The White Fathers in Uganda

The first caravan to East Africa

NABULAGALA 1879-1882

Lourdel and Amans at Entebbe
The first Catholic missionaries to settle in Uganda landed at Entebbe on 17th February 1879.
Fr. Simeon Lourdel and Br. Amans Delmas
had left Marseilles with the first caravan of White Fathers on 22nd April 1878. They landed in Zanzibar on 30th May and on 17th June the whole caravan ventured, on foot, into the interior of Africa, opening up their way through the wilderness. From the south of Lake Victoria two missionaries went northwards across the lake to explore the situation in Uganda, Father Lourdel and Brother Amans.

On their arrival at Entebbe, Lourdel and Amans landed on the Kigungu peninsula: a modest monument still marks the spot. On their way to Rubaga they spent their night at Kisubi. When Kimg Mutesa learned of their arrival, he had them taken to Kitebi some 3 miles from Rubaga. They spent there fifteen days, sometimes without food, shivering with fever, uncertain of the fate awaiting them. Summoned to the Kabaka's court Fr Lourdel informed Mutesa that he himself and four others had been sent to establish a Catholic mission in Uganda. Mutesa consented to the coming of the Catholic missionaries to Uganda and his promise to send canoes to fetch the rest of the group. The king's consent was given on 23rd February 1879.

The first Holy Mass in Uganda
After Mutesa's first audience Lourdel and Amans had to retun to their small hut at Kitebi, where they were constantly under guard. Finally Mutesa gave them a better place to live in at Nabulagala-Lubya; Lourdel and Amans took up their residence there around the 7th May 1879; the first Catholic mission station in Uganda was founded.
The 24 canoes supplied by the Kabaka to fetch the rest of the group and their belongings at Kageye were ready on 11th April and Bro. Amans accompanied the flotilla to the south of the lake.

Frs Livinhac, Girault and Barbot landed at Entebbe on 17th June 1879.
The first Holy Mass ever to be offered in Uganda was celebrated at Nabulagala-Lubya. "For 5 months I have been deprived of Holy Mass," wrote Fr Lourdel to a friend. The portable altar had stayed with Livinhac's group. A memorial chapel, erected at Nabulagala near Rubaga, to commemorate the event, was blessed by Bishop Michaud on 25th June 1939, the sixtieth anniversary of Livinhac's arrival.

Kabaka Mutesa received Livinhac and his companions with great pomp; the missionaries were taken in procession to the court proceded by Mutesa's flag. Lourdel asked the Kabaka for a bigger house. This request was granted and the gifts accepted. Afterwards the king sent a gift of 30 cows, and Sabaganzi, a relative of the Queen Mother, sent a cow and bananas.

For the Kabaka it was normal to consider Muslims, Anglicans, and from 1879, Catholics, merely as representing Arab, English and French power. To safeguard his independence from Egypt and Zanzibar he was seeking a political alliance which he thought Christianity could offer. With this in mind Mutesa summoned Livinhac and Lourdel to the court in the afternoon of 3rd July 1879; the king wanted them to send one of their missionaries to France to put Uganda under French protectorate. To this unexpected request Livinhac replied without hesitation that the Catholic missionaries had come as messengers of God and not as agents of the French government; they had no mandate to to discuss political matters.

The first catechumens
The incidents surrounding the missionaries' arrival in Buganda, their activities at the court and their concern with their material needs as they settled in at Nabulagala did not deter Fr Livinhac and his companions from from preaching the gospel to the people.The first serious catechumen was Nalubandwa, a servant of the King. He asked Fr Lourdel to instruct him. The first baptisms were performed in March 1880.

Mgr Lavigerie told his missionaries that the catechumenate should normaly last four years before baptism. The Fathers prepared a small catechism in Luganda. Within a few years their teaching produced the Ugandan Martyrs and a remarkable harvest of devout Christians.
Lavigerie insisted that the knowledge of the local language was indispensable for preaching. A primer for school children was also printed in 1885 which included some arithmetic.

