To understand the historical information on Vito Mtuwana, one has to understand the methods used by the Catholic missionaries to plant the Catholic Church in Malawi between 1901 and 1950. The Catholic missionaries, belonging to a group known as the Montfort missionaries, arrived in Malawi in 1901. When they arrived, they set up schools which were used as a venue for proselytizing. The curriculum of these schools contained lessons in secular education [reading, writing, English and mathematics] and in religious education. The Malawians were trained at a college called the Normal School at Nguludi so as to work as teachers in such schools. These teachers disseminated secular and religious information to their students. Called teacher-catechists, they served as agents of evangelization for the implantation of the Catholic Church in Malawi.
One such teacher-catechist was Vito Mtuwana. He was born on 6 August 1897 at Nguludi in Chiradzulu district. His parents were Muslims. As he grew up, he decided to learn to read, write and speak English. As the only schools providing this teaching were Catholic, he joined a Catholic school when he was twelve. After attending the Catholic school for three years, he decided to leave Islam and join the Catholic Church. To the dismay of his parents, he went through the catechumenate classes and was baptized in 1920.
He wanted to become a Catholic priest. But the missionaries did not encourage Malawian boys to study for the priesthood, instead preferring that they become teacher-catechists. Vito Mtuwana therefore went to train as a teacher at Nguludi Catholic Teachers College. Upon graduation, he served as a teacher-catechist at Nguludi, Zomba, Namulenga and St. Teresa. During the second World War, the Catholic missionaries enrolled him as an assistant chaplain. During the war, he went to Kenya and Ethiopia to assist the Catholic missionaries who were serving as chaplains to the Malawian soldiers in the British infantry.
When he returned from the war, he continued to serve as a teacher-catechist. In 1957 he was appointed treasurer-general for a group of Catholic teachers in Malawi known as the Catholic Teachers Association. In 1958, the Malawians were fighting for independence from the British rule. One of the Catholics by the name of Chester Katsonga decided to establish a Christian political party known as the Christian Democratic Party, to stand in the general election in 1960. Vito Mtuwana joined this party and became a member of the national executive. But the party lost the elections and died a natural death.
After the elections, Vito Mtuwana decided to retire from politics and to return to his work in the church. He was appointed chief catechist at Nguludi mission in 1964. He died while still serving in this position on 6 August 1982.
Stanslaus Muyebe O.P.
“Vito Mtuwana” in Moni Magazine (November 1983), vol. 27, p. 8.
This article, submitted in 2001, was written and researched by Fr. Stanslaus Muyebe, O.P., author and teacher at Saint Joseph’s Theological Institute in South Africa. Used with permission.