The first native African to be ordained a Catholic Bishop in modern times, Monsignor Joseph Nakabaale Kiwánuka was born at Nakirebe in Mawokota county, Uganda, the child of Catholic parents, Victoro Katumba Munduekanika and Felicitas Nankya Ssabawebwa Namukasa. He received his primary education at Mitala Maria from 1910 to 1914, when he entered Bukalasa Junior Seminary. After studying Philosophy and Theology at Katigondo Major Seminary, he was ordained to the Priesthood at Villa Maria on May 26, 1929. In his fourth year at Katigondo, Kiwánuka felt the call to join the Society of Missionaries of Africa, whose members are more commonly known as the White Fathers. Bishop Henri Streicher, his ordinary, opposed the move. However, Fr. Voillard, the Superior General of the Society, who visited the Seminary in 1928, agreed to admit Kiwánuka after ordination to the priesthood.
Shortly after his ordination, Kiwánuka received his call to the Novitiate of the Missionaries of Africa on July 15, 1929. However, Bishop Streicher again intervened, sending the young priest to Rome for further studies. Kiwánuka lodged at the house of the Missionaries of Africa on via Trenta Aprile and attended the Pontifical Angelicum University, where he took a Licentiate and Doctorate in Canon Law. The subject of his doctoral dissertation, which he defended in 1932, was the marriage contract. After visiting France and England, Kiwánuka arrived in Algiers to make his Novitiate with the Missionaries of Africa on October 8, 1932. He completed his Novitiate on October 12, 1933 and, after his return to Uganda, pronounced the missionary oath at Entebbe on October 12, 1934. Meanwhile, Bishop Streicher’s Diocese had been divided into the Vicariates of Masaka and Rubaga, on his retirement in 1933.
After pastoral appointments at Bikira and Bujuni, Kiwanuka moved to Katigondo Seminary, where he joined the teaching staff. On June 1, 1939, he received news of his appointment as Vicar Apostolic of Masaka. Joseph Kiwánuka received his Episcopal Consecration inside St. Peter’s Patriarchal Vatican Basilica, from Pope Pius XII on October 29, 1939, assisted by Archbishops Henri Streicher and Celso Costantini. Kiwánuka was thus made the first native African Bishop sinced 1875, when James Augustine Healy was consecrated as Bishop of Portland. Kiwánuka moved back to his Diocese soon after the start of the Second World War. In August 1940, the new Bishop moved his diocesan headquarters from Villa Maria to Kitovu near Masaka town. In 1947, Kiwánuka played an important role at the General Chapter of the Missionaries of Africa in Algiers by championing the international character of missionary personnel in Uganda and resisting compliance with the desire of the British colonial office to admit only British, Commonwealth and English speaking missionaries to Uganda.
In January 1961, Joseph Kiwánuka was appointed Archbishop of Rubaga, on the retirement of Archbishop Joseph Cabana M.Afr., and in October of the following year played a prominent role in the celebrations accompanying the attainment of political independence in Uganda. Immediately afterwards, Kiwánuka went to Rome to attend the sessions of the Second Vatican Council 1962 to 1965. During the third session of the Council, Bishop Kiwánuka assisted Pope Paul VI at the canonization of the twenty-two Catholic Martyrs of Uganda on October 18, 1964. In 1965, Obote’s government in Uganda underwent a political crisis, and Kiwánuka responded by publishing an inspiring pastoral letter on political leadership and democratic maturity. This was Kiwánuka’s final legacy, for he died suddenly on February 22, 1966, the day before Milton Obote assumed unconstitutional powers. Buried inside the Rubaga Cathedral, a canonical exhumation at a later date, found his body to be in perfect conditions. The leadership of Archbishop Kiwánuka opened the door to the full development of the Catholic Church in Africa, which is now entirely in African hands.