As for material development, as soon as they were installed at Nabulagala the missionaries looked for a place to start a garden. In 1881 Lourdel reports, "We now reap our crop of wheat and may have bread occasionally.

Life at the mission: "Mapera"
Fr Lourdel was known to all as "Mapera", which came from the french word "Mon Pere", my Father.

While Livinhac and Lourdel gave religious instruction to the visitors, Bro Amans devoted himself to the material needs of the mission and gave orphans staying there a technical training. Bro. Amans was also in turn a builder, supervisor of the domestic needs, a gardener, a mechanic, carpenter, and a devoted infirmarian.


In 1974 Archbishop Nsubuga took the opportunity of a journey to Europe to visit the birthplaces and the surviving relatives of the first five Catholic missionaries who arrived in Uganda in 1879. On his return to Uganda he decided that, to remain true to the traditions of Buganda, these five missionaries, "our ancestors in the faith", as he called them, ought to be buried in Buganda. "We consider it a right and a duty to bring, their remains back to the land for which they have died, with no other purpose than that of giving us the message of Christ," said the Archbishop; and he added, "Let us be real Ugandans and by seeing to our Fathers in the Faith who died years ago for us, as real Ugandans see to their beloved dead, we will bring to our country the blessings of God. This whole exercise is basically a very religious and Ugandan gesture."

With the kind assistance of President Amin's Office in Kampala, the various governments concerned gave their authorization and the Archbishop travelled in turn to Zanzibar and Bagamoyo where Fr Barbot and Br Amans respectively had been buried, then to Algiers where the remains of Archbishop Livinhac were resting in the cathedral. An interesting detail noticed by many was that the remains of these three arrived at Entebbe close to the spot where, as young missionaries, they had landed for the first time 95 years earlier.


The cemetery of Maison Carree was not destined to be Livinhac's final resting place. In April 1970 the urban planning office of Algiers municipality ordered the removal of the cemetery to make place for a motorway. Livinhac's remains were exhumed and enclosed in an urn. This was transported by funeral hearse to the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa, where it was placed in a vault beneath the Chapel of St. Augustine. In 1975 Archbishop Emmanuel Nsubuga of Kampala came to Algiers to take possession of the remains. The vault was opened on April 14th in the presence of Archbishop Nsubuga and Bishop Jaquier, Auxiliary of Algiers, and the casket was flown to Kampala the same evening. On June 3rd 1975 the Namugongo Shrine was dedicated by a specially appointed Papal Legate, Sergio Cardinal Pignedoli. Leon Livinhac's casket was carried in procession to the shrine in African fashion, being held aloft on the head of the bearer, amidst the joyful acclamations of a huge crowd. It was a historic homecoming for "Grandfather Vinyaki".

the remains of Lourdel, Amans, Barbot and Matia MulumbaIn May 1975, Fr Lourdel's remains were also transferred from the burial chapel at Rubaga to the Archbishop's private chapel, being once again reunited with Archbishop Livinhac, Br Amans and Fr Barbot. (photo on the right : the remains of Lourdel, Amans, Barbot and Matia Mulumba)

Unfortunately Fr Ludovic Girault's remains at Maison-Carree, near Algiers, could not be identified.Livinhac's casket still lies in the Chapel of the Archbishop's house at Rubaga next to the altar. On top of the casket stands a statue of Our Lady. The casket contains the urn with the remains of Bishop Livinhac, which Fr. Richard Nnyombi has seen and certified 4th May 2007.

The remains of the Fr. Lourdel, Fr. Barbot and Br. Amans are kept in the sacristy of the Archbishop's Chapel. There is a request to move them all to the Memorial Chapel at Nabulagala.
Five marble busts are in fact on the Facade of Rubaga Cathedral.


. . . .



