The White Fathers in Uganda
The first Catholic missionaries to settle in Uganda landed at Entebbe on 17th February 1879. Fr. Simeon Lourdel (Mapera) 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.
When they entered into Uganda, they first landed on the Kigungu peninsula and later moved to the interior of Buganda passing through Kisubi and later continued about 3 miles to Rubaga. 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. On 23rd February 1879, Kabaka Mutesa consented to the coming of the Catholic missionaries to Uganda and his promise to send canoes to fetch the rest of the group. Bugungu peninsula is an important place to the history of catholics in Uganda and a monument still marks the spot.
After Mutesa’s first audience the white fathers first stayed at a hut in Kitebi and later were transferred to live in at Nabulagala-Lubya around the 7th May 1879 and the first Catholic mission station in Uganda was founded. Mutesa later ordered 24 canoes 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.
The first Holy Mass ever to be offered in Uganda was celebrated at Nabulagala-Lubya. On the 17th June 1879, another group that was led by Livinhac’s group arrived with the portable alter. Kabaka Mutesa received Livinhac and his companions with great ceremony and the missionaries were taken in procession to the court proceeded by Mutesa’s flag.
When the missionaries arrived, they started preaching the gospel and started getting converts as they teach them how o read and write and the first baptisms were performed in 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.
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.
Fr Lourdel was known to all as “Mapera”, which came from the French word “Mon Pere”, my Father.
In 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. 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 remains of the Fr. Lourdel, Fr. Barbot and Br. Amans are kept in the sacristy of the Archbishop’s Chapel.