Gulu Schools Hold Night Vigil For Father Scalabrini

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In short
Students and teachers stood shoulder to shoulder to pray for his soul in Angelo Negri College School. Prayers were also said at Awach Assumption Parish where Fr Scalabrini began his priestly journey in 1964.

Schools founded by Father John Scalabrini in Gulu Archdiocese on Tuesday observed a night vigil upon receiving news of his death. 

Students and teachers stood shoulder to shoulder to pray for his soul in Angelo Negri College School. Prayers were also said at Awach Assumption Parish where Fr Scalabrini began his priestly journey in 1964.

Scalabrini, an Italian priest died of cancer of the bone yesterday at Nsambya Hospital. He was 81.

Marcelino Okullu, the head teacher of Bishop Angelo Negri College says the death of the priest and founder of the school is the worst news the institution received for an academic year.

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Okullu says the death of the priest will forever remain a big blow to education and religion in Uganda. After founding Bishop Angelo Negri Primary and College schools, Father John established St. Isidoro Mission Farm at the seat of Gulu Archdiocese. He used the farm to train smallholder farmers the practices of modern agro production.

Christine Labol, a lay reader in Gulu Archdiocese says that when Father John served as Vicar General of the diocese under former Bishop Cypriano Kihangire, he creatively used the farm to inspire and teach farmers to grow surplus food that they would sell to his off shoot agro processing machines.

According to Labol, maize was milled into flour while sun flower pressed into cooking oil. The mini industries gave rise to a soap making factory that became the engine of growth in the neighbourhoods. Proceeds went towards supporting widows, orphans and other needy people. 

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The Catholic faithful who knew Father John say he found great favour in the eyes of Bishop Cypriano Kihangire. He was carefully mentored for administration and vocation which he began to execute with diligence shortly after being ordained priest.

His first posting was in Awach Catholic parish in Aswa County. It was here that Father John as he was fondly called, mentored new converts and trained many catechists. 

When Idi Amin took from Dr. Apollo Milton Obote in 1971, the farm Fr John established at the seat of Gulu Archdiocese got looted and its machines vandalised. The looting put Father John on collision course with Idi Amin.  Marcelino Okullu says the persecution forced Father John to briefly flee back to his home in Italy.

In 1975, Okullu met Father John in Rome when he joined a group of Ugandan pilgrims that had visited the Vatican. He says the priest treated Ugandan pilgrims to a plethora of love and care at a luncheon he hosted at his father's apartment. He returned to Uganda shortly after Idi Amin was deposed.

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In 1986, his vocation suffered another setback of war when he got displaced from Awach assumption parish to Luzira, a Kampala suburb. He later built Bishop Cypriano Kihangire Secondary School in memory of Bishop Kihangire, the man who inspired and ordained him into priesthood.

Willy Obita, the chairperson school management committee of Awach primary school says catholic faithful in Awach Assumption Parish also gathered in vigil on Tuesday to pray for the soul of their pioneer priest. He says Christians used the overnight vigil to petition God to grant the deceased priest a peaceful eternal rest.

As peace returned to Northern Uganda, Obita says Father John returned to his roots in Awach Assumption Parish to lay a foundation stone for a nursery and a secondary school to complement the primary school he helped to establish. 

He named the two institutions as Father Debari Nursery School Awach and Father Scalabrini College. Both institutions are already operational with the latter serving students enrolled for Senior one to three.

Cosmas Ojara Ocheng, a resident of For God ward in Lacor is among the many beneficiaries of Father John's charity. He says he managed to access quality education because of Father John's support. 

Gulu archdiocese is yet to release a formal statement on the death of the priest. 


Mentioned: gulu archdiocese

About the author

Peter Labeja
Peter Labeja has been a practicing journalist for the last 13 years during which he has covered part of the brutal conflict which bedeviled Northern Uganda as well as the painful transition to Peace thereafter. Emerging post conflict issues such as land rights of under privileged widows and orphans, challenges of access to social services in the immediate aftermath of Lord’s Resistance Army conflict in Northern Uganda.

Labeja is now the Northern Uganda Bureau chief in Acholi Sub Region since 2014 - Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya and Omoro districts as well as South Sudan falls within his areas of jurisdiction. He previously worked with The Vision Group for four years.

Labeja’s major career interests are in Climate Change; Agriculture and Environment - natural resources such as Water, Oil and Gas; Transitional Justice; Human Rights, Democracy and Governance as well as South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis. In 2013, Labeja was awarded a prestigious Pan African Journalism Award for excellence in journalism at United Nation’s UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya for Climate Change and Health Reporting.