The Cradle of the Catholic Church in Uganda is to become a Parish

Many of us have for many times sung the song Twebaza Mapeera ne Munne Amansi... (We thank Mapeera and his confrere Amans), and for as many times we have sung these words: Basanga Muteesa ng'abalindiridde n 'abawa ekyalo ye Lubya mu Kyadondo, (they found King Muteesa waiting for them and he gave them a village of Lubya in Kyadondo). But how many of us have ever made a pilgrimage to this holy site, the cradle of the Catholic Church in Uganda? It is here that the first catholic missionaries started and continued their Evangelising Mission for the first three years of their stay in this country, (1879-1882).


Being the cradle of the Catholic Church, Nabulagala-Lubya has many firsts which make it an important historic place:

It is here that the first Eucharist was celebrated on the 25th or 26th June 1879.
It is here that the first catholic mission was built in 1879.
It is here that this country was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, (2nd July 1879).
It is here that the first catechumenate was started.
It is here that the first baptisms were made on the 27th March 1880. Among those who were baptised here are the following four Martyrs of Uganda: Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe and Andrew Kaggwa, who were baptised by Fr. Mapeera on the 30th April 1882; and Mathias Mulumba and Luka Baanabakintu who were baptised by Fr. Girault Ludovic on the 28th May 1882.
It is here that the war against slavery in this country was launched.

Already in June 1879, Mapeera speaks about three redeemed young boys, two from Busoga and one from Bunyoro.
So many firsts and many more firsts could be added on this list! It is these many firsts that make this place unique and important for the Catholic Church in particular and our country in general.
On the 7th November 1882, because of insecurity reasons, the missionaries left Nabulagala for Tanganyika. When they came back in 1885, Kabaka Mwanga gave them land at Nalukolongo and later on at Lubaga.
Since then, Nabulagala has been a sub-parish first of Lubaga and since 1974 of Nakulabye.

In February 2006, His Eminence Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, decided to start preparing Nabulagala to become an autonomous parish. He entrusted this work to the little brothers of Mapeera and Amans, the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers).

A team of three Frs Richard Nnyombi, Charles Kasule and Desiré Le Goff and a stagiaire Desta Abino have since then been involved in the preparations, hand in hand with Nakulabye Parish and the laity of the two outstations (Mapeera-Kijjukizo and Masanafu) which will form the new parish.

When we consider the abundant fruits, both spiritual and material, which have come from that mustardseed which was sown at this site 128 years ago, we cannot but join the psalmist in his song of thanksgiving: How shall I thank the Lord for his goodness to me...? (psalm 116:12-13) This, precisely, is the theme we have chosen to guide us both in our preparations and for the ceremony of the official opening of our new parish.

The name of the new parish will be Mapeera-Nabulagala Catholic Parish. We have chosen St. John the Baptist as our patron saint for two reasons: providentially it is on his birthday that the parish will be opened and as John was the precursor of our Lord, also Nabulagala was the precursor of all the catholic parishes in this country! Moreover, the "baptiser" will always remind us not only of the first baptisms that were made at this place but also of our own baptisms and vocation as baptised.
Many people, Catholics and members of other churches and religions, have expressed their surprise to see that it has taken so long a time before making Nabulagala a parish! We have no explanation to give them, but together with them let us be consoled by these words of Isaiah and the Psalmist: God's ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8)! For God a thousand years are like but a single day..., (ps. 90:4)
The long-awaited day is slowly but surely approaching.

This will be the 24th June 2007.
We would like to say to you all, dear brothers and sisters:


Come all and join us in our song of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for what HE has done for us and our country, thanks to that small mustard seed which was sown in tears and great faith at this place 128 years ago! Together with you, let us continue imploring the Lord of Harvest, for yet a more ABUNDANT HARVEST!
Fr. Nnyombi Richard, M. Afr.
Co-ordinator of the Team

To see the Day of the blessing June 24 2007

From Otto Bailer, MAfr