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JAMES ODONGO: Founder and headmaster of ‘The School of Hard Knocks’

Bishop James Odongo 1931-2020

 The life of Bishop James Odongo

✳ March 27, 1931 – BORN in Molo, Bukedi district

✳ May 8, 1931 – Baptized by Fr Willemen of Nagongera

✳ 1944 – Joined Nyenga Seminary

✳ 1956 – Ordained priest in Rome

✳ 1965 – Consecrated Bishop

✳ 1965 – Attends Second Vatican Council

✳ 1968 – Appointed Bishop of Tororo

✳ 1973 – Chairman AMECEA

✳ 1983 – Leads Uganda Episcopal delegation to make case for Centenary Bank

✳ 1985 – Named Uganda Military Ordinary

✳ 1999 – First Metropolitan Archbishop of Tororo ( Tororo, Jinja, Kotido, Moroti & Soroti)

✳ 2007 – Retired

✳ 2015 – Celebrated 84th birthday, 59 as priest. First indigenous Bishop to celebrate 50th.

✳  2020 – DIED December 4, 2020

Tororo, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | When catechist Gabriel Omunyin first walked barefoot with his school-going twins James Odongo and Alfred Opio along the main murram road from Molo to Nyangole in 1941, he could not have imagined those first steps in Bukedi district would be part of a tale retold nearly a century later.

Omunyin was taking his young boys for ‘further education’ at Nyangole vernacular school 19kms away, laying the ground not only for the emergence of two priests 15 years later, but also a Bishop who will be remembered as one of the founding pillars of the Catholic Church, and the nation that Uganda is today.

Archbishop James Odongo, who lived 16 years longer than his twin brother Rev. Fr Opio, no doubt played a key role in the post-independence growth of the Catholic Church in Uganda, including the difficult days of President Idi Amin.

“Right from childhood, Odongo exhibited rare attributes and aptitude that phenomenally spurred him to greater heights and achivements,” remarked Uganda Episcopal Conference Secretary-General Msgr. John Baptist Kauta in a biography of the Archbishop he authored titled ‘Shepherd of a Multi-Cultural Mosaic‘.

Odongo was shepherd at Tororo Diocese for close to 50 years, having been ordained priest during British colonial rule. This was followed by the rule of the Democratic Party, Uganda’s People’s Congress, Idi Amin and the expulsion of the Mill Hill Missionaries, Yusuf Lule, Godfrey Binaisa, Paulo Muwanga’s Military Commission, Obote II, Tito Okello until Yoweri Museveni today.

Archbishop Emeritus of Tororo James Odongo,89, passed on in Kampala on December 4, and will be laid to rest at midday today at the Tororo Cathedral in Nyangole.

Who was James Odongo?

James Odongo was the fourth African Bishop in Uganda and the first African Bishop of Tororo Diocese. Before him were Bishops Joseph Kiwanuka, Adrian Ddungu and Cyprian Kihangire.

He was the first African chair of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), a position he held twice.

Odongo and his twin brother, the late Fr Alfred Opio, were born on March 27, 1931 in Molo village, 19km along the Tororo-Mbale road in then Bukedi district. His father Omunyin was a catechist of Nagongera Parish, while mother Rosalina Nyachwo was a farm worker.

He was ordained priest in Rome in 1956 and retired as Archbishop in 2007, having served as a priest for 51 years and, as a Bishop for 43 years, 39 of which he was Bishop of Tororo.

In 2015 he celebrated his 84th anniversary of his birth and the 59th anniversary of his momentous priestly ministry.

Bishop Odongo and the making of Tororo Archdiocese

Archbishop Emeritus James Odongo served as the First Metropolitan Archbishop of Tororo       –  after Tororo diocese received the status of an Archdiocese.

Odongo was ordained to the Priesthood in Rome on 22nd day of December, 1956. After serving as priest for a while, Fr. Odongo was elected to serve as Titular Bishop of Baana and Auxiliary Bishop of Tororo on November 25, 1964. The following year, he was consecrated Bishop on February 16, 1965. After three years, he was appointed on August 16, 1968 to serve as the first Native Bishop to his people.

In 1999, when Tororo diocese was raised to the status of an Archdiocese – thus serving as the mother diocese in the Eastern Ecclesiastical Province, he became the First Metropolitan Archbishop.

Archbishop James Odongo’s contribution and service to the growing Church in Tororo and Uganda in general marked him to be a uniquely wise and memorable cleric – who even got the wonderful privilege of participating in the last sessions of Vatican II Ecumenical Council.

Archbishop Odongo faithfully served the Eastern Ecclesiastical Province and in particular the diocese of Tororo until the 27th  day of June 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI accepted his retirement request.

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