It is a question that has been running through the minds of many. In an era where the gap between God and the youth, widens by the day, many wonder, “Why is Msgr Lawrence Kanyike, ‘a man of God’, popular among the students of Makerere University?” I set out to get the answer from the man himself but even before he said it, his actions did.
I meet him at his office in Makerere University. He is dressed in a weather beaten but well pressed black short sleeved shirt. His priest collar is untied. His trousers are equally black, but noticeably a tad loose. The eye cannot miss the silver and gold coloured watch on his left wrist for it is his sole accessory. When he sees me, he flashes a brief smile, stretches out his hand to shake mine as we exchange pleasantries. The handshake is a firm one, thanks to his stiff fingers. He points to a three seater settee and urges me to sit.
He breaks the ice by engaging me in a chat about my job as a journalist. The enthusiasm on his face is charming. My mind quickly registers the fact that Kanyike’s strength in luring lies in showing interest in the person before him. Didn’t famous author Dale Canergie say that that is one of the ways to win friends and influence people? Anyway, for certainty’s sake I seek to get my answer from the horse’s mouth.
“Msgr, why do you think you are loved by the students of this university?” I ask. He pauses to think, clears his throat and replies, “It is not a secret. If you show a student that you love him or her, if you show him that you prioritise him in whatever you do, he will reciprocate the feeling and participate in everything that you ask of him/her. That is the trick world over.”
For the last 30 years, Kanyike has been the Chaplain of the university’s Catholic community. Last week he retired from the role. He informs me that he is sad that he is leaving but at the same time happy that he was able to achieve most of the goals that he had set during the morning of his career.
Changing the face of the chapel
In 1984, he took over from Dr David Kyeyune as the chaplain of St Augustine’s, after the latter was appointed Dean of Arts at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi.
“I was not impressed by what I found. The order of the day was that few students would come for mass, which the Chaplain would say.
At its end, both parted ways, (the students to their halls and the chaplain to his place of residence). They would only meet again the next Sunday,” he narrates. “I said to myself, this is not going to be my style. I promised myself that I would make sure that the church’s influence in the university is felt. I wanted it to be the moral conscience of the university. I wanted the students to feel a sense of belonging to their faith. To achieve this, I created means to involve students in participating in the affairs of the church.”
Kanyike says that he moved mass from the church to the students’ places of residence. First, he asked the students to form leadership committees amongst themselves on the basis of their halls of residence and hostels.
Involving the students
Members of these committees coordinated the church’s activities in the various halls and hostels. “Every Wednesday I would meet with their leaders to receive weekly reports. I made it a point to say mass at least twice a semester in every hall and hostel. This helped to bridge gaps that existed between them and the church,” he states.
Kanyike believed that as Chaplain he was not only responsible for the students’ spiritual lives, but also their social behaviour. In order to participate in their social lives, he initiated social occasions such as the annual freshers’ dinner and the annual leavers’ party. He also organised beach bashes for different halls and hostels. He says that he was aware that throwing such parties alone was not enough to signal the love he had for the students. Thus, he ensured that he was at the forefront of the preparations.
“I would lead the team going to Owino to buy the foodstuffs. I would drive to UgaChick to buy chicken. Most importantly, I would also go and attend the parties. The big mistake that other people make is to say there is evil at the beach so I cannot go there. That is wrong. You are better off if you go there and portray how a Christian is supposed to behave when they are on an outing. Actually this is something that I have been stressing to my students, for example, that to go dancing is not bad, as long as you depict how a member of our faith is supposed to carry themselves when they go dancing,” he says.
How did he deal with students who exploited such ceremonies to exhibit immoral tendencies? He says he rarely had such cases and even when they happened, he would, at the end of the event, talk to the culprits. “These are mature people. You do not go around condemning them. So the best approach is to show them wrong they have done and tell them the right thing to do,” he states.
The sense of satisfaction in Kanyike’s tone when he is speaking about his achievements in his three decade spell at the university, may leave one under the assumption that the ride has been an easy one. It has not. He says this to me, twice, to underline how hard it has been.
“You have to be ready to make sacrifices. Big sacrifices. For example I missed most of my family and friends’ ceremonies because they clashed with the church’s programmes.
Nevertheless, I could withstand these sacrifices because I loved what I was doing. You know, students are our future leaders and intellectuals of the country. So it was my mission to shape their morals so that when they are in offices of authority they can demonstrate the good ethics they learned. And I was ready for any sacrifice to pull this off,” he notes.
One challenge not solved
However, as the 63-year-old leaves the university, there is one notable goal that he has been unable to achieve – involvement of the administrators in the lives of the students. He says most of the wardens at the university are there to earn salaries and not to guide the students’ lives yet the latter is their responsibility.