Monsignor William Etuka Obelagu was the first and only son of his “pagan” parents. He was born on the 15th of October, 1904 in Onitsha, to the family of Obelagu and Okwuabizina. He was known as a very generous man and he lived a life of giving. Many testify that his life depicts an image of a perfect man of God.
It is significant to note that Monignor William Etuka Obelagu was raised in a religious environment and as thus was heavily influenced by that. It was at a period where the conversion rate to Christianity was high and everyone anticipated to bea part of this new fellowship of love and commiseration. This contributed to his yearning to be a catholic priest. At this time, he was a sacristian in St. Mary’s Onitsha.
He started his educational journey from the year 1909-1918 in St. Mary’s(now EzeChima Primary School) and Holy Trinity School(now Obi Anazonwu Memorial), Onitsha.
While he worked as a teacher, Williams attended the pupil teacher’s evening classes in preparation for his Teacher’s Third Class Examination which he passed in 1923. He made this known to his Parish Priest who in turn arranged for his courses in Latin which were given by Fr. Howell. The teachings were later taken up by John Cross Anyogu (later Bishop) having Williams still in attendance as well as other prominent Catholics like Br. Micheal Okoye, Mr Williams Hinzpeters and Mr. Anguhere.
While working as a teacher in Onitsha, Williams got acquainted with Michael Tansi. From this time onward, they became good friends and nursed together, all the more, the desire to take to the priesthood.
In 1934, Williams was admitted into the senior Seminary in Eke, near Enugu to study theology under the Rev. Fr. Kennedy, their Rector and Lecturer. This brought him closer to his desire and dreams of becoming a Priest.
Finally, on the 19th of December, 1937, Archbishop Charles Heerey of Onitsha ordained him a priest alongside two others, Joseph Nwanegbo and Michael Tansi, in the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Onitsha which was completed and opened in 1935. This made Onitsha town blessed with a second Indigenous Catholic priest.
Immediately after ordination, Fr. William Obelagu was posted to work under Fr.Joseph Obenye in Aguleri. In 1939, he was in Makurdi prefecture (now Markurdi Diocese). He was in Oturkpo during the second world war, helping the German priest who worked in the area. He worked in the midst of the Tiv and Idoma who regarded him highly and treated him with love and affection. This act took him places like Umunna, Nmiata and Dunukofia. He was in charge of the Igbo-ukwu parish (1969-1970) during the Nigerian Civil War. His compassion was tested by innumerable hungry and naked war-hit “Biafrans” to whom he was no less a father who cared.
He had been in St. Mary’s Parish, Onitsha as from 1949 until the civil war broke out. In the year 1950 which was Holy year, he was privileged to visit Rome on a holy pilgrimage. The following year, in addition to parish work, he was commissioned a preacher for the raising of seminary funds for Onitsha Archdiocese.
Indeed, Williams had a life full of activities and various responsibilities. In 1952, he was made papl Chamberlain, a Domestic Prelate in 1962 and a Vicar General and counselor for Onitsha Archdiocese in 1964. He was also a one time member of the Cinema Censorship board.
In February 1977, he died as a parish priest of St. Mary’s Church, Onitsha. His burial ceremony was well attended most especially by Indigenes of Onitsha who had always described him as their spiritual father and an excellent man of God. He embraced his service with total dedication and commitment. He was a priest to all. He showed this by his high regard for home apostolate whereby he saw for himself how parishioners lived and therefor shared in their joys and hardships.
He was a very powerful minister and Onitsha people lamented severely at his death.