It is debatable whether if the Uganda Martyrs had not been killed in 1886, this school would have been founded. But what is not disputable is the fact that the martyrdom guided the founders, 81 years later, on the name Uganda Martyrs’ S.S Namugongo.
With Fifty years down the road, and growing stronger; the inspiration of the martyrs had been indelible so much that they are extolled in the School Anthem and are implored daily to intercede for and bestow blessings on the school community. The school was founded by Late Msgr. Lawrence Mbwega, the parish priest then, who wrote a book in which he stated that three people should never be forgotten when naming founders of Uganda Martyrs’ S.S Namugongo: Jeremiah Munyigwa (deceased), Hellen Namazzi and Joseph Mugerwa. The trio rallied the parents of Namugongo Catholic Parish and in 1967 they started a humble project that has after fifty years become larger than life.
Mgr. Mbwega’s role was equally pivotal and together with Fr.Semwogerere guided and supported the infant institution. Joseph Nkalubo, Late Joseph Nyungwe, The Late Cosmas Lwanga, Matayo Kamya, Paul Ssemtamu, Elia Lwandasa, Leo Kibuuka, Bruno Serunkuuma and Cosmas Lwanga were also supportive in founding and budding years. On September 3 ,1967 a founders’ meeting raised 2,570 as start up Capital. Mbwega explains that the protectorate government did not want the multiplication of secondary Schools. Starting a secondary School was an opposition on part of the government. When we “When we applied for a junior school, we were told we had to send the students to either St.Peter’s Nsambya or St.Joseph’s Naggalama, the only Catholic schools for the Mary Hill Fathers at the time. The children had to walk to Nsambya which was very difficult particularly for the girls. Hence the parents decided to start their own, Namugongo,”Mbwega recalls. It hence started as a community project. Mugerwa, in his nineties, attributes the driving force behind the founding of the school to Mbegwa, God-given gift of love for Children and being among them.
The School opened on January 15,1968 with 27 students and four teachers.Others were part timers from Nabisunsa Girls School and Kyambogo College School. Charles Martins was the pioneer Headmaster. Mugerwa narrates that while the target was to enroll children in the first years were from distant places.”The residents were not so keen about enrolling their children at Namugongo.In the the first years the school was as local as were its students (Obwana bwali local-local !!!),” he explained.
The low enrolment in the beginning meant minimal income. Students were paying only Shs 700 as school fees and the teachers earned Shs 250. On many occasions the school relied on donations from the founders and well wishers to survive, but it trudged on. As any school starting Namugongo suffered the uneviable option of recruiting ” the failures who were rejects ” in other schools. Mbwega says and this explains the years of quitude the school endured.When the financial hardships were unbearable , in1970, Mbwegwa suggested to the school management that a boarding section for girls should be started. The enrolment somewhat grew. In 1971, Luka Mayanja took over as headmaster. The ageing Mayanja, had mobility difficulties which made Mbwega the de facto school head teacher. That year, the pioneer ‘O’ level students sat for their East Africa Certificate of Education (EACE), the predecessor of UNEB. The eight candidates sat for their examination at St. Mbaga, College Naddangira because Namugongo had not yet got a centre number.
In 1978 when Mayanja retired from teaching, Patrick Mukiibi took over as headmaster. He held the fort until the end of 1980 academic year.The departure of Mukiibi came on the heels of the transfer from Namugongo parish, in 1979 of Msgr. Mbwenga. A parents meeeting on October 30, 1979 resolved to ask the Superior General of the little sisters of St. Francis, Nkokonjeru for a nun to take over as headteacher.The Mother General appointed Sister Bernadette Mary who had previously been a headmistress of St. Joseph S.S Nsambya for nine years. Before Bernadette could take her new assignment there was a doctrinal problem. Her order barred members of the congragation from teaching boys above 12 years of age . After some discussion a middle line was found in allowing the boys already in School complete and leave. At the beginning of 1981, she started work. The enrolment was one hundred students. “The school was unrully”,The Eighty year old Bernadette an instructor at Nkokonjeru Novitiate Recalls. She read the Riot Act which calmed down the students. At the end of 1981 The students would go to church without being asked to pray something that was unheard of previously. The facilities were still modest. The teaches’ quarters, dormitories and class rooms were few, poorly furnished, despicable and incomplete.
