Bazilio Lumu was one of the first modern indigenous African Catholic priests. There had been a handful of African Catholic priests in the Christian Kingdom of Kongo in the 16th century but this priesthood soon died out. In the 19th century, a few African priests were ordained but this small collection of priests belonged to missionary groups. The African Church had to wait until June 29, 1913 for Victoro Mukasa Womeraka and Bazilio Lumu to be ordained as diocesan priests by Bishop Henri Streicher, Vicar Apostolic of Northern Nyanza, Uganda.
Lumu was born in the Bukalagi area of Uganda around 1875 to Mr. Wamala of the Ndiga (Sheep) clan. His mother’s name remains unknown. Both parents died when Lumu was still very young. Lumu was baptized at Lubaga on September 8, 1891. One year later, in 1892, he migrated to Buddu with his relatives and several Catholics because of the war of 1892. Before he moved to Villa Maria at the end of 1892, Lumu attended the mission school at Kampungu. There, he was presented to the Fathers and sponsored in his education by Chief Alex Ssebowa, the Pokino of Buddu. Lumu regarded Ssebowa as his father throughout his life. In January 1893, he matriculated at the new seminary in Villa Maria. In the new seminary, there were 33 candidates but only Lumu was destined to become a priest. The rest served both the church and the state in many vital sectors. They eventually sent several of their sons to the seminary and many of them eventually became priests.
On October 13, 1903, Bazilio Lumu was admitted to the major seminary along with five others: Adriano Mukasa, Andrea Namusanga, Teodoro Tibazalika, Vitoro Katula and Victoro Mukasa Womeraka. These six men were the first major seminarians in Uganda and of them only Lumu and Womeraka became priests. After his admission to the major seminary, Lumu underwent rigorous training at Kisubi, Bikira, Bukalasa and Katigondo seminaries in Latin and in the philosophy and theology courses that were customary for a candidate for the Catholic priesthood. Lumu and Womeraka underwent two years of probation from 1908 to 1910 at Nandere and Villa Maria. On Christmas Eve 1911 they were ordained subdeacon and the following Christmas, in 1912, deacon. Their ordination to the priesthood at Villa Maria on June 29, 1913 drew an estimated fifteen thousand people, the largest crowd ever seen in the Ganda kingdom up to that date. Louise Pirouet observed, "This ordination was an event of immense significance for the Catholic Church in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa." Henceforward, the success of the Major Seminary and the future of the Catholic Church in Uganda were on secure ground.
Bazilio Lumu’s first appointment was at Bukalasa Minor Seminary together with his brother priest Victoro Mukasa Womeraka. Lumu remained there until 1918 where he taught his students with great care and enthusiasm. He was a scholar who always encouraged his students to study hard and to stay up to date. Lumu also got involved in gardening in order to encourage healthy eating among seminarians and staff. In 1918, Lumu left the minor seminary because he was sent to the parishes. He served in Mitala Maria, Narozari, Nazareti, Kitovu and Villa Maria.
The people in these parishes remember Bazilio Lumu for many things. He was dignified and stately and walked with the nobility of chiefs. This was not surprising since he was brought up by Chief Alex Ssebowa. Yet, people also remember him as a very kind person and those who came to understand him better loved him more.
People also remember that Lumu was extraordinarily clean and very orderly. Fr. Brother Anatoli Wasswa put it this way, “Ebyambalo bye bulijjo nga bitukula nnyo, enju ye bulijjo nga nyonjo nnyo. Ebintu bye bulijjo nga biterevu” (his vestments were always very clean, his house was always very clean and everything of his was always in order). Lumu had very beautiful handwriting, which is evident in the baptismal and marriage registers. He did all this with a very orderly mind and in an organized fashion.
Lumu loved learning and in his free time he studied and did research. He managed to teach himself new things including languages like English and French. Lumu also wanted to be informed on many issues and always sought to be up to date in his studies. He understood perfectly well that an ignorant priest is actually very dangerous both to himself and the people of God put in his care.
John Mary Waliggo observed that many people remembered Lumu as a kind, charitable, and loving priest who spent most of his energy and time preaching, teaching, and visiting people. He dedicated himself to paying school fees for children and supporting them in schools. Lumu was poor yet very charitable and in all his pastoral visits he would identify those who had the greatest need and once in a while, as his means could allow, he would take them a kilo of sugar, salt, and soap. He also loved the priesthood and the priestly brotherhood. He cherished his brother priests and made sure they were well fed. He hated seeing his fellow priests eat poorly.
Lumu was a very industrious and hardworking person, always sickly but available, committed and dedicated to his work. He paid attention to his duties as a priest which he fulfilled meticulously. He was exceptionally prayerful and loved manual labor as well. However, in his later years, he gradually got weak. This began when he first got serious itching all over his body, then he got jaundice. His knees began to exude water and he died on March 3, 1946. Lumu was buried with great honor and dignity at Bukalasa. Later, his body was transferred to Villa Maria Cathedral.
While many people mourned his death, the majority of people were happy that Lumu had died a priest. He had fought a good fight. From that point forward, the people had an ancestor in the African priesthood. He had been ordained a priest in 1913, had worked as priest, and had died as a priest in good standing. People knew where his grave was and so they could swear by him. Even in his death, Bazilio Lumu remains a hero: the first modern African priest and the first modern African ancestor.
Benedict Ssettuuma Jr.
Pirouet, Louise. A Dictionary of Christianity in Uganda. Kampala, Uganda: Makerere University, 1971.
Ssettuuma Jr., Benedict. Coming of Age in Priesthood, A Centenary of Indigenous Catholic Priests in Uganda. Kampala, Uganda: Angel Agencies, 2013.
Waliggo, John Mary. A History of African Priests. Nairobi, Kenya: Matianum Press Consultants, 1988.
——–. Obulamu Bwa Bazilio Lumu. An unpublished manuscript in possession of the author. 1978.
This story, 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 also the chairperson of the board of directors of the Center of African Christian Studies (CACISA), a DACB participating institution.