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Dominicans Take the Lead
First Catholic University to Open in Ethiopia

Africa MapSANTA SABINA, September 25, 2008 CBCPnews -- The Dominican Province of the Philippines is set to open the first Catholic university in Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, eastern African country.

Master General Fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa, OP has appointed a Filipino Dominican, Fr. Virgilio Aderiano Ojoy, OP, to head the Ethiopia Catholic University of St. Thomas Aquinas (ECUSTA) in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

The initiative of establishing an educational institution in Africa came from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia (CBCE), which sought help from the Order of Preachers, one of the leading religious orders of the Church also known for its missionary and educational work. The Dominican Master agreed to send friars to put up the university, according to the Varsitarian, the student paper of the University of Santo Tomas (UST), Manila.

Under the memorandum of agreement between the Dominicans and CBCE, the Catholic university in Ethiopia will be owned by the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia, but administered by the Dominicans.

“There was this world-wide search among Dominicans but the qualifications were quite stringent,” said Ojoy, who will be the founding rector of ECUSTA.

Among the key requirements to qualify for the position were the attainment of a doctorate degree in any field and an administrative experience of at least 15 years, which became Ojoy’s edge over other candidates.

“There are quite a number of Dominican priests with doctorate degrees in the Order,” Ojoy said. “But only few have 15 years experience in administration. For those who were qualified, their provinces were not willing to give them up.”

Azpiroz then asked the Philippine Dominican Province to provide personnel for the school, which will open this year in Addis Ababa.

The foundation of ECUSTA was highlighted in the Acts of the General Chapter of the Order in Bogota, Colombia last year, which noted that Filipino Dominicans have put up a community in Addis Ababa, the House of St. Augustine of Hippo, and that the opening of the new university, with five faculties temporarily at Nazareth High School, was “imminent.”

The chapter also cited the fact that the university would be an undertaking of the entire Dominican family, noting that the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, which runs Siena College in Manila, has been invited to join.

Meanwhile, the CBCE appointed last December priests Abba Tsegaye Keneni as project director and Abba Ketema Asfaw Weldeyes as vice-president of ECUSTA.

The university is expected to open this September.

“ECUSTA could operate starting September if the government would grant the permit to begin the school operations,” said Ojoy, formerly the vice-rector of UST.

Ojoy, who will formally assume the new post in January 2009, plans to focus on three areas—a strong skeletal force, a fundraising office, and adequate facilities.

“I will have a careful recruitment of qualified, competent and committed skeletal force, both from the Philippines and in Ethiopia,” Ojoy said, referring to professors, administrators, and a support staff.

Even though the university has been assured of a one-million euro subsidy from Italy, Ethiopia’s former colonizer for the first five years of operation, Ojoy still wants to have an office for fundraising.

Some of the proceeds from fundraising will be used to provide equipment needed inside classrooms.

The university will initially operate with five courses—Education Management, Literature, Philosophy, Arts, and Sciences.

According to Ojoy, the new staff and faculty of ECUSTA would be trained in UST and seek experts from UST to help in Ethiopia in the operations of the university.

Ethiopia is a progressive African country with a population of 83.1 million, 61 percent of whom are Christians.

The Orthodox Church has dominated education in Ethiopia for many centuries until secular education was adopted in the early 1900s. The elites, mostly Christians and central ethnic Amhara population, had the most privilege until 1974, when the government tried to reach the rural areas. In fact, until right now, it is only the elite Christians who have better chance to higher education. Languages other than Amharic are suppressed.

The current system follows very similar school expansion schemes to the rural areas as the previous 1980s system with an addition of deeper regionalization giving rural education in their own languages starting at the elementary level and with more budget allocated to the Education Sector. The sequence of general education in Ethiopia is six years of primary school, four years of lower secondary school and two years of higher secondary school.

Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country. Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, it has never been colonized.

But the nation is better known for its periodic droughts and famines, its long civil conflict and a border war with Eritrea.

Ethiopia has an economic growth rate of seven percent. It has seven universities, the largest of which is the state-run Addis Ababa University.

Ethiopia is also one of Africa's poorest states. Almost two-thirds of its people are illiterate. The economy revolves around agriculture, which in turn relies on rainfall. The country is one of Africa's leading coffee producers.

Ojoy graduated cum laude in 1978 from the Dominican House of Studies. He then received a meritissimus in UST after finishing his Masters in Higher Religious Theology.

Ojoy finished his licentiate in Higher Religious Studies in UST and later earned his doctorate in Higher Religious Studies and another doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.


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