May 18, 1888, First fathers of Society of African Missions (SMA) arrive in Elmina

From the island of St. Helena, where they had been waiting, Fr. Planque sent Frs. Eugene Murat and Auguste Moreau as the firs SMA missionaries to the Gold Coast. They arrived at El-Mina on May 18 1880; and to meet them was Mr. Brun, who also helped them settle. Mr. Bonnat was their interpreter during their visits to the chiefs, elders, councilors, sub-chiefs and the people. To their surprise, they found in the home of some old worn statues.

Alongside traces of devotion to St. Anthony, they also discovered that on certain Fridays, a group that called itself “sancta mariafo” would march through town and conclude with some rituals of theirs. There were also a practice, which seemed to imitate the sacrament of Baptism; for seven days after birth, the child would be presented with a crucifix and candle, and sprinkled thrice with water. Indeed, even some called themselves “Catholic” and considered it passed on by their ancestors. These were the smoldering vestiges of the Catholics faith from the Portuguese days, which the new SMA mission on the “Mina” coast hoped to rekindle into a flame for all of Gold Coast.

Barely two month after their arrival in El-Mina, on 6 th August 1880, Fr. Murat died; and his burial was the first public liturgy that his companion, Fr. Moreau, celebrated on the Gold Coast. But, out of the death of Fr. Murat, a new life was born! On Christmas day 1880, a year-old mulatto child was baptized into the church by a visiting colleague, Fr. Boutry. It was the son of the British Acting Administrator at Cape Coast, CS. Salmon, and Esi Rhule. Fr. Moreau was his Godparent. “In baptism the child received the name of the patron of El-Mina's first Catholic church, built in 1482, and the name of the godfather. The child was called George August Salmon”.
Fr. Moreau was joined by Fr. Michon, and they rented a house for a mission house and a school. Mass was celebrated on the verandah and Fr. Moreau prepared a Fante Catechism for religious instruction.

In 1881, at Christmas, five pupils of the school were baptized. These and others who followed to receive baptism became the first catechists (lay apostles) , taking the faith beyond El-Mina and forming communities in preparation for the establishment of missions. One of these was Francis William Haizel Cobbinah, who was active in the evangelization of Cape Coast.

Soon, some adults (parents of the pupils) followed their children to embrace the new faith. Interest in the school grew and the number of children seeking education increased. Fr. Moreau, however, believed that lasting results for their mission required that girls were also trained and instructed in the faith. “Religion, in order to put down solid roots must be practiced at home and prayers learnt at the mother's knee”. Accordingly, he arranged for the assistance of the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA), to educate the girls.

On 26 th December 1883, the first two sisters arrived at El-Mina. They were accommodated at the “Bridge House”, which also served as school for girls. On 31 st March 1884, the girls' school opened with 26 pupils.

Further reading: 

Asante Catholicism: Religious and Cultural Reproduction Among the Akan of Ghana

By J. Pashington Obeng