In Fr Charles Kayizzi’s life, there are two “what-ifs”: what if his father had gone ahead to become a priest, and, what if he had permanently dropped out of the seminary, just a year shy of ordination.
The result: there would be no Fr Kayizzi. There would also be no Latin expert whose hands have moulded a sizable section of the Catholic Church’s clerical order in Uganda today, including the Kampala Archbishop, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga.
Fr Kayizzi is one of the Catholic Church’s foremost authorities on Latin, the church’s first language. In February, he marked and celebrated 50 years as a priest, in a ceremony at his home parish in Naggalama, Mukono District. To the church’s benefit, the two “what-ifs” were only that, and now, it can bask in the contribution Fr Kayizzi has made.
Born to be a priest
His story starts in the green shrubby northern lands of Mukono District. It is here that a committed Christian man who aspired to wear the cassock, took a detour, and ended up siring a Latin guru. “My father was called Simeo Ssali, and my mother was called Coltilda Namazzi,” he says, speaking slowly, as if every syllable is measured.
His parents, he says, were strict Christians, and it showed in their parenting. “My mother was very religious. She used to teach us prayer, hymns, and we learned them by heart. “My father was strict too; being a headmaster. He would wake us up in the morning, and make us go get milk for breakfast, because there were no cows. And when it was time to go to school, he would make sure that you got there on time.
“My father was a teacher since 1934, and then he got a wife, Coltida Namazzi. There was no maternity (ward) in Namagunga, where he was stationed. So, she was taken to Nkokonjeru, where I was born, on May 6, 1935.
“My father was the founder of Nakibano Primary School. In 1942 I started my studies, learning how to read and so on through a catechist called Masiyale Balijaddi. In 1943, I joined Primary One in Naggalama. My teacher in P.1 was Elias Banaziza, who was also a contributor for the Munno newspaper. “My father told me that he gave me one term to tell him what I would be in future. So, I found somebody called Semanda who told me he wants to go to the seminary. I too followed him. I was 11-years-old.”
Fulfilment of his father’s desire
“My parents were very good Christians; as a matter of fact, my father wanted to become a priest, but he was working with a certain missionary, a Mary Hill father, in Nsambya, who advised him not to, saying ‘perhaps, your son will become a priest’.”
Fr Kayizzi’s journey with Latin started as he prepped himself for life in a seminary.
“Anybody going to the seminary had to prepare enormously, learn the prayers in Latin. I started learning saying prayers in Latin. By the end of the year, we had done interviews, and been accepted into Nyenga Seminary.
With a friend, Henry Nsubuga, the young Kayizzi rode all the way to Nyenga on a bicycle to report for his first day. Nyenga launched him into the seminary experience, one that he came to prefer to being a parish priest. “My time at Nyenga was very interesting as many boys went to the seminary without knowing English; but it was made a rule that each one had to learn English. We had one seminary, which brought students from across the country. The priests who taught us were mostly European.”
It was in Nyenga that he distinguished himself as a Latin scholar. He scored a Distinction 2 in the Cambridge Certificate Exams. And when he finally became a priest, it is to Latin that he would return, this time as a teacher.
The second what-if in Fr Kayizzi’s story comes in 1961. “I had just become a deacon, and was about to become a priest, but I was put off [the list of candidates],” he says. This was while at the Ggaba seminary, which he joined after Nyenga. “I had a skin disease,” he says. “I was required to go get treated and make sure that I was not going to become a problem to other people. “
It did not end his dream though. And when he recovered, he returned and was ordained in February 1964, thereafter being appointed to Nyenga Seminary, as a Latin and music teacher.
Luganda in the vatican
Fr Kayizzi spent the years between 1972 and 1975 in Rome, at the Salesian University in Italy, where he studied Latin even farther. “I felt the need to upgrade, to assess yourself and see; you may think that you are wonderful, but when you go elsewhere, you find people that are better off than you. There was also a challenge; when you have been trained in Church Latin, if there is anything that comes from outside in Latin, they call upon you to do the translation,” he says.
Today, Fr Kayizzi is the Vice Rector at Sacred Heart Seminary Mubende, in charge of the infirmary, letters, newspapers, and the seminary diary. He has also worked at Kisubi Seminary and the Katigondo catechetical centre. He has dedicated almost his entire life to teaching Latin, and preparing the next generation of clerics.