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Ssettuuma, Benedict Mutuluki
1923 to 2007
Catholic Church
Uganda

 

Benedict Ssettuuma was born in 1923 at Butebere, Ggulama, Narozari parish, Masaka Diocese. His father was Yako Bita of the Heart Clan and his mother was Felicita Alibawaomukisa Namatovu of the Ngabi Clan (bush back). He was given the noble name of Nnattuuma and the Christian name of Benedict. His mother died when he was about seven years old. As she was dying, Felicita entrusted the boy to her sister in law, Anna Maria Nnanyanzi Musubika, wife of her husband’s cousin (brother) Ereneo Ddaaki. Thus, after the burial of his mother young Nnattuuma was taken to the family of his paternal uncle, Ereneo Ddaaki, who brought him up as his own son.

He did his catechumenate at Narozari parish after which he continued with primary education at the parish school at Narozari. Here he came into contact with the education conscious priest, Fr. John Ssewajje. Fr. Ssewajje inspired Ssettuuma to go to seminary and after completing his primary education he continued to the minor seminary at Bukalasa. While at Bukalasa, the rector complained about his name for it sounded like one given to girls. In the Kiganda tradition, girls’ names usually begin with N while those of boys begin with S. In order not to give the impression that a girl had been admitted into the minor seminary, the rector then changed his name from Nnattuuma to Ssettuuma and from then on he was known as Benedict Ssettuuma. His father, that is Ereneo Ddaaki, who held some authority within the clan, sanctioned and accepted the name. [1]

In 1947, he entered Katigondo Major Seminary for philosophy and theology. During his stay in Katigondo, Ssettuuma fell seriously ill and was taken to Lubaga hospital. Under the care of the doctors there and his young brother Paulo Kayanja, he recovered and returned to the seminary for his studies. He did his probation at Matale parish. He was ordained a priest at Villa Maria in December 1955 by Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka. [2]

His first appointment was at Matale parish where he was put in charge of schools with Fr. John Kasozi as his parish priest. He was later taken to Kimaanya Parish. In 1957, he was posted to Bukalasa Minor Seminary to teach and there he stayed until 1965 when he was sent to Rome to study music. He returned to Uganda in 1966 and was posted again at Bukalasa Minor Seminary as a teacher. Here he remained until 1981. From 1982, after a very serious illness, he was taken to Bwanda as chaplain to the Convent. Later on he was transferred to Makukulu parish and then to Buyoga. He had two years of sabbatical in the USA and on his return in 1995 he was posted to Mbirizi Parish. Early in 1996, he suffered a critical accident at Kyakumpi but survived after the doctors at Kitovu Hospital treated him. However, this accident weakened him badly and he was confined to the Rest House at Kitovu for the rest of his life until 2007, when he succumbed to intestinal cancer and died at the age of 84. He is buried at Bukalasa Seminary Cemetery.

Ssettuuma was a cheerful, warm person who brought joy and life to a room. He was exceedingly generous and kind-hearted. Starting from his probation period at Matale, Fr. Denis Mayanja remembers him as a very affectionate person, loving to everyone and loved by all: children, youth and old alike.
He had a magnetic and inspiring personality and infectious character. He was such an imposing figure that many of his students tried to imitate him in the way he talked, walked and gestured. He was a man who even impressed the great professor Rev. Fr. Dr. John Mary Waliggo. His students gave him the name of Mutuluki, one of the famous chiefs of the time whom he used to quote for them and so he was commonly known as Mutuluki. His students loved to identify themselves with him. [3]

Greatly gifted in music, he made church music and liturgy lively and inspiring. He was a marvellous conductor, and director of a great band at the seminary. Many Christians and non-Christians alike wanted to attend the mass in which his choir sang. He was gifted in playing various musical instruments and he excelled at the piano. On one occasion, President Amin Dada, best known as the dictator of Uganda, so much admired his gifts when he played at the seminary day that he gave him a full set of trumpets. Out of his love for music he trained many musicians and a number of Ugandan musicians who have developed the music industry were either trained by him or his pupils. He made a huge contribution in this area. Indeed, at his burial the fruit of his musical instruction revealed itself in the kind of classical music played (not usually done during burial ceremonies as the culture expects a somber mood) by the young men he trained years back. An ex-seminarian flew from the UK to attend his burial; joined by two of Ssettuuma’s former students, the trio fulfilled the promise they had made to each other that this musical piece had to be played at the burial of whoever passed on first. The melody from the violins was so powerful that it left everyone speechless while lifting the spirits of those who attended the burial. The fruits of Ssettuuma’s capacity in music instruction were displayed to everyone. [4]

Ssettuuma made use of his talents and proved that a person from a simple background could rise to great heights provided he applied himself (or herself) fully. One of his talents was his capacity to learn languages. No one would mistake Ssettuuma for anything other than African; he never visited Britain, and yet he spoke English as though he were British-born. Indeed, no one else in Uganda has spoken such refined English. When he went to America for his sabbatical, he was asked how many years he had spent in England in order to speak the language so well. His masses were always full as many came to enjoy the way he preached in beautiful, ringing English.

