The Church in Ghana is mourning the passing of her longest-serving Brother of the Divine Word Missionaries, Rev. Bro Pius Kweku Agyeman who succumbed to death in the early hours of Monday, July 26, 2021 in Sankt Augustin in Germany.
Rev. Bro Pius Kweku Agyeman, SVD, is a prolific Catholic Composer and a Historian with Vast Knowledge in Ghanaian Culture. Rev. Pius Agyemang, SVD, says he was drawn to the brotherhood by a comment made early in his life, just as he was deciding his religious vocation. Shortly after arriving at the SVD novitiate at Adoagyiri-Nsawam, in his home country of Ghana, West Africa, he met the novice master, Fr. Lawrence Thornten, SVD.
“In the SVD, we have priests and we have brothers,” Fr. Lawrence said. Encouraging him to consider the brotherhood, he pointed out that St. Francis of Assisi was never a priest
. He was a brother. He also said that Jesus was a priest for only three days—at the end, when he miraculously transformed bread and wine into his body and blood. “Jesus was a brother for thirty-three years. He went about doing good, gathering people around him, twelve of them.
All brothers,” Fr. Lawrence said. “They used their talents to evangelize and spread the Good News. They opened the eyes of people to know God.” The priest said that a brother is like Jesus, using his talents to go about doing good.
“A brother is a cook, Jesus was a cook. He cooked for the apostles at the shores. Jesus was a singer, a philosopher, a teacher, a healer. Jesus was a counselor. Jesus was everything,” he said. “Jesus was a brother.” Rev. Pius Kweku Agyemang will be 77 years old in September 2021. In 2014, he celebrated 50 Years in Ministry!
Rev. Pius was born on September 3, 1944 in Kyekyewere, a village thirty-six miles from Kumasi in the Ashanti Region. He did not get to know his faith until he was six, when an aunt, who was a devout Catholic and a member of the parish choir, frequently took him to Mass and encouraged him to sing.
He is the first to introduce the use of traditional instruments in worship in the Catholic Church of Ghana and that was met with strong resistance. In 1966 he was pelted with Stones and pawpaw fruits filled with sand at a Catholic church at Adoagyiri, near Nsawam in the Eastern Region as the Saint Luanga choir under the direction of Rev Bro Pius Francis Agyeman, (SVD) sang in Twi with African drums accompaniment at a Sunday mass.
The Catholics in that area had never experienced African drums being played in the church. Rev. Agyeman and his choristers had to take cover from the flying missiles but that stiff opposition didn’t deter him but rather encouraged him to do more. He has been through many situations in Ghana and beyond but the African value has never escaped him and is even thankful that it shaped him into a staunch lover of African values.
“We don’t have to throw everything of ours away as if whatever the white man brought is better than ours. All they brought is their culture and not necessarily the Christ culture,” Rev. Agyeman says.
“Christ was not a European. Since the Europeans received the faith and allowed Christ into their culture, they have made him look like a European. He was not.”
To many Catholics in Ghana and elsewhere, Rev. Agyeman’s biggest contribution to the Catholic faith has been through music, teaching and the ability to speak well for which he has been duly honored with a citation.
He pointed out that he has composed over 1,000 songs which are sang in the Catholic church and other Christian circles. He also has a fair amount of patriotic songs to his credit.
The man from Kyekyewire in the Ashanti Region has travelled in Africa, Europe and the United States at various times either as a student, trainer of seminarians or propagator of African culture, music and liturgy (ways of carrying out services in a church).
Anyone that wants to offer his life to Christ by way of the church has a choice and Rev Agyeman opted for the brotherhood when he entered the seminary at Adoagyiri.
Like most African children, he had encountered music in an informal way when growing up. His mother, Yaa Kumaa, was a gifted composer of traditional songs as well as a good dancer.
Rev Agyeman believes he inherited his mother’s compositional abilities and general creativity, in addition to his father, Bernard Kofi Owusu’s proficiency as a linguist and storyteller. He started getting tuition in Western musical theory from some of the priests at Adoagyiri where he also learnt to play the organ.
At the Our Lady of Mercy (OLAM) Catholic Church in Tema Community One where Rev. Agyeman moved to from Adoagyiri, he started a choir called Tete Odomankoma to help keep the African approach church music burning in him.
That fire has been sustained through the years and Rev Agyeman formed choirs with a slant for African songs almost everywhere he went. He even did that in Europe and effectively taught his choristers there to sing in Twi. He kept the name of Adehyemma for the choirs he formed as he moved around in the service of the Lord.
Some of the occasions Rev Agyeman remembers vividly in his long career as a composer and music director include leading a choir to perform at the funeral of the late President Kwame Nkrumah at Nkroful in the Western Region.
He also cherishes the moment he conducted a 1,200-strong Catholic mass choir accompanied by 52 African drums at the Kumasi Sports Stadium in a performance for the late Pope John II when he visited Ghana in 1980.
“The Pope was really impressed seeing all those singers clad in kente and performing so well. He later awarded us medals and that made me feel that I should continue with my vision despite any opposition.
” Apart from the initial training in music at Adoagyiri, Rev Agyeman studied music again at the University of Ghana and the now University of Education at Winneba in the Central Region. He could not hide his joy when he met the Dr Ephraim Amu and Prof. J.H. Nketiah (both are deceased) when he studied at Legon.
“The two men did not only impart their knowledge in music to me. They made me more aware of African culture and re-enforced my determination to also impart what I know to others. “I also met Archbishop Emeritus Akwasi Sarpong even before I went to the seminary (before 1966) and his overall conduct spurred me on to consider serving the Lord on a permanent basis.”
He has been going to Nigeria every year to teach music since 1992. Rev Agyeman says music by some of the people that have influenced his path in music including Amu, Nketiah and J.P. Johnson from Kumasi.
His dream now is to teach liturgy to the various parishes, priests and everywhere else possible. He also wants to use African music to support liturgical studies wherever he goes.
Rev Agyeman hosts programmes on Adom FM and GTV, both in Accra, in order to get his cultural voice and teachings on the Catholic faith heard by as many people as possible. His call to Ghanaians is this: “Our culture is holy. Whatever is not good about it, we should polish it and make it better,”