The Story behind the Founding of St. Mbaaga’s Seminary

In earlier times when Archbishop Henry Streicher, W.F. announced to his people that he intended founding a seminary for young boys to train for the priesthood, some Africans said that that was impossible. Records have it that Oweekitiibwa Mugwanya (a very devoted and exemplary catholic) protested a lot and said to the Archbsihop that he could not get Africans into the priesthood where there were no marrying and begetting children. He is said to have gone even further to suggest that the Archbsihop would rather turn a leopard into a lamb than make an African a priest. Mugwanya said the same of African girls becoming nuns. Ironically his daughter, Restetuta, became a Religious sister in the congregation of the Daughters of Mary. She gave catechetical lessons to the young Emmanuel Nsubuga and faithfully served for more than 75 years as a Religious Nun.

So it was with Archbishop Nsubuga when he intimated that he intended to found a seminary for Late or Mature Vocations. The practice in Uganda was to take very young boys and train them from an early age for the priesthood. Failing to go to the junior or minor seminary at the age of about 14 meant that you had missed the boat and would have no chance of becoming a priest. But basing himself on Vatican II Decree “Optatam Totius” No. 3, which states that, “Care should be taken in fostering vocations in those special institutes which, keeping with local conditions, take the place of minor seminaries, and also among boys educated in other schools or according to other systems. Colleges for late vocations and other undertakings for the same purpose should be diligently promoted.” Archbishop Nsubuga decided to explore the possibilities of getting mature boys to train for the priesthood. In 1973 he directed his Vocations Director to go around exposing the possibility of joining the Seminary other than at the young age of 13 or 15. For two or three years, some young men, including those with theirn own professions, came forward. They were given a three months orientation course and were sent to Katigondo Major Seminary for ecclesiastical studies. Unfortunately Katigondo did not have enough room for all of Nsubuga’s candidates. Yet there was need for more priests. Wherever he went throughout the Archdiocese the Christians were asking him for more priests and more parishes. Vatican II had recommended “bringing Christ nearer to the people.” Around that time Katigondo fell short of accommodation and not all the successful candidates, coming from the Minor Seminaries and much less those coming from Nsubuga’s three months’ orientation course could be absorbed.

An idea dawned on him one fine day and he started to contemplate establishing his own Diocesan Major Seminary for Kampala Archdiocese. Nsubuga could not stomach seeing successful and worthy candidates being victims of circumstances. The ratio of priests to the number of Catholics in the Archdiocese was so alarming that something had to be done. But when he shared this idea with members of his curia and the priests of the Archdiocese, the immediate response was “IT IS IMPOSSIBLE”. “Let us discuss it”, he replied. After a serious discussion, followed by explanations of the Archbishop, a vote was taken. Some passed the idea, others rejected it outright and still a third group accepted it with reservations. Nsubuga interpreted the third group as being positive and so at the end of the day, the majority of priests who had gathered that day supported the Archbishop to found a Major Seminary for the Archdiocese. A feasibility study had to be done regarding the teaching staff, place of establishment and a few other things.

The Archbishop had almost ready answers for most of the disturbing questions regarding the opening of a major seminary. As for the place, Cardinal Nsubuga, had in his mind the vacant premises of the former Gaba Pastoral Institute which had transferred to Eldoret, Kenya because of difficulties in getting work permits for non-Ugandans during Idi Amin’s regime. He considered the transfer of the Institute to Eldoret a “felix culpa” (a blessed misfortune). As for the possibility of getting the qualified teaching staff, he jokingly replied by saying that when Archbishop Henry Streicher wanted to start a seminary in the year 1893, he did not wait until he had obtained priests with degrees. “We’ll start with the ones we have while training others,” he thought.

Cardinal Nsubuga informed his fellow Bishops about his intention of opening a Diocesan Major Seminary. “That’s impossible,” some Bishops said and they had good reasons for reacting so. Archbishop Nsubuga was their Metropolitan and the Chairman of the Uganda Episcopal Conference. They feared that he was planning to pull out of the National System of the Conference and hence split it by opening a rival seminary system. To these objections, Nsubuga replied by saying that he did not intend to pull out of the National System. He would continue sending to the National Seminary those students of his who would be admitted there. His other concern was to cater for late vocations and for those of his deserving students who, having successfully completed their Minor Seminary courses, were left out for lack of accommodation at Katigondo. There must have been other objections from the Bishops but they did not surface. One thing is certain and that is that the Bishops gave him the “green light” to start his own seminary with a big ‘BUT.’ “Yes you may, BUT not so near to our National Seminary.” The Bishops had proposed to rent the premises, which Nsubuga had in mind to open his seminary, to turn them into halls of residence for the seminarians at the National Seminary. That would mean that they could admit more candidates. Nsubuga objected saying that he wanted to establish his Seminary near to the National Seminary because at the start he would ask for the services of some of their staff members to teach some lessons at his seminary. On 23rd. December 1975, Archbishop Nsubuga wrote to the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples informing them of his intention to establish a Diocesan Major Seminary. All obstacles notwithstanding, Nsubuga opened St. Mbaaga’s Seminary on 16th February 1976, the eve of the anniversary of the arrival of the first Catholic Missionaries in Uganda (1879). Some interesting features were: The ceremony was very simple. The Seminary was dedicated to St. Mbaaga, one of the Martyrs of Uganda. The seminary was entrusted to Rev. Fr. John Baptist Kaggwa as its first Rector. When St. Mbaaga’s Seminary celebrated her Silver Jubilee of existence in 2001, Bishop J. B. Kaggwa, its first Rector for the first eight years, gave the homily at Mass. He said: “…However, the road was not smooth at all. There was no money. The candidates to come were not identified yet. The staff included only Fr. Evarist Ssempijja and myself. No Library. No Food. No essential commodities. These had to come from Nairobi. So our strongest support was ‘DIVINE PROVIDENCE’ and the love and understanding from my Ordinary (Cardinal Nsubuga) and the first priests I stayed with. The mission we were entrusted with by Archbishop Nsubuga was to form pastors capable of delivering in parishes and so we insisted on the qualities of a good pastor and on what he needed to do his job.” To date records show that over 150 priests have been ordained from the precincts of St. Mbaaga’s seminary. The tribute goes to Nsubuga, our gratitude goes up to GOD.