Victoro Mukasa Womeraka was one of the first two native African Catholic priests of modern times. Several Catholic priests had been ordained in the Christian Kingdom of Kongo in the sixteenth century, but this priesthood died out. The African Church had to wait until June 29, 1913 for Victoro Mukasa Womeraka and Bazilio Lumu to be ordained by Bishop Henri Streicher, Vicar Apostolic of Northern Nyanza, Uganda. Lumu was Womeraka’s senior by seven years. He was a lifelong invalid and predeceased him in 1943.
Womeraka was born on May 5th at Bubwe-Bugajju in the Catholic parish of Matale, Masaka Diocese. His father was Petro Lugi and his mother, Anne Ndisala. He belonged to the Ganda monkey clan (nkima). His mother died when he was four years old and he was brought up in the family of his uncle, Cyril Mbuga of Kyato in Kalungu parish. He joined the catechumenate at Villa Maria in 1893 and was baptized the following year. After his baptism he remained at Villa Maria, serving its parish priest, Rev. Henri Streicher, looking after the village chapel at Kyawangabi, and acting as herdsman of the goats belonging to the parish.
In 1897, he accompanied Streicher to Bukumbi on the southern shore of Lake Victoria (now in Tanzania) and witnessed his episcopal consecration by Bishop John Joseph Hirth on August 15th. Struck by the new bishop’s homily on the importance of training an indigenous clergy, Womeraka joined the junior seminary at Kisubi in September of the same year. He then underwent sixteen years of rigorous training at Kisubi, Bikira, Bukalasa and Katigondo seminaries, following in Latin all the courses of philosophy and theology that were customary for a candidate for the Catholic priesthood of whatever nationality. Womeraka and Lumu undertook 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, deacon.
Their ordination to the priesthood at Villa Maria in 1913 drew the largest crowd (estimated at fifteen thousand) ever seen in the Ganda kingdom up to that date. Many Christians, including white missionaries, were sceptical that an African could succeed in becoming a Catholic priest and thought that the work of the major seminary was a waste of time. There was amazement among the people when they beheld the bishop and the missionaries kneel for the new priests’ blessing. The Anglican church historian, Louise Pirouet, wrote: “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 assured beyond any question.
Womeraka served on the teaching staff of the junior seminary and in a number of parishes of Masaka Diocese, celebrating his silver jubilee in 1938, his golden jubilee in 1963 and his diamond jubilee in 1973. He also played a positive role in the tensions between missionaries and diocesan priests that preceded the creation of the autonomous diocese of Masaka. Womeraka received papal honours, being created a domestic prelate or “Monsignor,” and finally a Protonotary Apostolic, with the privilege of wearing a bishop’s insignia. It was in these vestments that he attended the dedication of the Uganda Martyrs Shrine at Namugongo by Cardinal Sergio Pignedoli on June 3, 1975, and received the plaudits of the huge crowd of worshippers that had gathered for the event. He died four years later in 1979, at the age of 97.
Aylward Shorter M.Afr.
John Mary Waliggo, A History of African Priests (Nairobi: Matianum Press Consultants, 1988).
Louise Pirouet, * A Dictionary of Christianity in Uganda* (Kampala: Makerere University, 1971).
Paul Kalanda, Sixty Years in the Priesthood: Mgr. Victor Mukasa (Kisubi: Marianum Press, 1973).
This article, submitted in 2003, was researched and written by Dr. Aylward Shorter M.Afr., Emeritus Principal of Tangaza College Nairobi, Catholic University of Eastern Africa.