In 1982, there was a total turnaround although some girls would still escape. Their concentration was also compromised by the marauding soldiers and booming disco music near the school.”There was a time when a big number of soldiers fell in and wanted to take some of my girls , I stood up to them and said NO; But the same girls claimed these were their relatives.I said whether relatives / Not, Iam not allowing you in the School. In the end the soldiers started persecuting me but I resisted and became quite strong.”, recalls Sr. Bernadette. When they were denied entry the soldiers would way lay them in the garden. However , when the headteacher discovered she banned gardening and food was bought from Kireka Market. But the soldiers were not done yet.”One day I got up very early to go to Kireka to buy Food. When I reached the the junction in Kyaliwajjala, I met some men standing on a raised ground. I said to them, ‘whats wrong?’ They said, ‘Sister go ahead.’ But as I was moving one of them came and said, ‘Sister,Sister….you are going to die. Get away from there. The soldiers are coming.’ Do you know where to hide ? In a mosque! I stayed there there for sometime until they came for me. That was my experience and it was a really a hard one,” Sister Bernadette recalled.
Msgr. Mbwega too hard a brush with the intimidating face of Idi Amin regime soldiers and tells how they accosted him.”They used to come and try to molest the girls . One night , a soldier came and pointed a gun towards me. I told him, “I have a duty to defend these children. If you kill me I shall give my life in fulfillment of that duty,”Mbwega reminisces depicting the real picture of the Biblical shepherd who gives his life for this flock. When the S.4 class sat for the exams in 1982, that eased out the boys from the school. Less than five boys were enrolled for the next academic year. And this was the beginning of the imbalance in the ratio between boys and girls until recently in early 2000 when the board approved officially the re-introduction of boys. It however must be noted that before coming Namugongo, Sr. Bernadette had applied for leave to return to the quietude of Nkokonjeru, away from”The Popcorn of Kampala”(Rattling of Guns and explosions that characterised Idi Amin’s Regime); But this Leave was no granted until the end of 1983 Sister Justine , now working with Tororo Hospital succeeded Sr. Bernadette.
In 1984, when sister Justine left the late Emmanuel Kibirige Musoke came in from Stella Maris Nsuube.During his leadership he is Credited for starting the advanced level (S.5-S.6). The section started with a class of Fourteen students. In 1984 he built the first sickbay. He recruited more qualified staff and the following year ,1985, the school was blessed with its first Grade I and a few Grade II’s.The creative headteacher also established a small-scale poultry farm to generate more funds for the school. The returns were used to build the staffroom and the headmaster’s office. But before he could occupy his newly built office, he was transferred to Naggalama and replaced by Dr. J.C Muyingo.
In 1992 Dr. Chrysostom Muyingo took over as the headmaster.He had a VISION of seeing the school Excel Academically as well as Talent Wise. He well knew that if he focusssed his attention on Displine and God, He would be able to realise his Goal. In pursuit of this he established a Library, built Science labaratories and recruited professional teachers.
The very year of his arrival the school registered FIFTY TWO (52) first grades, In 1993 the score was FIFTY SIX (56) first grades while in 1995, the school was ranked 45th in the then Mpingi district.
Since the Boys had been expelled from the school courtesy of Sr. Bernadette’s congragation doctrine, it was not until 1994 that the first boys’ dormitories were constructed. The annual Boys’ Party, which symbolises their (BOYS) Permanent residence status was put in place. Ever since Dr. J.C Muyingo became the Headmaster, the school has undergone dramatic changes and transformations.