About eight furlongs south of Ijebu-Ode in the present Ogun State of Nigeria is the ancient town of Wobalufon where a child was born to the Bolukale family, and who was destined to become one of the great leaders of the Christian church in Africa–the Rt. Rev Seth Irunsewe kale.
The eldest son of a family of seven, Kale was born in Ipata, Wobalufon on June 6, 1904. His father Daddy Jacob Kale, a zealous and enterprising man was the very first person in the village to be converted to Christianity. At age twenty-six Daddy Kale married Victoria Efundero, named Victoria after the reigning Queen of England at that time. But for many years after marriage, Daddy and Victoria Kale had no child. After waiting in faith and prayer, the first child arrived and, like the story of Hannah in Jewish history, Victoria and Daddy Kale decided to name the child Samuel. Infant mortality was very high indeed everywhere in those days and baby Samuel died in infancy to the horror, utter dismay, and sorrow of Daddy and Victoria Kale.
Shortly after Samuel died, another baby boy was born who also died in infancy. Then the third child came and it was yet another boy. What should be done to preserve this one? Naturally being newly converted Christians, Daddy Kale and Victoria turned to the Bible. They chose “Seth” and named the child after the third son of Adam and Eve who, according to the Biblical account was born after Cain had killed his brother Abel. He was given a Yoruba name, Irun-se-we, meaning “we” (this one) “se” (happen); “irun” (nothing at all). It is a prayerful name with reassuring confidence that nothing whatsoever will happen to this one. And indeed by divine provision nothing happened. The child Kale was baptized on June 25, 1904 with the name Seth.
Kale started formal education in 1912 at Christ Church Primary School, Porgu, in Ijebu Ode in the present Ogun State. Kale’s teacher was the Rev. William O. Coker a strong disciplinarian and devout and diligent person.
At thirteen, Kale and some other boys left Mobalufon for Ijebu-Ode Grammar School in January 1918. While in school Kale set his mind with distinct emphasis on classical subjects and religion. In school, Kale was a sharp, but reserved, gentle lad, who passed through the school without any difficuty. Among his contemporaries were Chief M. A. Kuku, George Laja, Issac J. Olusola, Jonathan O. Sebanjo, and Chief T. A. Odutola.
At twenty-five, Kale married Juliana O. Odukya, a granddaughter of Oluwa Idele of Ijabu-Ode. The married was solemnized on January 6, 1930 at St. Savior’s Church, Italupe, in Ijebu-Ode.The first child of the marriage died shortly after birth. Not long thereafter, another child was born, a baby boy who was named Ayodele, meaning, “Joy has come to the family.” Soon afterwards, the second child, a girl, was born named Tokumbo, meaning “a child from overseas.” Then came the third child, Oladele, meaning “honour has come to settle in the home.”
In 1931, Kale was admitted into the Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, founded in 1827 by the Church Missionary Society with the express and exclusive aim of training priests, school administrators, and lay workers for the church. To study at Fourah Bay, Kale required financial assistance and was greatly inspired and assisted by Rev I. O. Ransome Kuti, principal of Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, who secured for him the “Agbebi scholarship,” to prepare for entry into the priesthood. With the Agbebi scholarship Kale’s college life was normal, peaceful, and progressive. His contemporaries at Fourah Bay were Mr. A. B Onyediran, former principal of Methodist Boys High School, Lagos, the Most Rev Omobiala Scott, Archbishop of West Africa, the Honorable Mr. Justice S. B. Jones, Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Lati Hyde-Forster, former principal of Annie-Walsh Girls’ School and Professor Harry Sawyerr.
As time passed, Kale set his mind on one subject, one faith, and one path–the path of service in the church. From Mobalunfon and Porogun to Ijegbu-Ode and Fourah Bay College, Kale received both classical and religious education under great missionary pioneers.
From 1931 to 1934, Kale studied at Fourah Bay College and obtained a general degree of Bachelor of Arts, conferred by Durham University. Thereafter Kale went on to do one additional year leading to the Diploma in Theology, which was awarded in 1935. The following year Kale joined the staff of the C.M.S Grammar School, Lagos as a teacher.
