This weekend St Mary’s National Seminary Ggaba celebrated 50 years of existence sending joy and excitement across the country given the fact that it is a major symbols of a united Catholic Church in Uganda.
Opened in 1970, Ggaba would have celebrated its golden jubilee in 2020 but the event was postponed due to COVID-19. Nonetheless, on Saturday dozens of priests and lay Catholics celebrated the institution that redefined priestly formation in the country.
Speaking at the event, Bishop Dr Antony Zziwa, the Uganda Episcopal Conference chairperson, described the celebrated National Seminary as an icon of unity for the church.
Dr Zziwa who is the ordinary of Kiyinda-Mityana, a former student and former vice-rector of the institution, added that one of the goals of the establishment of this seminary was to diffuse rivalry,
segregation, and disunity among the Catholics which was based on missionary society groups.
Prior to its establishment, the Catholics in Uganda were divided into three major groups including areas that had been evangelized by Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), Verona Fathers and Mill Hill Father.
Each group had its own seminaries and trained its own priests.
Although they were all Catholic, they were perceived as different people, and on many occasions there erupted rivalry and disagreements among them.
For instance, in central Uganda, disunity reached its peak between the White Fathers and the Mill Hill Fathers to an extent of dividing their flock.
Rev Fr Dr Emmanuel Kimbowa says to end this, they had to come up with a solution.
He adds that training priests in one seminary was one of the suggested solutions.
Rev Fr Dr Joseph Sserunjoji writing in the seminary’s jubilee magazine, tagged the need for unity to the broader desire for unification and acquisition of national character by Uganda which had just received her independence.
The process of unity and nationalism described by Fr Sserunjoji can be traced to 1964.
Records show that during their plenary meeting, the Catholic bishops in Uganda agreed to the final aim of Uganda hierarchy as one national seminary with an African rector for all candidates of the priesthood.
In 1965, a decision was taken to nationalize the existing seminaries.
The bishops had agreed that Katigondo in Masaka (the first seminary to produce priests in sub-Saharan Africa) should house the national major seminary.
But the facilities at the place would soon be inadequate to take care of candidates for philosophy and theology from all over Uganda.
The first Archbishop of Kampala Emmanuel Nsubuga Kiwanuka (later named Cardinal) gave the episcopal building committee two pieces of land at Nsambya and Ggaba to choose a suitable place for the proposed institution.
Interestingly, both pieces of land originally belonged to the Mill Hill fathers.
The committee chaired by Bishop Vincent MacCauley (Fort Portal) assisted by Bishop Adrian Kivumbi Ddungu (Masaka) and James Odongo (Tororo) settled for Ggaba.
The place had an existing seminary constructed by the Mill Hill fathers, also named St Mary’s, and a new one was built just near it.
Rev Fr Dr Sserunjoji said that St Mary’s seminary (of the Mill Hill fathers) was turned into a pastoral institute for ongoing formation after it was deserted by its founders who had relocated to Kenya during the tough 1970’s days of Idi Amin.
In 1970, all four classes of Katingondo’s theology students were transferred St. Mary’s National Seminary as the institution had been established.
Since then, 2,754 students have been enrolled; 1,990 of them have been ordained to the priesthood, and 19 of them have been raised to the order of episcopate (bishops and archbishops).
With the celebrations going on, Zziwa stressed that there is a need to reflect on whether the seminary has been able to achieve the objective of unity.
He however challenged those who have passed through the gate of St Mary’s national seminary to be the light that will dispel tribalism, segregation, and division among the faithful.
He additionally urged the seminary’s administration to continue emphasizing the formation of priests who can meet the church’s present and future needs while also enabling it to become self-administering, self-propagating, and self-supporting.
Meanwhile, His Grace Dr Paul Ssemogerere, Archbishop of Kampala, noted that since the seminary’s founding, it has relied heavily on foreign donations, which are declining yearly.
He thus challenged the faithful in Uganda to take on the role and support the institution.
St.Mary’s National Major Seminary Ggaba is one of the four national seminaries in Uganda under the Uganda Episcopal Conference.
The others are: St. Thomas Aquinas Katigondo seminary (teaching philosophy), Uganda Martyrs Seminary Alokolum (philosophy), and St. Paul’s seminary Kinyamasika (Theology).
Seminarians at Ggaba pursue their second degree in theology.
They provide three levels of academic programs, including an internal theology diploma, a bachelor’s in theology from Rome’s Urbaniana University, and a master’s in religious and theological studies from Makerere University.