When French missionaries, Fr. Lourdel Mopeal and Bro. Amans first set foot on Ugandan soil on February 17, 1879, marking the introduction of the Catholic faith in the country, very few then doubted the success of their mission.
But 131 years later, a total of 70 Catholic bishops have been ordained in Uganda, 37 of these natives and 33 white missionaries. The late Archbishop Joseph Kiwanuka opened the door for the 37 native bishops.
Kiwanuka's appointment by Pope Pius XII on May 25, 1939 and consecration on October 29, 1939 in St. Peter's Basilica Rome also made him the first sub-Saharan (black) Catholic bishop in the history of the church.
During the consecration mass, the Pope told Kiwanuka that "the people who today celebrate your being raised to this office, are most eagerly awaiting the results of your work."
From priesthood, it took Kiwanuka just nine years, 11 months and 29 days to become a bishop. This makes him one of the five youngest (in terms of years in priesthood) bishops in the history of the Catholic Church in Uganda. The all time record as the fastest bishop in making is held by the Archbishop Emeritus of Tororo Archdiocese, His Grace James Odongo.
Odongo was ordained a priest on December 22, 1956 aged 25 and was appointed auxiliary bishop of Tororo only seven years, 11 months and three days later - on November 25, 1964. He was, however, appointed to take full charge of the diocese in 1968 after the death of Bishop John Francis Greif.
Archbishop Odongo also holds another Ugandan record of becoming bishop at the youngest age of 33. The only other priests to have been appointed bishops while in their thirties were Joseph Willigers of Jinja at 36, the late Adrian Ddungu of Masaka at 38, John Baptist Kakubi of Mbarara (39), Joseph Kiwanuka - Masaka (39) and Edward Baharagate - Hoima (39).
The record of the fastest appointed diocesan bishop (taking full charge of the diocese straight away), however, remains with the late Adrian Ddungu of Masaka. He was appointed bishop of Masaka on November 11, 1961. This was eight years, 10 months and 11 days after he had been ordained as a priest on December 20, 1952. The Bishop Emeritus of Mbarara, Rt. Rev. John Baptist Kakubi, follows closely, having waited nine years and 15 days to make it from priesthood to bishop.
In fourth position comes the man who broke the ice, late Archbishop Joseph Kiwanuka at 9 years, 11 months and 29 days. On the other hand, the Bishop Emeritus of Kabale Diocese, Robert Gay, waited the longest - 42 years to become a bishop, after being ordained as a priest.
The Bishop of Lira, Rt. Rev. Giuseppe Franzelli, on the other hand took 38 years, while Giuseppe Filipi of Kotido had to see 31 years pass by.
The youngest bishop today in Uganda's Catholic Church is Lambert Bainomugisha (48), the auxiliary bishop of Mbarara. At 83 years, Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala is the oldest of all, followed by Robert Gay, 82, Bishop Emeritus of Kabale, and Paul Kalanda, 82, Bishop Emeritus of Fort Portal.
When it comes to the longest serving diocesan bishop in Uganda, Bishop Joseph Willigers of Jinja becomes the undisputed record holder. He has been in Jinja for 42 years now! The Archbishop Emeritus of Tororo, James Odongo, comes second in this category at 39 years spent serving in Tororo (1968-2007).
The late Adrian Ddungu of Masaka at 36 (1962-1998) came third. As for dioceses, Kampala Archdiocese, previously known as Vicariate Apostolic Nyanza (1880) and later Lubaga Archdiocese (1953-66), has been served by more bishops than any other diocese - about 12 in total.
The late Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga had the longest reign here (24 years), while Bishop Antonin Guillermain served for just a year and died on July 14, 1896. Notable among others that died while in office are Joseph Michaud (1933-45) whose body was buried inside Lubaga Cathedral, and Joseph Kiwanuka (1960-1966).
Archbishop Joseph Kiwanuka whose reign had intense confrontation with Mengo died on February 22, 1966, the very day Milton Obote suspended the 1962 constitution. Kiwanuka's body remains unburied and preserved in a sealed casket located in one corner inside Lubaga Cathedral (why this is so is a story for another day).
Such are the hardworking men of God that have seen the Catholic Church stay strong in Uganda. So obedient some have been to the extent of serving in remote dioceses far-flung from their home areas.
They overcome difficulties by learning local dialects and even accepting new names familiar to areas they serve. Bishop Paul Kalanda used to be known as Paul "Lokiru" Kalanda while still serving in Moroto Diocese, and nowadays we hear of Bishop Henry "Apaloryamam" Ssentongo serving the same diocese.
Uganda has 20 Catholic dioceses, a number that includes one that takes care of armed and security forces, otherwise known as the Military ordinariate currently headed by the Archbishop Emeritus Tororo, James Odongo. He is amusingly referred to as "bishop of the Military".