14th September 2006
Mt. St. Mary's Namagunga: Bevy of grace and success
By Jackie Nalubwama

As I walk around the school compound, memories flood my head like 1996 was only yesterday when I was a student at Mt. St. Mary’s College Namagunga.
It is still as beautifully maintained as I remembered. Flowers, and then flowers, with green hedges, trees and manicured lawns make up the school’s immaculate compound, which is free from all kinds of litter.

But going through the history of the school with Andrew Bireseki, the librarian, I’m told that the school started in Nkokonjeru, Mukono district, in February 1942.

The old hall
The statue of Mary opposite the A-level classroom block
The new school chapel
The A- level classroom block built by Italian prisoners of war in 1944

A school magazine marking the Golden Jubilee (1942-92) has a 1948 article by Esseza Namulondo in which she states that the school started with only 12 girls, who used to share quarters with student teachers. Namulondo was one of the 12. She wrote that the school was later moved to Jinja in August of 1942, and later in 1946 the girls got their own permanent school structures at present dayNamagunga.

Interestingly, the most beautiful old buildings of the school: the Old Hall, S.1 block and A-level classroom block, were built in 1944 by six Italian prisoners of war. The A-level classroom block stands with an austere look, which is oddly beautiful, with strong pillars. This was simply an Italian job well-done.

The rest of the school buildings are much younger. They were built, courtesy of a USA Aid grant in 1966.

Instilling tradition

Of the endless list of Namagunga’s unique features, the prefects’ body set up ranks supreme. It consists of nine ministries; each complete with a patron (teacher) and minister, who are aided by officials in A-level and class representatives. The ministries include: Speech, Social Graces, Health, Self-reliance, Dining, Sleep, Education, Sports, and Internals Affairs.

Through these ministries, discipline and order is maintained in the school. The Ministry of Social Graces is the most impressive of the nine. Under this ministry, the girls are reminded to walk, talk and live like ladies of virtue.

Beatrice Okello, an old girl (1981-87) remembered Mariam Luyombo (proprietor of Taibah Schools) because she was the Social Graces minister, who “taught us how to be ladies.”

Okello is the assistant commissioner, monitoring and evaluation in the president’s office, and she is currently chairperson of Namagunga Old Girls’ Association (NOGA).

During the dances A-levels would have with any boys’ school, popularly called ‘social’, the ministry of Social Graces together with the dining ministry would take charge of the arrangements.

In Okello’s time, the girls would cook, decorate and even mix the music all by themselves. “We used to make our day or break it because we were the organisers,” said Okello.

She also said the girls used to painstakingly get ready for the day. “We used to use paper strips to curl our hair because perm was not allowed. Girls used to sleep carefully so that the strips would not fall out,” Okello explained.

She had social with both Namilyango College and St. Mary’s College Kisubi. To Okello the rivalry between the boys’ schools for the Namagunga girls almost went unnoticed.

Former headmistress, Sr. Cephas Cormack (1978 - 2001)

“We were excited about going to a boys’ school. We didn’t mind the rivalry; it was the boys’ [affair]. In the first week at Namagunga, all S.1s are told the school rules by the ministers in the main hall, and from then onwards the girls live within the boundaries of the system because each ministry is important.

It is not surprising that whoever has gone through Namagunga remembers the high level of discipline, the straight-backed lady-like walk, no staring and the greeting on the compound - “Hi”. We were so well indoctrinated that most of us still greet everyone we walk past.

According to an old girl, who is now a teacher at the school and spoke on condition of anonymity, Namagunga will always be known for discipline and success. She was a student from 1968 to 1973 under the stewardship of Sr. Mary Victoire, the then headmistress.

“It has changed a bit, in numbers,” she noted. Back in her days, there were very few students doing sciences, but today there is an overwhelming number of science students at the school.

