Joseph Kiwanuka was the first African Catholic bishop in modern times. He was born in Buganda just as its religious wars were ending and British rule became established. Raised a Catholic, he was educated in Bukalasa and Katigondo seminaries and was ordained in 1929. Selected for further study in Rome, where he became the first African Doctor of Canon Law, he then joined the White Fathers missionary society. In 1939 he was chosen as first vicar apostolic of Masaka and consecrated bishop by Pius XII I Rome. Twenty years later he became archbishop of Kampala, attended Vatican II and died just after it ended.
Kiwanuka was the first black diocesan bishop in any mainline church since Samuel Crowther’s death in 1891. For 12 years he remained the only African bishop in the Catholic Church, apart from those in Madagascar and Ethiopia. Masaka, wholly staffed by local priests, was seen as an experiment, one often criticized by missionaries. In fact, however, Kiwanuka’s achievement was outstanding. His development of elected lay parish councils and parents’ associations for church schools went far ahead of current Catholic practice as did his regular dispatch of priests abroad for further studies. His political influence was extensive. In such ways Kiwanuka pioneered the African church of the next generation.
A. Hastings, The Church in Africa, 1450-1950 (1994); John Waliggo, A History of African Priests (1988).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.