Monsignor George Sserwanga, 77, celebrated a silver jubilee in priesthood on June 30, 2018 at St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary Katigondo in Masaka Diocese, where he has been a lecturer of Philosophy for nearly all his priestly life.
“I would never have persevered if it were not for God,” Monsignor Sserwanga says. It is by supplication that the priest wins God’s support in the fulfilment of his work. “I believe it is God that has given me the strength to serve Him this long,” Monsignor sserwanga remarks. He adds, “Sometimes on Christmas or Easter, I’m asked to say Mass in different parishes, but I have spent most of my life here at the seminary.”
When we meet at Katigondo Major Seminary. He was recovering from severe malaria and he could hardly walk but he is still warm. His office has a wooden book shelf stacked with books about prayer, scholarly work, and teaching.
Path to priesthood
“When I was about seven years old, I was taken to Nkoni Primary School in 1948. Around that time we were frequently visited by a Catholic priest, Fr John Musoke, who was our relative. He made a big impression on me and he took interest in me. He encouraged me to become an altar boy which led me to consider becoming a priest too.
After Primary Five at Nkoni I joined Kyamaganda Preparatory Seminary. Later, I went to Bukalasa Minor Seminary for my secondary education (1955-60) before joining Katigondo Major Seminary in 1961.”
In his second year at Katigondo he was sent to Urban University, Rome to continue with his priestly training. “It was an opportunity for me to meet seminarians from different parts of the world,” he recalls.
“Our lessons were in Latin, but I was also able to learn Italian, gained some understanding of German and French.”
He was at the university for six years during which he obtained two masters degrees; one in Philosophy and another in Theology. He was ordained priest on June 30, 1968 in Bregenz Austria. He returned to Uganda for two years for pastoral work.
“Upon my return I was appointed to teach philosophy and psychology at Katigondo. Then, in July 1970, I was sent by the diocese to do a PhD at the University of Louvain in Belgium. But to gain admission it was necessary for me to have a mastery of both French and Germany. I polished the little I learnt from Rome and eventually I completed my three-year PhD in 1974.”
Why Latin is key
He returned to teach at Katigondo Major Seminary in May 1975. Every seven years he would go for sabbatical in different Catholic universities such as University of Notre Dame, Duquesne University, and St Thomas of Aquinas University Minnesota.
Asked why Latin is still valued as a language of instruction by the Catholic church, Monsignor Sserwanga explains, “Great theologians used Latin and their original works were written in the same language. The best meaning is obtained when one reads the message in the original language. I believe in the principle that a translator is a traitor. The translator often fails to fully pass on the information. Therefore, it is better to study the works of those authors in the language they were written. Reason it is still taught in seminaries.”
One of his challenges as a teacher of Theology and Philosophy is that he now teaches in English because not all his students are well-grounded in Latin. Many of them get recruited into the seminary from ordinary secondary schools without having gone through the minor seminaries where Latin is emphasised. Monsignor Sserwanga speaks, German, French, Italian, English, and Luganda.
He says he enjoys sharing knowledge and he is pleased that he has made some contribution to the training of so many priests and other people that never made it to priesthood.
Does he earn a salary as a teacher at the seminary?
“Not really, and as a priest I do not need much money. We get some money as teachers in form of book allowance and some to buy a few needs. Our seminary has a farm from which we get our food from the farm.
“Away from teaching I do a bit of work on the farm, mainly for physical exercise. I enjoy taking a walk in the farm for leisure,” He explains.
Much as his service has been mainly teaching at Katigondo, the bishop of Masaka Diocese has allocated him some other duties. He is a member of the Bishop’s Advisory Board which is headed by the Vicar General; he is also a member of the diocesan tribunal and diocesan education board of directors. He censures religious books before the bishop grants them an imprimatur licence.
The Rev Fr Anthony Kakumba, the Parish Priest of Kitovu in Masaka Diocese says, “Monsignor Sserwanga taught me Philosophy at Katigondo Major Seminary. We referred to him as a ‘Walking Encyclopedia’ because he was knowledgeable about almost anything you asked him about. We thought he was qualified to teach anything in the seminary, be it Psychology, Logic, Church History!”
Fr Kakumba’s description of the old priest is not any different from that of Fr Francis Nnaku, a lecturer at Katigondo Major Seminary.
“If you want any information regarding this seminary or one of our oldest Catholic Parishes such as Villa Maria or any part of the history of the Catholic Church, Monsignor Sserwanga is the person to consult,” Fr Nnaku says.
Some of the prominent people that are his former students include, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Bishop Callistus Rubaramira of Kabale, Bishop Lambert Bainomugisha. and Retired Justice Joseph Kibuuka.