“We used to have more arts but now we have more sciences. Out of 80 students at A-level, 20 are doing arts,” said the old girl. She was in the same class as Dr. Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, the former Vice President. She remembers Kazibwe as a very clever student, good dancer and actress too.
“She was a good actress. I remember her in ‘Waltzes of Vienna’,” said the OG, before adding that Kazibwe put up a splendid show in the play.

According to this Old Girl, Namagunga used to be known for academic excellence, sports, music, dance and drama, but most of these have been sacrificed at the altar of academic excellence.

“Today there is a lot of pressure on the girls to perform. They don’t have time to try out their talent in dance and drama,” she noted.
Well, it is true that the extra curricular activities are not emphasised at the school, but they are on the road to revival.

Responding to these concerns, Ms. Angela Ssenabulya, the school’s Deputy Headmistress said, “Our choir is coming up again.”
The choir has been part of Namagunga’s custom, along with the Easter festivity and the Christmas pageant.

The Easter vigil was a very special one. All classes would spend an hour in the Main Hall (which served as a place of prayer before the Chapel was built in 1999), keeping the Easter vigil. The A-level students would be the last ones, keeping vigil till midnight. Then at midnight, the whole school, with lit candles, would match round the compound, singing Easter carols.

It was a most colourful of events. The Christmas pageant was just as special, although the excitement was low toned. S1 and S.5 students would team up for a Christmas production, which always marvelled the parents. Christine Mawadri Olok, a student from 1984 –1990, says this was “the core of our creativity.”

Now station manager at Dembe FM, Mawadri explains that her favourite was the Martyrs’ Day production. “It used to have parents sobbing.”
But the tradition faded away with time, totally disappearing in the 90s.
Another tradition of the school was standing at the Freedom Circle. It is strategically stationed in front of the administration block, where naughty students would be told to stand for all to see who the bad ones were.

Were you ever sent to Freedom Circle? I asked Christine “I was smart enough not to get caught. They took us there in S.1,” said Mawadri.
Colloquial talk Namagunga, with all its upright values and virtue, could not escape jargon.

I bet past Ministers of Speech would have loved to get all the speech defaulters. In my time, there was a speech revolution - operation jargon. Every word was said the wrong way.

If a word could not be cut short, we could instead say it the other way round; for example food was ‘doof’. And Sr. Cephas Cormack, the longest serving headmistress (1978-2001), was called ‘Capui’ or ‘Caps’.
But we could not take the credit for having come up with that name because even old girls of the late 70s used it.

Mawadri also remembers using the nickname ‘Capui’ during her time. Some of the other slang she used as a student was; ‘Swammy’ (fake guy) and ‘dingilo’ (dining hall).
“When we had cassava in the dining, we would say, ‘We are going lumbering,’ because cassava was timber,” said Mawadri.

Some of the jargon has become typically part of the school. Sheila Obasoni, in S.2 C, uses ‘starve’ to mean being broke with nothing in the box room, and ‘biscuit’ to mean someone who reports fellow students to the administration just like Mawadri did, when she was a student.
Well, some things just never change. The school’s deputy headmistress, Ms. Ssenabulya, is fondly called ‘Senabs’.

The changes

The wheel of time has been spinning, and each revolution it makes leaves changes at Namagunga. The most recent was Sr. Cephas’ departure and Sr. Justin Paul’s take over.

Looking at the school structures, everything is in place but Elaine Alowo (1996-2001) has another story. She was at the school during the transition and she said the girls were brewing for a strike, but it thankfully did not arise.

“Ugandans don’t believe in institutionalism but individualism. [So] in comes a new person who did not know us,” said Alowo, explaining that Sr. Cephas almost knew every student.

According to Alowo, after they got used to Sr. Justin Paul, the students realised she was not bad at all. Besides, she has tried to uphold the school’s culture of excellence.

During that period, some changes were made which the students wanted to resist. “They wanted us to change to houses. We felt that ‘My God, they have come to change our school’,” Alowo said. Before Sr. Justin Paul came to the school in 2001, Namagunga did not have houses. On Sports Days and production days, each class had to participate as an entity, but now the students belong to houses.