Ssettuuma spent the greater part of his life and ministry as a teacher in the minor seminary at Bukalasa. Many priests loved him and have great memories of him. He was a gifted teacher and instructor: he was understanding, sympathetic and encouraging to his students but never settled for mediocrity. His students remember him as a great parent. He was more than just a teacher. He was a strict disciplinarian but only in order to help his students do well and succeed. As adolescents, students often find themselves in trouble, sometimes even on the wrong side of the law. If Ssettuuma discovered a student in this situation, he would not put them up for dismissal but would discipline them and allow them to return to class. The students called him Nkukanze (meaning “I have frightened you”) because he used to administer punishment to deter them from doing wrong. However he did not do it so severely as to discourage them from pushing ahead nor did he recommend them for expulsion from school. For this reason, many students preferred to be caught by him when in error: they knew they would be forgiven. His mercy impressed many students who went through his hands and they learned how to be merciful themselves, particularly in their capacity as priests. [5]

Ssettuuma loved nature and the environment. He had a great sense of beauty. Wherever he went, he created a beautiful compound and took care of nature. He loved trees, flowers and animals. At the minor seminary he even had a python. He had come across it while digging with the seminarians. They wanted to kill it but Ssettuuma took pity on it and took care of it. It grew up to be a great tourist attraction at the seminary.

Ssettuuma was kind to the poor and disadvantaged. He gave away almost all he earned to the poor that came to his door. He used the little money he had to pay the school fees of many poor children around Villa Maria and in the parishes where he worked. Fr. Ssemomwere Timothy, when he was a seminarian on pastoral work at Buyoga, was edified by this generosity and an example of Ssettuuma’s kind action saved his vocation, which had been tested by the insensitivity of some priests there. A woman had come to the parish to see the parish priest because her marriage was in trouble. The priest refused to see her and this disturbed the seminarian. He was afraid to speak to Fr. Ben, as he was known there, because he was sickly and poor. However, overwhelmed by the dire situation of this woman, he went to Ssettuuma, who listened to the story. Ssettuuma asked the woman, “If one bought you the clothes that you lack now would you go back to your husband and take care of your children?” She said yes, upon which Ssettuuma went into his bedroom and returned with some money. He told the woman,“I cannot find any more money, this is all that I have but I am sure it can buy you a gomase (the official dress for Baganda Women) and some sugar. Take it and go back to be a good mother and housewife”. That day a Christian marriage was saved. This is one example of Ssettuuma’s many deeds of pastoral charity.

He loved and enjoyed the priesthood. All those who knew Ssettuuma remember him as a man who loved the priesthood and did his best to keep its dignity in season and out of season. What marked him out was his conviction that a priest should be simple, humble, kind and welcoming to all. People still remember him as a good priest, loving and caring. Raised so high by virtue of his position in the church, he still fully identified with the members of his family and never distanced himself from them. They all knew him as one of their own and they loved him. He did not have much to give them but he found a place in his heart for every one of them.

Ssettuuma was courageous in denouncing wrong and causing change through example. On Mbarara road, at Kyabakuza township, there was a huge mound of garbage that had grown so big that it served as a roundabout for the road. It was lamentable. Every time he passed by, on his way to Buyoga, he told the people to remove the garbage but they just laughed at him. One Monday, as he came from the diocesan quarters, he stopped by the place, asked for a wheelbarrow and a spade and began removing the garbage. He was dressed in his collar. The people then called out in alarm “Banange tufudde, Father waffe ali mu kuyoola kasasiro” (“this is a great shame, our priest is removing the garbage”). The citizens of the townships organized themselves and having pleaded with him to stop, they removed the garbage. They never put it there again. They realized that it was an improvement, and hygienic to live in a clean place. Ssettuuma caused that change.

Finally, many people remember him as a good preacher and convinced Christian. He never compromised on issues of truth, justice and morality. He would even undergo pain in order to defend what he thought was right. Once, when he was over 70, Ssettuuma decided to walk a distance of eight kilometers because he did not believe in overloading vehicles. At that time, a saloon car of seating capacity for five would often be made to carry ten people. When he stopped a car and recognized that they were overloaded, he refused to take it. The driver pleaded with him, informing him that this was the last car on the road. Even though it was about eight p.m. he opted to walk in order to teach them that overloading was wrong.

The last days of his life were mainly ones of suffering and pain but he lived those years with patience and indomitable courage. He never complained even when his pain was immense. He used to say, “That is the cross the Lord has given me, it will pass one day”.

Although in pain, he died peacefully.


Benedict Ssettuuma Jr


Notes

1. Interview with Fransiska Namayanja, 84, sister to Fr. Benedict Ssettuuma, Ggalazzi Masaka, July 25, 2014.

2. Interview with Msgr. George Sserwanga, Katigondo National Major Seminary, July 26, 2014.

3. Interview with Fr. Denis Mayanja, Bisanje Parish Masaka, June 26, 2014.

4. Interview with Dr. Henry Mwesezi, Nsambya Catholic Secretariate, July 26, 2014.

5. Interview with Msgr. Joseph Kasule, Rest House, Kitovu, Masaka, July 25, 2014.



This article, received in 2014, was written by Fr. Benedict Ssettuuma, a diocesan priest from Masaka Diocese who holds a doctorate in missiology from Urban University in Rome. He teaches pastoral theology and missiology at St. Mary's National Major Seminary, Ggaba, Uganda. He is the nephew of Benedict Mutuluki Ssettuuma, the subject of this biography. He is also the chairperson of the board of directors of the Center of African Christian Studies (CACISA), a DACB participating institution.