In 1939 Kale left Nigeria to do a post-graduate academic diploma course in education at the University of London. Upon his return Kale was a different person, clearly bright, articulate, confident, and courteous. Kale was not merely one of the tutors but now “Mr. S. I. Kale,” acting principal designate of the Lagos C.M.S Grammar School. Three years later. Kale became the first Nigerian to be appointed principal of the school in the twentieth century.
In 1942 while still serving as principal, Kale was ordained a deacon at the Cathedral Church of Christ, and in 1943 he was ordained a priest on the anniversary of his diaconate.
In 1950 after serving for six years as principal of C.M.S. Grammar School, Kale was moved from Lagos to Owo in the present Oshun State of Nigeria to serve as dean of Anglican Schools and Colleges. While principal, Kale had displayed a rare tenacity of purpose and unparalleled flexibility and had gained a reputation for his ability to hold down difficult situations. Kale was also assigned to assist the principal of St. Johns Teachers’ College at Owo.
As dean of Anglican Schools and Colleges, Kale had the task of co-coordinating the religious and moral perspectives of the principals and headmasters of Anglican primary and secondary institutions. Kale however only stayed for one year (1950-51).
In 1951 Kale once again became an African pioneer as head of long established St. Andrew’s Teachers’ Training College, Oyo, in the present Oyo state. To restore order to the school, Kale first banished existing prejudices, class distinctions, and social differences, which had plagued the college. One of the students of the college at the beginning of the Kale era described the change in the student magazine: “Through Kale’s reform, the feudal system of government in the college has been broken. There are no more “lords” of St. Matthew’s Block; “barons” of St. Peters; the “Villeins,” “Cottars,” and the “Raw Material” of St. Phillips. Students now live in ‘houses –Crowther, Johnson, Oluwole, and Phillips. This change from class grouping to a house system is a credit to our first African principal of the college.”
Before Kale left St Andrews after thirteen years of absolute dedication to the work of teacher training and Christian education, he was appointed a justice of peace by the western regional government that includes the present southwest geopolitical zone of Nigeria. The Anglican Church also conferred the status of canon of the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, on Kale. Over the period of twelve years (1951-1962) Kale trained many generations of indigenous teachers some of whom were later ordained priests in the ministry of the church. Thus Kale could be considered the only indigenous member of the clergy in Nigeria at that time who had made the highest contribution to manpower supply for the numerical building up of the church.
In 1963 the Assembly of Church Prelates who were meeting in Toronto, elected Rev. Canon S. I. Kale as a successor to the Rt. Rev. Adelakun Williamson Howells who had died six months earlier. At the hour of the decision Kale was on a plane, returning home to Nigeria from the meeting of International Education Conference of Teachers held in Brazil.
On November 30, 1963, Kale was consecrated bishop of Lagos by the Rt. Rev. L. G. Vining, archbishop of West Africa. The next day, December 1, 1963, Kale was enthroned at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos.
As a bishop, Kale made use of the pulpit, synod addresses, and pastoral letters to foster Christian devotion, and divine worship. He was always willing and ready to preach. He called for cooperation between Christian and non-Christian organizations, especially on matters relating to ethical and moral instruction in schools in Nigeria
Kale, a shy modest man, not an ambitious leader in the church hierarchy, but a quite scholarly humanist whose life had been dedicated to the cause of religion and education, will ever be remembered in Africa.
Folarin Coker, Nigeria Profiles: The Rt. Reverend Seth Irunsewe Kale. (Lagos: CSS Press, 1973).
Abridged from Folarin Coker’s book, Nigeria Profiles: The Rt. Reverend Seth Irunsewe Kale, by Kemdirim O. Protus, a senior lecturer in the Department of Religious and Cultural Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, a DACB Participating Institution. Dr. Kemdirim Protus is also the DACB Regional Coordinator for Nigeria.