It might be ninety years old but St. Henry’s College Kitovu is still rated among the best performing secondary schools in the country. It is a school that has defied the odds of Uganda’s turbulent colonial and post-colonial history.
The country, taken over by colonial master Britain as a protectorate with the signing of the 1900 agreement celebrates 50 years since attaining independence in 1962.
But while many schools of its era fell into disrepair and general academic decline precipitated by years of war that played out in violent strikes by students among others, the immaculate compound and buildings that make the Kitovu campus betray the ruin the most of Masaka town, the nearest metropolis became after years of post-independence political conflicts.
It is one of the schools in the country where the head teacher normally has to switch off the phone and keep away from the office during senior one and senior five intake periods to avoid people seeking special favors to have their children admitted.
The fees of about Shs800,000 per term should be high enough to discourage parents from seeking to take their children to the school but the opposite is true; the student population at St. Henry’s stands at more than one thousand, despite tight admission conditions.
I write about St. Henry’s College not only as a journalist but also as a former student, a former teacher there, and also as one of the parents who have had their children educated at the school. It is my school!
Founded by the White Fathers Missionary Society in 1922, with only twenty-two students, St. Henry’s College Kitovu was meant to relieve St. Mary’s College Lubaga of its expanding student population pressures.
It is impossible to write about the history of St. Henry’s College Kitovu without referring to the history of St. Mary’s College Lubaga and an explanation ought to be made at this point about the relationship between the two schools. St. Mary’s College Lubaga was started in 1906 by the White Fathers Missionary Society to teach English and other post vernacular primary studies.
It was soon discovered that a lot of the students it admitted were from the fast developing, agriculturally fertile, Masaka region and so it was considered worthwhile to begin a similar school there. Lubaga was also rather limited in terms of physical facilities especially land for the school’s expansion.
Later, around June 1924, it was relocated to its present site, Kisubi, along Entebbe road and where nowadays it is referred to as St. Mary’s College Kisubi. The history of St Henry’s Kitovu is therefore part of the early history of St. Mary’s College Kisubi and to this day the two schools are still closely linked as we are to see shortly hereunder.
The founding headmaster of St Henry’s College was Father Adreane Laberge and ten of its first twenty-two students were transplanted from St. Mary’s College Lubaga, according to a narrative by Stanley Mulumba published in the school’s magazine to celebrate its sixty years of existence. The entrants had completed primary four.
They were to take their first lessons of English and to learn carpentry, tailoring apart from improving their mathematics, geography, history, and science.
After some three years they would leave the school to take up jobs in government departments or proceed to St. Mary’s College Kisubi where they spent about three years and thereafter continued to Makerere or got employed as clerical officers in the colonial government.
It was named after Bishop Henry Streicher, the first Bishop of the Vicariate of Villa Maria (present day Masaka Diocese) who had himself been named after St. Henry, who ruled over Bavaria and was emperor of the Holy Empire from 1002 to 1024 AD.
The entrants were mainly sons of chiefs and rich men who could afford the high school fees of about five shillings a term.
The students wore no shoes and they slept in a grass thatched house opposite the church cemetery at Kitovu. Under the guidance of Reverend Fathers the students physically participated in leveling the ground and construction of the first buildings of present day St. Henrys College in exchange of such rewards as exercise books, rosaries, pens and medals.
If any student misbehaved, the punishment was to carry bricks from the valley to the building site or to carry baskets of soil from one place to another at the building site according to the narrative of Joseph Kakooza one of the first students of the school. They all had to be Catholics who always attended Mass and received sacraments regularly.
Originally it had a Luganda Language school moto: “Kyosimba onaanya --- kyolyaako ettooke.” In English it would loosely be translated as: “The plantain you plant as a joke, without really paying so much attention, is the one from which you actually harvest a bunch of bananas for your eating.”
Later the motto was changed to: “For Greater Horizons.” It suggests that all students and old boys of the school must always strive for greater horizons.
In 1926 the White Fathers invited the Brothers of Christian Instruction to take over the running of their schools and allocated them land at Kisubi in 1927 where they set up a Mother House at Mount St. Theresa to train African Brothers. So in 1927 Father Laberge handed over St. Henry’s College Kitovu to Brother Eugiene Marie Paqette who headed it up to 1942.
The Brothers of Christian Instruction also took over St. Mary’s College Kisubi at about the same time intensifying further the two schools’ relationship bond. In 1942 Brother Eugiene handed over St. Henry’s College Kitovu headship to Brother George Lord.
In 1946 Brother Norbert Vandal became the school’s head, handing over the mantel to Brother Felix Baribeau in 1951. Brother John Leonard Aubin took over from Brother Felix in 1958. Then the first African, Brother Aidan Michael Mulabannaku, became the school’s headmaster in 1964.
The elder brother to Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, Brother Aidan became the longest serving headmaster of St. Henry’s College Kitovu. He expanded the school to become the largest boarding secondary school in the country in 1972 with over 1000 students. He is fondly remembered by many students as “someone you met as your teacher but ended up becoming your relative.”
When he fled the country in 1978, during the regime of Idd Amin, and settled at Starehe Boys Center in Nairobi as a teacher most of us, his former students seeking asylum in Kenya including myself, went to stay at his house as we looked for jobs. We all went to him like we were going to an uncle’s home, without minding at all about the big financial burden that we were going to be to the poor, good, old man.
But he received all of us warmly, without any tribal or religious discrimination, stocking several mattresses and blankets in the house which we spread all over on the floor at night to sleep on, sharing with him whatever little food that he had.
Prominent OBs of Kitovu include Vice President Edward Ssekandi and former DP leader Paul Kawanga Ssemwogerere.