How Christianity developed Uganda

There were two important religious ceremonies that took place in Uganda last week. The first, which was held in Acholi on February 16, was to remember Archbishop Janani Luwum who was murdered by former president Idi Amin in 1977.

The second ceremony was held on February 17 by the Catholic Church at Kigungu, Entebbe, on the shores of Lake Victoria to remember the day the first Catholic White missionaries, Fr Simeon Lourdel (Mapeera) and Brother Amans, arrived here on February 17, 1879.

The White missionaries (Anglican, White Fathers and Mill Hill Fathers) introduced Christianity in this part of Africa as a result of Kabaka Muteesa I of Buganda inviting them in 1875.

It so happened that a great British explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, came trekking through what the Europeans once called the “dark continent of Africa”, looking for the source of River Nile and eventually ended up in Muteesa’s palace.

Stanley trekked through the jungles and reached Muteesa’s palace at Rubaga. Muteesa welcomed him and gave him a letter in 1875 inviting Christian missionaries to come and educate the people of Uganda.

The island of Zanzibar (Ungujar) was the base from where the early explorers started their journeys into the African hinterland. They faced the dangers of being attacked by wild animals, malaria and the difficulties of crossing rivers which had no bridges.

Stanley took Muteesa’s letter and it was published in the British Times newspaper in London. Two years later in 1877, the first missionary Alexander Mackey arrived here from England sent by the Church Missionary Society (CMS).

Soon after, missionary doctor Albert Cook arrived here and set up a mission hospital at Namirembe Hill which Muteesa had given to the CMS. Mengo Central School was built soon after.

Later on, these two missionaries were joined by Bishop Tucker who established the Anglican Church mission in Mukono. Mukono now has a church, secondary school, university and a modern mission hospital.

The CMS chose to remain at Namirembe. They created an African church for the Blacks and named it the Native Anglican Church (NAC). NAC built hospitals and schools, among them King’s College Budo, Gayaza High School, Ngogwe Baskaville School, Buloba College, Busoga College Mwiri, Nabumali High School, Bweranyange Girls and Sir Samuel Baker High School.

NAC educated three pioneers who spread Christianity in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo. Apollo Kivebulaya spread Christianity in Rwanda, Burundi and Congo (Mboga-Zaire). Rev Levi Zimbe spread Christianity in eastern Uganda and Rev Semei Nyanzi spread Christianity in northern Uganda, and his base was in Gulu.

The coming of White Fathers
The French Catholics of the White Fathers Missionaries arrived here in 1879 from Algiers, Algeria, which was their headquarters in Africa. The first to arrive here on February 17, 1879, was Fr Lourdel and he was accompanied by Br Amans.

When he arrived at Muteesa’s Palace at Rubaga, Muteesa called him “son of the palace” (mwana w’embuga) and he gave him the name Mapeera when he heard the French name “Mon Pere” which means (my father). The Centenary Bank headquarters in Kampala was named after him by the Catholic Church.

Muteesa vacated his palace and offered the entire Rubaga Hill to the Catholic Church as their headquarters. Muteesa moved the palace to Kasubi where he was eventually laid to rest. The alter at Rubaga Cathedral was built at the very place where Muteesa’s palace was.

The White Fathers spread Catholicism from Rubaga westwards to Rwanda, Burundi, Congo up to the Atlantic Ocean. The late Archbishop Joseph Kiwanuka, who was the first Black Bishop in Africa, was educated by the White Fathers.

The White Fathers built many schools in Uganda which include St Mary’s College Kisubi, Rubaga High School, Rubaga Girls High School, St Henry’s College Kitovu, and Rubaga Hospital.
The coming of the Mill Hill missionaries

When Muteesa passed away in 1884, his son Mwanga succeeded him to the throne. Mwanga found that the Catholic White Fathers had already consolidated themselves and had a big team of young men who had already converted to Christianity.
These young men later on rebelled against him and they were burnt alive on his orders at Namugongo in 1886 and they became Uganda Martyrs.

Later on, Mwanga came to believe that there was no Catholicism in England because the CMS at Namirembe were from England and the White Fathers at Rubaga were French. When the White Fathers learnt about this, they communicated with the Catholic Church at Mill Hill in England and requested them to quickly send British Catholic Fathers to Buganda so as to dispel Mwanga’s belief.

The Mill Hill Mission in England sent Bishop Henry Hanlon. He arrived here in 1895 and Mwanga gave the Mill Hill Missionaries Nsambya Hill. They spread Christianity from Nsambya eastwards and also covered the whole of Kenya up to Mombasa.

From that time, the orders governing the Catholic Church in Kenya came from Nsambya until 1975 when the Pope separated the Kenyan Catholic Church from Uganda and appointed the late Cardinal Maurice Otunga to head the church.

Bishop Hanlon worked closely with the three Buganda regents when the young king Daudi Chwa had just succeeded the throne and helped them at the time of signing the 1900 Uganda Agreement which made Uganda a protectorate of Britain until October 9, 1962.

The regents were Sir Apollo Kaggwa (prime minister), Stanislaus Mugwanya (minister of justice) and Zachariah Kitaka Kisingiri (minister of finance). Bishop Hanlon quickly converted Mugwanya from Islam to Catholicism and he became the head of the Catholics in Buganda.

Mugwanya requested Bishop Hanlon to build Namilyango College in 1902 to educate Catholic princes of Buganda, Bunyoro, Tooro, Ankole, Busoga and other areas.
The first prince to be educated at Namilyango was prince Joseph Musanje, who painted Muteesa I’s portrait which shows Muteesa with big eyes.

Later on, the Mill Hill Fathers built Tororo College in eastern Uganda for the people of Bukedi, Bugisu and Teso. The Mill Hill missionary who did the greatest developments in Uganda and Kenya was Sister Mary Kevin, popularly known in as Mother Kevina or Mama Kevina.

During her time, many women (including my mother) were baptised Kevina in the Catholic Church. Mother Kevina arrived here on January 15, 1903, from the Franciscan Sisters of St Mary’s Abbey, Mill Hill in London.

Mother Kevina built Nsambya Hospital. In 1923, she founded the Little Sisters of St Francis Nkokonjeru in Kyagwe Mukono District. She built hospitals, the Church and many girls’ schools, including Stella Marris Nsube. She built Nagalama Catholic Mission and hospital. The 50 years she spent in Uganda brought hope to so many people in this part of Africa.

The writer is an elder from Kyaggwe, Mukono District. 0772584423