The Catholic Church in Liberia is morning the passing of the country’s oldest Priest Rev. Father Robert Tikpor. Father Tikpor, as he was affectionately called, died on Thursday, August 31, at the age of 96 following a period of illness.
The prelate was the oldest Liberian Catholic priest and one of the longest serving. He twice served as National Orator at official programs marking the country’s Independence Day celebration.
Father Tikpor was a vocal critic of vices in Liberian society.
But who really was this man who survived several challenging decades in the existence of the Church in Liberia and the country’s traumatic years of wars and oppression.
The Life sketch
Rev. Monsignor Dr. Robert Gbatiae Tikpor was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone on 12th September, 1926 unto the union of Mr. Giahwhaxwi Tikpor, and Madam Michen Gbatiae Flow, who were both from Grand Bassa County, Liberia.
He was sent to his mother’s mother in Liberia, with whom he grew up. He got early education at the St. Peter Claver Catholic School in Lower Buchanan and the St. Patrick Catholic School in Monrovia.
In 1946, he told the Fathers on Ashmun Street that he wanted to be a priest. He was accepted and then sent to the St. Peter Claver’s Teaching Training College in Lower Grand Bassa County were he completed a three-year course program in three semesters. After he graduated from the Teacher’s Training College, he was sent to the St. Theresa Minor Seminary, Ibadan, Nigeria in 1948. There he spent five years and received his School Leaving Certificate 1953 that was administered by External Examination Council of the Cambridge University in England, UK.
He then went to the St. Paul’s Regional Major Seminary in Benin City, Mid-Western Nigeria, present day Edo State where he studied Philosophy and the Humanities for three years. After three years in Benin State and at the completion of his Philosophy Studies, He was asked returned to Liberia in 1955 for what was term at the time a Probation year. He was given a pastoral assignment at the St. Peter Claver’s Teacher Training College where he previously attended. He spent the time there with an old Priest, the venerable Rev. Fr. P. McKenna (the elder), whom Fr. Tikpor referred to as a fatherly modeled priest that shaped his formation strongly. In 1956, Fr. Tikpor (still in formation) was appointed the Principal of the St. Peter Claver’s Elementary School. His work was to teach and assist other teachers in the school to instill morals and disciplines in the students. He was also appointed as head Catechist to work and plan the program that would lead to the organization of the catechumenate.
At the end of his probation year, he wrote a playwright called Dr. Zeopugar. He had the villagers perform the drama in a wholesome and captivating manner.
After his Probation year ended he returned for his Seminary studies in theology. He went to Ghana instead to the St. Paul’s Seminary in Pedu, which has been divided – St. Paul’s Seminary in Sowoutoum for Philosophy and St. Peter’s Regional Seminary in Pedu for Theology. It was at the Seminary in Pedu that he joined other Liberian Seminarians; Michael K. Francis (the Late Archbishop Michael Francis), Benedict D. Sekey (The Late Bishop Benedict Sekey of the Diocese of Gbarnga) and David Gbanya Ziegleir.
There he studied theology as well as Sacred Scriptures, Canon Law and Patrology from 1957 to 1961 and returned home to be ordained Liberia’s second indigenous Roman Catholic Priest. He was ordained Deacon at the St. Paul Regional Seminary in Pedu in 1960 and served as the Prefect of the Seminary. He also served as a staff writer and later Editor of Seminary’s Periodical, Vox Petrina.
Msgr. Tikpor was ordained on a Roman Catholic Priest on December 17, 1961 at the Sacred Heart Cathedral by his former teacher and illustrious Mentor Archbishop Francis D. Carroll who was then the Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Monrovia. He became the second Liberian Indigenous Roman Catholic Priest after Bishop Patrick Kla Juwle (who was once his teacher at the St. Peter Claver Catholic School). The time lapse between the ordination of the First and Second Liberian Priests was Fifteen years (1946-1961).
Following his ordination Msgr. Tikpor worked in many parishes – Voinjama, Foyah, Gbarnga, Tappita, and in Monrovia, until 1972. His first appointments included assistant Parish Priest of the Cathedral Parish, Principal of St. Patrick’s Elementary School, now Cathedral School, Priest-in-charge of St. Mary’s Church, New Kru Town with Catholic Mission Out-Station in Bomi Hills, and Choir Director at Sacred Heart Pro-Cathedral. In 1963, he took brief assignments in Voinjama, Lofa County and Gbarnga, Bong County to serve as Interim Pastor as Missionary Priests Fr. Fergus (Voinjama) and Fr. Martin O’Meara (Gbarnga) had to leave for their successive three months vacations respectively. In the same year, he was taken to Ireland by Archbishop Carroll to meet his aging benefactress Mrs. Ann Gordon of Ballaghaderreen in County Mayo. The SMA Fathers also used this time to take him to Rome for the first time. Excited young Fr. Tikpor spent three weeks in Ireland with his benefactress, visited Lourdes in France and to the Vatican in Rome where he saw and listened to the addresses of Pope John XXIII the first time. On his return to Monrovia, he was assigned with Fr. Davis, SMA to visit Bomi Hills Catholic Community every weekend for Mass.
In 1964, Archbishop Francis Carroll asked him to accompany President William V. S. Tubman as his Extraordinary Catholic Chaplain for the Unification Conference held in Kolahun, Lofa County. At a special Unification Service at the Catholic Church, young Fr. Tikpor delivered a smart discourse focused on People and Leadership decisions. He gained the admiration of the President who after the conference invited Bishop Carroll and him to a meeting.
In 1965, he was assigned to Tappita in upper Nimba to establish a mission there. The mission grew largely after seven years of his pastoral duties there. When Fr. Tikpor arrived there, there were only five baptized Catholics; but by 1972, at his departure, St. Francis Catholic Church in Tappita had 300 adult Catholics on its baptismal register, a fully functional school from Kindergarten to 9th Grade and a reassuring catechumenate.
In the year 1972, he was sent to the United States of America where he did some studies at the Catholic University in Washington D.C. He returned to Liberia in 1974 with an M. A. degree, and together with the then Reverend Father Michael Francis, were told to open Liberia’s own Major Seminary at Gbarnga, Bong County.
They worked together to build the Seminary. In 1976, Fr. Michael K. Francis was appointed to be Archbishop of Monrovia, and He was appointed to succeed him as Rector of the Seminary.
In 1979, he went to Rome, Italy to study at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (The Angelicum). In June, 1980 he graduated with Licentiate Degree in Sacred Theology (Magna Cum Laude). In June 1981, he completed and defended his Doctoral Dissertation in Sacred Theology (S. T. D.) “Traditional Theism in African Creation Myths with the Bassa (Liberian) Djuankadju” as central theme.
Since his return in June 1981 he worked in the Archdiocese of Monrovia up to the time of his retirement from pastoral duties. In 2001, he reached the canonical age for retirement from active service. With that official age (75 years old) came the church’s high honors for long and persevering services to Mother Church and the State. The title Monsignor (My Lord) is a title of honors reserved to the Holy Father, the Pope.
In addition, he had been blessed throughout his many years of priestly service by our country. He has served as National Orator twice, (1997 & 2010) the only National Orator in Liberia’s 163 year history, and has received many distinctions, including the Grand Band of Africa – conferred by Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on July 24, 2007.
He had remained in St. Kizito Parish as he did not want to retire to a place that he would have nothing to be doing. Furthermore, there were work that requires priests in every parish; hence with the consent of the Archbishop, he remained in St. Kizito Parish helping the new pastor in any way possible. Due to his waning strength, he moved to the Regina Caeli Manor on 8th Street – Sinkor at the close of the year 2013 where he remained until his demise.