50th Anniversary Celebration in Uganda


Mother Kevin's 50th Anniversary
Celebrations in Uganda


ImageOn 20th October, 2007 all roads in Uganda seemed to lead to Nkokonjeru, Uganda!  En route, it was evident that much awareness of the anniversary had been raised through the radio, banners and invitations. Together with 20 rather older Little Sisters of St. Francis, many on crutches and walking sticks, we drove to Nkokonjeru. On arrival we were graciously welcomed, offered refreshment and led to our seats in beautifully decorated tents specially erected for the occasion.  There were literally thousands of people present - representatives from all the schools, hospitals, training colleges founded by Mother Kevin, as well as numerous Little Sisters of St. Francis and other religious.  All had come to pay tribute to the memory of Mother Kevin which seemed to be as fresh fifty years on, as on the day she died.

ImageThe liturgy began with an impressive procession lead by a band and dancers, followed by the Little Sisters jubiliarians - three golden and twenty-one silver - five bishops and about eighty priests.  The Archbishop of Kampala, His Grace Cyprian Kizito Lwanga was the main celebrant, assisted by Bishop Sekamanya who welcomed everyone to Lugazi diocese, Archbishop Denis Kiwanuka (who had been looked after by Mother Kevin), the Bishops of Mityana and Mbarara, and Fr. Bernard Phelan, who with Fr.Philip O’Hallaran, represented the Mill Hill Missionaries.
Dignitaries present included Professor Gilbert Bukenya, Vice President of Uganda, other Government officials, Mr. Kevin Kelly, the Irish Ambassador to Uganda.
As always, the liturgy was vibrant, thanks to the choir trained and led by two Little Sisters who wrote some of the music themselves. There were graceful dances at appropriate parts of the Mass. A golden Imagejubiliarian and a blind boy from Madera School for the Blind were the readers and later a blind girl offered a prayer of intercession. These two blind children and their companions were one of the many highlights of the day, paying tribute to Mother Kevin who pioneered work with the visually impaired in Uganda.
In his homily, Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga acknowledged Sr. Miriam (Congregation Leader of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa) and Sr. Pauline Namuddu (Mother General of The Little Sisters of St. Francis) as Mother Kevin’s successors and daughters. He thanked the Vice President of Uganda for gracing the occasion and the Ambassador of Ireland for the ‘best things’ (faith and development), that have come to Uganda from Ireland.  He congratulated Fr. Bernard Phelan on his appointment and thanked the Mill Hill Missionaries who invited Mother Kevin and her companions to Uganda in 1903 and helped her in her enduring work.  Using John 15:16:  I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit that lasts, he traced how God used Mother Kevin as an instrument of love and peace, and the fruit that has continued through the two congregations. We see her heart and soul in the fruits of her labour today, in the response to the challenges of HIV, refugees, street children, care of the environment, corruption, trafficking of children, etc.  Mother Kevin, he said, points us to the roots of our faith and consecrated life; in her we find Christ praying, Christ in dialogue with people, Christ doing good to people, Imageproclaiming the kingdom of God, doing the will of the Father. He congratulated the jubiliarians for following faithfully in her footsteps; he gave praise and thanks for what God had done through Mother Kevin and he urged all to emulate her and embrace an option for the poor.

After the homily, the silver jubiliarians, (from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania), were invited one by one to the front of the altar, amid great cheering from their relatives and friends present.  Together they renewed their vows.  The three golden jubiliarians were then invited and likewise renewed their vows.  This was followed by a joyful dance by youth and sisters – another highlight!

After Mass, Mother Pauline Namuddu made a speech, followed by Miriam who, in her turn, thanked Mother Pauline and the Little Sisters for the wonderful celebration and said we prayed and supported Imagetheir two desires - to become a pontifical congregation and to promote the cause of Mother Kevin’s beatification. Mr. Kelly, the Irish Ambassador, said he was happy to discover he shared the name Kevin and then read out the message from President McAlease who had visited and prayed at Mother Kevin’s resting place in 2001.  Professor Gilbert Bukenya, the Vice President, paid great tribute to Mother Kevin and traced his connection to her through Dr. Paul George D’Arabela, who taught him surgery. He said it was truly remarkable that Mother Kevin and the Little Sisters had succeeded in uniting the three East African countries where the political leaders were still struggling to achieve it!

Following the speeches, the Bishops, the Vice President, the Ambassador, and other religious, went to the cemetery where several bouquets of flowers were placed on Mother Kevin’s tomb as people filed past and prayed that she would one day be beatified. A meal, entertainment, an exhibition, cutting of the jubilee cakes, followed.

ImageAll through the wonderful celebration, one couldn’t help but marvel at the mystery of thousands of people gathered to celebrate Mother Kevin’s death.  That the seed had continued growing in silence over the 50 years was obvious. Mother Kevin’s imagination allowed her and us (FMSA and LSOSF) with her, to rethink everything we ever knew, to start over one more time, to begin again, to dare to be new, to encapsulate the old in brave new ways.  ‘A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile’ wrote Antoine de Saint-Euxpery, ‘the moment a single person contemplates it, bearing within the image of a cathedral.’ Indeed, what the Lord has done for us we cannot tell it all!   

Sr. Lydia D'Sa FMSA