By Julius Businge
Msgr Lawrence Kanyike formerly leaves his position as Chaplain of St. Augustine’s Chapel, Makerere University in February after serving for the last 30 years. He spoke to The Independent’s Julius Businge about his experience and future plans.
What informed the decision for you to leave Makerere where almost everyone loved your service?
When you come to an institution like this one, especially in my case where I had been used to University of Notre Dame in the United States, you are expected to stay for some time and leave. When I came here I really enjoyed interacting with students and I became part of the community.
Actually my desire was always to be with the young intellectuals with whom I can sit and discuss issues concerning the country. I have been here for 30 years with students and I have enjoyed my service and the team here and students have supported me. But because of my age, the University policy could not allow me to stay and be paid by it except if I was ready to retire and stay as Chaplain. So I engaged my Bishop and told him since I have been with students for many years, I needed to go to another parish and serve God there…many people were not sure whether I could manage this and I wasn’t sure myself. I just wanted to try it out and see whether I could be of use in another forum other than the university academic environment. So the Bishop allowed me to start a new Parish in Kyengera and I mobilized funds from my friends overseas to start this new Parish and built a very good church and Fathers’ house there. I was appointed to be an Administrator of that Parish and I will be leaving Makerere University for good.
What would you say have been your major achievements at St. Augustine Makerere for the last three decades you have served as Chaplain?
When I came here the community was very small, about 3, 000, which I intended to grow. I noticed that the Chaplain who was here was the traditional type who says mass in the Chapel and comes back to office and waits for students to come and see him. My idea was to make the Church’s influence felt in a University like Makerere. So I said we must have a Christian community and not a social group or club which is convinced with its faith. I set up central executive committees with each department, halls of residence, and hostels having ahead and each department would give a report.Each of these had representatives in every meeting held to discuss St. Augustine community issues. The idea here was to hold the community together, which we have achieved and increased the numbers. I have also tried to give chance to each hall of residence to have mass in their hall twice a semester. Also we have been involved in the social activities of the students so that they know that St. Augustine is part of their social life. Every year we have been holding a party to welcome new students in our community to which I invite the Hall Wardens and the Dean of Students. Unfortunately they would not appear for these events, that is why the students don’t know them. We also have a farewell picnic at Nabinoonya Beach. The other achievement was I built a new home for the Chaplaincy, Chapel, and Conference hall and all these are strong. It was not easy because the University administration did not believe that I could, yet I had a lot of money because I had just come from the States. I would speak with a lot of power.
What would you say you are going to miss most about St. Augustine Makerere?
Ohh, everything…you can imagine half of my life has been here…it has been my home for the last 30 years. Obviously it is not going to be easy for me to go to a new environment where you have rural people who cannot hold the kind of discussion we have been holding here. But I will have to accommodate myself in that situation. I have prepared for that because even when I came here I did not think that I would do as much as I have done. With God’s hand I will make it.
People say students’ hearts are weak and it’s difficult to convince them to do Godly things like going for prayer among others; what’s your assessment of the Catholic student community during your time of service at Makerere?
People think like that because they have separated spiritual things from material things. They have divided their human being into body and soul. I am a professor of Theology and I always oppose that concept. You cannot separate the person…take it as a whole. When you go to the beach or night clubs, go there and behave in a Christian manner. Our students go out as members of St. Augustine and they know bad and good things. They are always challenged to make decisions in their life whenever they go to do certain things.
Are there challenges you faced while doing God’s work at East Africa’s oldest University, Makerere?
They are not many but the major one is failing to convince the members of administration to get involved in the lives of students. My understanding of this University is that right from the Wardens to top Administrators, all behave like commanders, and they forget that these are university young intellectuals who need to meet them, share with them ideas. I have tried to invite them to any gathering that we have, but they have failed to cooperate. My assessment is that many of them are here to get salaries, not to serve students, which is very sad! I will ask you to try to go out there and ask them whether they know their Wardens, their Dean, I am sure they will tell you ‘we don’t know’. If that doesn’t change, you will not have a University settled, it will always have strikes because students don’t know their leaders; they don’t associate with them.
How easy is it for a servant of God like you to cope with the new environment especially when you have spent decades in one place?
I will have to start a system there [Kyengera], the same that I have here, where all leaders will be compelled to bring reports in our periodical meetings. We will do meetings to ensure we are all one and serve God whole heatedly. I hope when we get that established, things will work out…not as good as here but we will do our best.
Are you convinced that your successor will hold the community together, move it forward?
When I was approaching 60, I suggested to the Archbishop that I needed an associate Chaplain whom I can initiate into the job so that when time comes for me to leave, he is there. I recommended Fr.Josephat Ddungu…he has been here for six years. He has been seeing what I have been doing and if he appreciates my system of work, he will go with it; if he does not, he will choose his…we are different people. But I am sure I have left behind someone who will keep the community together.
Away from St. Augustine, what’s your assessment of the Catholic Church in Uganda generally?
We are a problem filled society and we are looking for a problem solving gap so that when we have the current situation we are going to have many people pretending to be solving problems to draw the people to their church. That is why we are having many churches which are geared towards solving people’s problems…and this has nothing to do with Christianity. We need to get away from this emotional approach to God. Our youth, because they are faced with many challenges, have run to the ‘Balokoles’ who convince them that their problems will be solved. This is not good, we should look at God as our creator, our master and remember him all the time not only when we are in problems. We have to make the Church’s influence felt in all sectors of our lives.
What’s your last message to the St. Augustine community?
Please be St. Augustine and show the country that you are here to be the moral conscience of our country. Wherever you go after studies, be guided by your Catholic faith. And finally, all I ask from St. Augustine community is to forever remember me as I will love them.