Differences in working locales a good thing for Ugandan priest

Rev. Sebastian Twinomugabi (left), associate pastor at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, in Huntington, chats with church secretary Kelly Jennings at the church on Friday, Nov. 9.
Rev. Sebastian Twinomugabi (left), associate pastor at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, in Huntington, chats with church secretary Kelly Jennings at the church on Friday, Nov. 9. Photo by Steve Clark.

Originally published Nov. 22, 2012.

Rev. Sebastian Twinomugabi has been the associate pastor at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, in Huntington, only since October.

But for the Uganda native, plenty of differences between his work back home and his work here in Huntington have already begun to emerge.

And that's a positive thing.

Twinomugabi previously served as the priest of a rural parish in Uganda that spanned more than 62 miles. In addition to being the pastor of the parish's church, Twinomugabi regularly traveled to the small village churches within the parish, sites he refers to as "outstations." He traveled on a motorbike so he could traverse the parish's mountainous regions, and also a boat, permitting him to cross lakes, often with his motorbike in tow.

Twinomugabi served his parishioners in a number of ways, from performing baptisms on Easter and Christmas to transporting people so they could receive medical attention.

"In my parish, there are no hospitals," he says. "I would come, I had a small pickup truck, a 1980 model, and in my truck I would carry pregnant mothers.

"They would give birth on my truck, then I would take them to a hospital over 20 kilometers from my parish, at night."

Perhaps the biggest service Twinomugabi performed for his parishioners, though, was constructing a new place for them to worship.

"The church at that parish was called Christ the King, but when I looked at the church, it really was not the best to call it ‘Christ the King,'" he chuckles.

The church was tiny and ill-suited to serve his parishioners' needs, so Twinomugabi began building a new church. It was a 10-year process where Twinomugabi raised funds, wrote for grants - and opened up a factory.

In need of bricks for the church, Twinomugabi got into the brick-making business to ensure that the church would be built. It earned him a nickname - "The Brick Priest" - and was an enterprise that took on a life of its own.

"That brick-making project went on and actually we became a small factory, so to say, in our western region, the first of its kind, and it could generate more income for the parish," Twinomugabi says.

The new Christ the King Church was consecrated in 2010 and seats 800 to 1,000 people.

Thirteen years of serving this parish, though, took its toll on Twinomugabi.

"I really enjoyed my work, put the whole of myself into the work, but I found myself getting tired," he says. "And then my bishop said, ‘I don't want to lose you, Father Sebastian. I think after 13 years in a parish working like that, it's too hard. You need a change.'"

With contacts at the University of Notre Dame, Twinomugabi's bishop arranged for him to be transferred to the Catholic diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
Twinomugabi arrived in Fort Wayne on Sept. 20.

Though he expected to stay in Fort Wayne for a period of time at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to get acclimated to life in the United States, his stay at the cathedral ended up being a short one. On Oct. 8, only 18 days after his arrival, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades appointed Twinomugabi to SS. Peter and Paul as the associate pastor.

Twinomugabi says his new parishioners have made him feel at home.

"I've met nice people," he says. "I went to our school here, Huntington Catholic School; very nice kids. They were asking me about Uganda, they were asking me about being a priest.

"I have found the place to be very warm and welcoming."

Though he hasn't been here for very long, Twinomugabi is already beginning to identify that, in Huntington, it's the people inside the church, rather than the church itself, that deserve his attention.

"In Uganda, you find somebody with a small house, without even a bicycle ... but he's very happy; he's generous; he's talkative," Twinomugabi says. "But here, I fear people have ... little time for their neighbor, for their friends."

Twinomugabi would like to see more people in church, period. Attendance numbers similar to the ones he enjoyed in Uganda is the goal.

"Beautiful churches are in (Uganda's) capital city and other towns, built in the 1900s. But today people are struggling to put up beautiful churches," he says. "Here, there are very beautiful churches, big churches, but of course the numbers are not the same. Our churches are packed."

In order to fulfill his goals, Twinomugabi plans to exhibit the same drive in Huntington that he did in Uganda.

"The people who know me, they tell me that I am so active," he says. "I want to see things created.
"I used to tell my Christians that we should learn how to create," he continues. "To use our natural resources, to know how to identify them, then mobilize them, for a good and better purpose."

Twinomugabi's focus, whether he's in Huntington or Uganda, remains the same.

"To serve Christ is my first goal," he says.

Complete caption: Rev. Sebastian Twinomugabi (left), associate pastor at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, in Huntington, chats with church secretary Kelly Jennings at the church on Friday, Nov. 9. Twinomugabi is from Uganda and was appointed to SS. Peter and Paul in October.