On June 9, 1893, what is believed to have been an inspiration of the Holy Spirit ascended onto the then Catholic missionaries to Uganda and gave them the courage to undertake a task of moulding the native Africans towards becoming ministers in the Church.
Incidentally, what begun as trail works of Bishop Heinrich Streicher who superintended the religious mission of the White Fathers in Uganda, is to date standing out as one of those landmark achievements Catholic Church prides in after a century.
Upon successful preaching and converting a number of native Ugandans into the Catholic faith, Bishop Streicher realised a need of having the new-found flock getting their shepherd from amongst themselves, which would simplify furthering of the gospel and eventually spread the faith. The Rev Fr John Mary Waliggo, in his book titled; The History of African Priesthood explains that despite Bishop Streicher’s dream and need to have native priests, he could not fast-track the ordination of the candidates until they go through the prescribed cycle of formation, which necessitated him to establish a Minor Seminary at Bukalasa in Masaka Diocese.
Bukalasa Minor Seminary, located in Kalungu District, therefore became the initial school of formation of indigenous candidates into lineage of priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church in the Saharan Africa. Amongst Bishop Streicher’s first admissions into Bukalasa Minor Seminary in 1893, emerged the first two Ugandans ; Rev Fr Basil Lumu and Msgr Victor Mukasa Womeraka, who successfully completed studies through the Major Seminary at Katigondo and were eventually ordained priests in 1913. Fr Lumu and Msgr Womeraka became the most successful candidates to join priesthood not only in Uganda but also in the Saharan Africa. Masaka Diocese Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa, says the church exults the strength and dedication of the duo that became the foundation of proof that Africans can effectively take ahead the priestly vocation.
“These two passed a big test of time, defeated their inferiority complex and effectively proved that Africans too, can become priests and it is in their paths that we also walk,” Bishop Kaggwa observes.
At the moment, Masaka Diocese is gearing up to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Bukalasa Minor Seminary, and to reflect on its contribution to the spiritual growth of the Ugandan communities and those outside.
According to Rev Fr Francis Mugerwa, the rector of Bukalasa, preparations are underway to organise celebrations for the seminary; one of the few that has stood a test of time in Africa.
The seminary has ability to uphold the continuity of producing priestly candidates since inaugural ordination, which took place more than a century ago. Fr Mugerwa emphasises that the seminary has maintained its standards which has seen it choose students they pass-over to Katigondo Major Seminary adjacent of which the Church and specifically Masaka Diocese have consistently been getting priests.
Mode of teaching
“The seminary operates an integrated secondary school curriculum of both secular and theological studies and we are proud to be among those institutions known for producing best candidates at universities and other tertiary institutions,” he says.
Besides the selected few candidates that pass a chain of tests to join the Major Seminary to accomplish the priestly formation, Fr Mugerwa explains that many of their other students that have taken the different professional careers have also continued fetching them pride because of their exceptional characteristics and discipline. “Not all students that go through this seminary become priests although majority come with the aspiration. Many are dropped on the way after failing to live up to the requirements,” he explains.
The seminary admits a total of 320 students every year, but according to Fr Mugerwa only a few make it through the major seminary, and others are discontinued before completing Senior Four over indiscipline .
However, even the discontinued ‘Old boys’ of the seminary are known to present themselves with unique life attributes that include among others; a high sense of humility, politeness, patience, obedience, respect of others; values that form the basis of priestly formation.
Fr Mugerwa says they expect at least 10,000 seminarians to be part of the celebrations. At the moment, the authorities are undertaking major renovations of the structures and the compound, to give the seminary a new face-lift ahead of the celebrations that will begin later this year until June next year.
On decreasing number of priests
At the recent ordination of a batch priests at; Our Lady of Souls Cathedral at Kitovu in Masaka Diocese, Bishop Kaggwa acknowledged a reduction in number of priests despite the consistence. He urged the laity to encourage more children into embracing a priestly vocation.
For instance, while the diocese passed out 11 priests last year, the number dropped to nine candidates this year. Asked about the trend, Fr Mugerwa explains that this largely lies on the quality of students that apply to join the seminary.
“Although the numbers of applicants are still high, few can pass the preliminary tests that require attributes such as self- discipline and patience,” he says.
He explains that what society perceives as portraits of modernity, much of which contradict with the known religious values is also known to lock out many interested candidates.
However, Fr Mugerwa notes that to his surprise none of the communities has ever rejected a priest because of having “ancient” traits; some people accuse us of imparting in candidates. “The requirements of the formation are very strict on the quality of candidates to become priests. We are guided by the principle of; “many are called but few are chosen” which cannot be adjusted for the sake of attracting numbers,” he noted.
Besides priests some of whom have even been consecrated, Bishops and Monsignor, the other notable personalities that have gone through Bukalasa include prominent politicians and ministers, members of parliament and the diplomatic quo.