
The dusty haze of the harmattan in Lagos that Saturday morning added a glint of festive air as Christian faithful, friends and relations of Sister Elizabeth thronged the expansive fields in the church premises to celebrate and give her honour.
The highpoint of the celebration was the presentation of a dummy cheque to her for a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem. The presentation of the cheque was done by the Chaplain of the church, Rev Father Joe-Ben Onyia, the Vice Chairman of the Chaplaincy Pastoral Council (CPC), Mr Kayode Ebatemihi and the Chairman of the Planning Committee of the event, Mr Chidi Obineche, Editor, Special Investigations at The Sun.
Ebatemihi extolled her virtues, explaining that it was refreshing that the sister opted for a trip to Jerusalem to deepen her faith in Christ as opposed to the initial plan by the committee to buy her a car. The all-expenses-paid trip will cost N1.038 million.
In her 43 years of serving as a Rev Sister in the Catholic Church, she has served in about ten states, but has never crossed the shores of the country.
Expectedly, an ecstatic Sister Elizabeth praised the church and the chaplain for conceiving the idea, and showered encomiums on the planning committee for the hard work that was injected into the project and for seeing it to fruition. She prayed to God to reward all those behind the event.
It was entirely an event enmeshed in joy and praising of God. From the Mass to the reception, it was all laughter and big smiles on the faces of participants. Even those who thought she was undeserving of the honour because of her strictness at the hospital where she worked, participated actively in the celebration.
One of those who said he didn’t understand her at first was Father Joe Ben Onyia. According to him, it took him about four years to get along with her. He said his decision to honour her was partly borne out of the fact that reverend sisters are hardly appreciated. He said Sister Elizabeth deserved the honour for her devotion to God and commitment to both the church and the hospital.
“I met her seven years ago when I came to the hospital. She was and is still the matron. At first, I saw her as a firm and strong woman. She tells things the way she feels even if you are not on the same page with her. I wish that Rev Sisters are celebrated like priests. She is one of those that deserves all the attention and accolades due to good people,” he stated.
One of her younger siblings, Prof. John Njoku, who teaches at the Federal University of Technology (FUTO), Owerri, said everyone sees Sister Elizabeth as strict, strong and sublime, “Though she didn’t spend much time with us, she was feared and respected for her standards the few times she was around while we were growing up,” he stated.
The chairman on the occasion, Emmanuel Iloba, a lawyer, noted: “She is the mother of us all in the church and nurse to many, including other community residents. I have benefited a lot from her, both spiritually and in other ways. She is not perfect because she is a human being. Most people think she is strict, but that is not bad. She has much on her shoulders and without such policy she might not achieve her goals.”
After listening to all the accolades, the celebrant, Sister Elizabeth thanked the crowd. But she expressed worries with the difficulties and challenges associated with her new age.
Said she: “This is a year I have the strangest feeling. It is the year I unusually wake up late and other sisters will rally round to come check on me.”
She noted that attaining the septuagenarian age mark was surprising because she once suffered from meningitis. “I was so sick that I thought I was going to die. I was in the hospital with others who could not make it. I saw countless people pronounced dead from the same sickness,” she stated.
The event was colourful. It was packed full with different dance performances from various groups in the church and the hospital. There was also American auction of a wristwatch that contributed to the thrill. Tagged “the clock of
age”, the mode of the auction rocked the crowd and added immense spice to the event. Victory in the exercise finally went to one of her siblings who came all the way from her Mbaise hometown in Imo State. There was also a dramatic choreography depicting the story of Sister Elizabeth’s life.
The event was concluded with a vote of thanks by the chairman of the Planning Committee, Mr Obineche. He paid tributes to the chaplain for all the support given to his team, as well as to other members of the church and the hospital. He also thanked members of his team for their commitment to the event.
For the church and the hospital, the echoes of the event will linger for a long time to come.