Pere Simeon Lourdel Mapeera is the priest who started the Catholic Church in Uganda. Born at Dury, France, on December 20, 1853, to Alberto Karoli and Elistera, Lourdel arrived in Uganda on February 17, 1879.
According to Mapeera’s biorgraphy book “Obulamu Bwa Mapeera”, the name was given to him by the Baganda who could not pronounce ‘Mon Pere’ (my father), as he was referred by his col-league Brother Amans.
When Lourdel met Kabaka Muteesa on June 8, 1879, Muteesa said Mapeera, “y’anatusomesa”, meaning, Mapeera will teach us. This sanctioned the name forever.
Of the first Catholic mission-aries in Uganda, Mapeera is by far the one who left the deepest impression. He be-longed to a deeply Christian family and from his early childhood, he always said he would be a missionary. He came to Uganda through Tanzania where he and his team went through a lot of the hardship.
At Tabora in South Tanzania, the whole group was so exhausted that they had to rest for a few weeks while preparing for the jour-ney to Uganda. When they reached Lake Vic-toria at Kageye, Fr. Lourdel volunteered at once to go to Muteesa’s court to explore the situation in Uganda. Fr. Lourdel and Brother Amans landed at Kigungu-Entebbe on February 17, 1879. Having reached their goal, Fr. Lourdel and Brother Amans rested there for two days, on a cove facing Bukiberu village.
Then they considered proceeding by boat towards Mutungo, a little port. But as soon as they were on the lake, their canoe started leaking and cracking on all sides and they were forced to land in a hurry, hardly two miles from Kigungu. “We arrived just in time,” wrote Lourdel later, “Our poor canoe, often repaired, was no good anymore except Mapeera’s life in Uganda
His talent for lan-guages helped him become familiar with Luganda to produce a small catechism within a year of his arrival, with the help of his friend the Zanzibarit Meftah.
It was to Lourdel that the first catechumen, Paolo Nalubandwa, came for instruction.Muteesa frequently called on Mapeera when he needed medicine, advice, or even at times when he wanted to hear about the Catholic Faith. On one occasion, when Muteesa had just been cured by Mapeera of a severe illness, the Kabaka offered him gifts including ivory, cows and goats.
Lourdel answered with his usual simplicity that the missionaries would always be happy to be of service and to do the work of God in Uganda. Three years after his arrival, the missionaries withdrew from Uganda for security reasons. Lourdel went as far as Tabora where he founded an orphanage for the children who had accompanied them in their exile. While in Tabora, Mapeera fell ill with fever and his col-league Fr. Livinhac sent him back to Europe.
Mapeera was very weak holding his walking stick. The stick was taken back to France and later kept by the Lourdel family, until they offered it to late Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga in 1972, together with Fr. Lourdel’s crucifix. Both objects are now respectfully preserved at Lu-baga. But after a few months of rest at Tabora, Fr. Lourdel (Mapeera) made a surprising recovery and was considered well enough to stay. This was the time when Mwanga acceded the throne of Buganda and recalled the missionaries.
Back in Uganda, Mapeera resumed his apostolic work with ex-emplary patience. When the missionaries were expelled from Uganda, in 1888, Lour-del opened a new mission at Nyegezi, again with Brother Amans. But as soon as it was pos-sible to return to Uganda, he was the first to come back, in October, 1889. In Febru-ary of the following year, he re-opened the mission of Lubaga.
On May 12, 1890, the whole of Buganda was stunned by the news: “Mapeera is dead!” A few days earlier, as he was preparing to go to Ssese to fetch Brother Amans and Fr. Lombard, he was once again struck down with fever. On the May 8, the fever seemed to increase and on the following days, the illness got even worse. On the May11, 1890, Mapeera told his confreres that he had prepared himself for death during the night, feeling that his end was near.
They celebrated Mass in his hut and he received Holy Communion. His strength was declining rapidly, but he remained fully conscious. His only words, apart from the prayers he constantly addressed to God and to Our Lady, were to say that he felt he could have done more in the service of the Lord. Mapeera even requested to be laid on the ground, saying he was not worthy of dying on a canvass bed.
His last recommendations to the few christians who were allowed to see him were to entreat them to remain faithful, to pray for him, for their country and for their king and to practice the virtue of patience.
On Monday morning, May 12, 1980, Mapeera was in cold sweat “I am going to die to-day” he said, and once again he generously offered his life in sacrifice for the salvation of souls. Kabaka Mwanga sent word that he wanted to come and visit the dying priest and the Fathers told him to hurry if he wanted to see him alive. Shortly after, the pulse slowed down and only a slight shiver indicated that he had passed away; it was 1.10 pm.
Mwanga arrived just as Fr. Lourdel was breathing his last and the unfortunate king was so dumbfounded that he could not utter a word.“Mapeera is dead at the age of 37.” The word spread like a bush fire. From everywhere, people of all creeds and from all walks of life came to pay their respects. The king and the chiefs brought the tradi-tional “mbugo” (bark cloth) for the burial.
The funeral took place the next morning and Fr. Lourdel was buried close to the chapel he was building at the time of his death. The mission was later moved to the top of Lubaga hill, and on November 2, 1901, the remains of Mapeera, together with those of Fr. Denoit and Brother Pierre, were transferred to a chapel built by the Christians in the cemetery situated behind the present cathedral.