While the need for priests to evangelise Africans in the 20th century was fast catching fire, it was not easy for Monsignor John Kafukuzi Barugahare. He had to struggle to enter the minor seminary because of being overaged by one year.
He had to consult many bishops before he could be accepted at Kitabi Seminary. This struggle was a result of dropping out of school (P1) after losing three siblings, a brother, two sisters and his mother in one year. “As a result of this, I went back to school (P.2) when I was 13 in 1945,” he recalls.
Born on 8th January, 1931 in Rutaka Village, Mitooma District to Theresa Kabuhoko and Marco Kafukuzi, a catechist. Barugahare was baptized on 18th January 1931 at Kitabi Catholic parish as John and confirmed in the Catholic Faith on 25th November, 1944 also at Kitabi Parish. He belongs to the Baitira clan largely found in Rubaarem, itoma, Ruhinda.
After his father’s baptism, Kafukuzi and his brother Pantaleo Kyatuuka, father to the late Benedicto Mubangizi were sent to Nyakibaare Parish to work as Catechists. It is from Nyakibaare Parish that Marko Kafukuzi was later transferred from Rutaaka Hiika in Kitabi Parish as Catechist.
And it is at Rutaka that Msgr. John Barugahare was born. The young Barugahare did not have an eventful life save for the struggle for education and obsession for the priesthood. After losing his mother, brothers and sisters at an early age, he missed joining the seminary This turned his priestly dream into a nightmare, leading him to traverse the country talking to whoever would listen to him in the Catholic Church hierarchy.
“I first contacted Bishop Francis Xavier Laculciere of Mbarara Diocese, then to Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka of Masaka Diocese, before going to Kampala to contact Bishop Cabana, all in vain. Bishop Cabana told me it was possible to allow grownups into the priesthood in Europe but not in Africa,” Fr Barugahare says.
The many times he requested to enter the seminary could ironically be equated to the many years Anna stayed in the temple praying for the Lord’s coming. Having been denied entry into a minor seminary, he joined Kitabi Vernacular Teacher Training College (VTTC) and graduated as a primary teacher in 1953.
He then became a teacher for four years as he tried to join a seminary. Having made all attempts to join the seminary and could not be allowed in the seminary gates, he cooked the idea of entering into the vocation f marriage.
Days towards mutual understanding with the lady he had proposed for marriage winds of luck came his way when the bishop of Mbarara retired and was replaced by Bishop John Mary Ogez in 1955. Bishop Ogez allowed him to join Kitabi Seminary. “I was so overjoyed and because of my age and education background, I went straight to S.2,” he says.
Life at the minor and major seminaries. At Kitabi (Minor) Seminary, Barugahare attended classes with students he had taught in primary school, but this did not demoralise him. When he joined Katigondo Major Seminary, he joined the choir and attracted the attention of Bishop Ogez, who asked him to start translating and composing hymns in Runyankore. At that time, most hymns were in Latin.
It should be remembered that from the 1950s to 70s, the Catholic Church was transiting from European to African settings to make it accommodative to the natives.
On 10th December, 1967, Barugaahre has ordained a priest at the ripe age of 36, making him the first priest late vacationer in the Southern Sahara region at Nyamitanga Cathedral together with the late Fr. Selian Byabashiaja by the then Bishop of Mbarara Archdiocese the Rt. Rev. John Mary Ogez him becoming the second priest of his parish after Rev. Fr. Cyril Mbura.
He was posted to Nyamitanga Cathedral for two years. The vocation of teaching was to remain with him and in 1969 he was asked to be the Rector of St. Mukasa Preparatory Seminary Mushanga ehere he spent nine years. As St Mukasa rector.
As head of the then two-year-old seminary, Fr Barugahare was a very strict disciplinarian, given the teaching background and the meticulous discipline copied from the European priests that evangelised Africa. As a strict disciplinarian, his nine years saw him handle young people that were later to become prominent in modern society i.e Hon. Magyezi Raphael, Mr. Gervase Ndyanabo, Lt Gen. Musanyufu Joseph, Chairman National Laity, Dr. William Muhiirwa, Fr. Deusdedit Bukenya, former Vicar General and Fr. Benedict Njunwoha current Diocesan Treasurer of Mbarara Archdiocese respectively.
Dr. William Muhiirwa, who was his student, remembers vividly the mark he left behind his students as immeasurable. “We feared him so much and nicknamed him Leo (lion). Whenever we saw him and were in the wrong, we would say ‘Video Leo’, meaning ‘see the lion’.”
Fr Barugahare however has a soft spot for children, which is evident when he is preaching to date as he always has a word for the young “I really took pride in teaching these young seminarians although I enforced strict discipline. In my nine years as rector, I only dismissed three students because they could not reform,” he says. It was during his time of service that Primary six was started, for at first, the school was taking only Primary Seven.
As a parish priest from St Mukasa, Fr Barugahare was posted to Uganda Martyrs Parish in Mbarara. He lais a foundation for the beginning of Uganda Martyrs Primary School and worked with Christians very well. He was later appointed to St. Kaggwa where he worked for many years, Msgr. John Barugahare run the parish while he was alone.
It is confirmed that the strong foundation of education in St. Kaggwa parish lies in his efforts. Whenever there would raise misunderstandings or conflicts of any nature during the difficult times of Obote II, he would fearlessly intervene and meet the responsible persons to avoid future political disparities.
At St Kaggwa, he was appointed a vicar general, replacing the long serving Fr Hillary Tibanyenda. As Vicar General. He visited all parishes re-awakening the Laity Councils and influenced to have the Laity office opened as it had long been closed.
He was then posted to Nyamitanga Cathedral in Mbarara for eight years before coming back to Uganda Martyrs Parish till 8th January, 2011 when he retired.
Fr Barugahare has composed around 100 songs to his credit, sung in churches across the western region. This he says he did with the encouragement of Bishop Ogez. While at St Mukasa, he oversaw the expansion of the seminary from P.7 to P.6 and also put up new buildings. He is also credited for starting Uganda Martyrs Primary School and Bishop Ogez Secondary School in Bushenyi. Both schools are now pillars in the education system of Mbarara Archdiocese. He has also seen the modernization of Uganda Martyrs’ Parish.
As a priest, he says he has no regrets even if he fought hard to be there. “I listened to the call and really fought for it. It is a mission where one shares his faith with his brothers and sisters.
As a priest, you are open to everybody, irrespective of creed.” “Since the time I was ordained a priest, I have never regretted a single day and I pray to God that I die a priest. I put God before anything else and I think I was inspired by my father, who was a catechist, and Bishop Ogez, who gave me the chance to Africanise the Catholic faith in our region,” Fr Barugahare says.
He is particularly grateful to Bishop John Baptist Kakubi (of where?) who pushed him to be his vicar general and later a monsignor and to Monsignor Hillary Tibanyenda and Fr Serian Byabashaija. He is also grateful to fellow priests whom he has worked with. “I am happy that I am retiring from priesthood with my head held high, he says.