According to Obasoni, there are four houses: Acquila, Orion, Vega and Triton. Obasoni belongs to Acquila. This was not the first transformation. An anonymous OG said that in 1973, when Sr. Victoire left, Sr. Mary Anselm took over. She was an African nun, who almost ran down the school through her changes. “She made the meals bad [by abolishing dessert such as rice pudding].”

One change that is rather fascinating is Sr Cephas’s rise to headmistress. She was a Home Economics teacher when she arrived at Namagunga in 1968. An old girl who was there in 1968 said that Cephas actually introduced Home Economics as a discipline at the school. Little wonder that the new Home Economics laboratory is named after her - Sr. Cephas Home Economics and Management Laboratory.

The school was run on bio-gas and hydro electric power, but with Umeme’s unreliable power, the old girls are now supporting solar energy at the school.

On September 24, at Christ the King Church in Kampala, NOGA will have its annual general meeting at which several issues pertaining to the school will be addressed.

As I leave the school, I take one last look around. A wicked thought crosses my mind and I commit a grave crime. I cross the lawn. What would Sr. Cephas do if she saw me? Does it matter anymore?

Strangely, it still matters because I retract my steps and contritely bow before the statue of Mary in front of the A-level classroom block.

School Anthem

We walk through knowledge to virtue
We strive in the paths of St. Francis
With our Lord’s help we move on
To live in truth and grace

We work to build our nation
With our hard work and effort
With heads held high we march on
To hold and live our dream

And we’ll always uphold Namagunga
For all its beauty and success
We’ll always be proud of Namagunga
And we will live in love and unity.

Prominent Old Girls

Legal Professionals:
Lady Justice Laetitia Kikonyogo
Lady Justice Stella Arac Amoko
Maureen Owor
Joan Kagezi
Jacqueline Okot
Irene Makumbi Kizito
Gloria Basaza
Georgina Bukenya

Dr. Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe
Proscovia Salaamu Musumba

Prof. Mary Okwakol
Prof. Josephine Nambooze
Sr. Justin Paul Kyalikunda
Regina Laboke
Mariam Luyombo
Teopista Iga
Petronela Lujwala
Margaret Atim

Jane Okot Langoya
Judith Oseku
Kate Kabenge Ssebale
Candy Wekesa Okoboi
Lucy Nabirye
Ruth Tuma

Mary C. Muduuli
Justin Bagyenda
Catherine Bossa Musoke
Clare Kariisa
Hilda Karamagi
Betty Walusimbi Muliisa
Harriet Musoke
Margaret Musana
Elizabeth Mwerinde
Harriet Omoding
Pauline Kawooya Wantate
Regina Kityo
Patricia Okelowange
Nancy Kangwagye

Dr. Cecilia Achadu Otim (RIP)
Dr. Josephine Namaganda
Dr. Rose Azuba
Dr. Tereza Namatovu
Dr. Jane Frances Kamya
Dr. Angelina Kakooza
Eng. Winnie Byanyima
Dr. Barbara Natabbi
Dr. Julie Bataringaya
Dr. Nakakeeto Kijjambu
Dr. Salome Kiribaka Bakeera
Dr. Sabrina Kitaka Bakeera

Angela Nampewo
Beatrice Okello
Christine Mawadri
Lydia Wamala
Laura Mulenga
Jackie Nalubwama
Christine Mugerwa

Natasha Museveni Karugire
Paula Butagira
Tshila Mchaudi

Catherine Adipo
Mary Musoke

Florence Mugasha
Hilda Musubira
Dr. Jane Mulemwa
Jane Mpagi
Techlar Kinalwa
Noerine Kaleeba
Felistas Atuki Turner
Faridah Mbabali
Barbara Barungi Mbiire
Patience Kokundeka Rwabogo
Diana Museveni Kamuntu

Next week we visit Sir Samuel Baker - S. S