The Catholic Diocese of Fort Portal was founded in 1961 with Vincent Joseph McCauley of the Congregation Holy Cross as its first Bishop. The decree for erection the diocese of Fort Portal was issued by Pope John xxiii on 19th April, 1961, and the diocese was inaugurated with the installation of its first Bishop at Virika on 2nd July, 1961. The then new diocese covered the kingdoms of Bunyoro and Tooro, comprising the current dioceses of Fort Portal, Hoima and Kasese.
The founding of Fort Portal Diocese was a fruit of the missionary work of the Missionaries of Africa, also known as White Fathers, and of the missionary activity of Fr. Augustine Achte (Pere Akiti as he is commonly known in Tooro) who introduced the Catholic faith in Tooro and Bunyoro regions. Fr. Achte, who had first worked in Buddu- Buganda, entered Tooro through Bunyoro and set his first missionary station in Western Uganda at Bukuumi (in Bunyoro) before travelling to Tooro. He arrived at Virika on 17th November, 1885 and there founded a missionary station. This was a year after the Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionaries had arrived in Tooro and established a protestant mission at Kabarole Hill.
One month after his arrival at Virika, Fr. Achte was joined by Fr. Toulze. By the time Fr. Achte and Fr. Toulze came to Tooro, King Kasagama, together with the most influential persons and chiefs of the kingdom had embraced the protestant religion. The Catholic missionaries, therefore, targeted the lower class and less influential folks of Tooro. Although King Kasagama had first welcomed the Catholic missionaries in Tooro, after his Baptism into the Church of England on 15th March, 1896 in Kampala and his return to Tooro that same year, the king became rather hostile to the Catholic Church. This was demonstrated by the harassment of Catholics in Tooro, and it became a setback for the mission.
Fr. Achte took recourse to Mr. Sitwell the Colonial District Commissioner of Tooro and complained of harassment by the kingdom authority. Then the situation improved. Later King Kasagama realized that the Catholic Missionaries and their religion were here to stay, and were a force to reckon with. He adopted a much friendly attitude towards the Catholic missionaries and religion. He went to the extent of allowing the Queen Mother, Victoria Kahinju, to give a big chunk of her land at Kijanju (Virika) to the White Fathers.
The king also gave two of his children (Prince Rwakatale and Princess Nkwenge) to be baptized in the Catholic faith; he as well allowed some of his relatives to become Catholics. Whereas the king had been so generous and friendly to the Catholic missionaries, the situation was not that easy elsewhere in the kingdom. It was quite hard to find land for establishing other Catholic Church missions until the colonial administration took away power from the local chiefs. It was then that the Catholic Church could acquire land and register it with the colonial Government, establish new churches and spread without hindrance.
The first catechumens of Virika were baptized on 8th December, 1896, and by 1899 the whole of Tooro had only 289 Catholics. However the growth of the Catholic faith was so rapid that by mid-1903 the number of the baptized had reached 2,220 while 8,000 people were still catechumens. Since the number of priests was extremely small compared to the work, a lot of ministry was carried out by the catechists who had come from Buganda.
In the year 1897 Fr. Achte left Virika for Kampala where he worked as administrator of the Uganda Vicariate in the absence of Bishop Streicher, for six years. Fr. Achte returned to Virika in 1902 and found the mission so grown and demanding that he had to commission some unbaptized catechumens to work as catechists to teach omugigi. Fr. Achte also recruited the first young men to train for priesthood in Tooro although he did not live long enough to see them ordained. Fr. Achte, the God- sent apostle to Tooro land died of malaria on 2nd February, 1905 and was laid to rest at Virika. He was succeeded by Fr. Gorju (who later became Vicar Apostolic of Burundi) and Fr. Beauchamp (Pere Boswa)
Virika remained the only parish in Tooro until the second parish of Butiiti was opened in 1904. Fr. Achte had pitched camp at Butiiti on his first journey to Virika from Bukuumi. So he kept Butiiti as an important outstation of Virika parish and was under the care of catechists from Bukuumi. By 1899 Butiiti, though not yet a parish had a full catechumenate which was supervised by priests from Virika like Fr. Toulze (Pere Tuuzi). The parish of Butiiti was opened on 5th November 1904 with Fr. Gremeret as the first Parish Priest. He was assisted by Fr. Debrulle and Brother Martin. The new parish of Butiiti (Our Lady of Salvation- Notre-Dame de Salut) covered the counties of Mwenge and Kyaka – the whole of present day Katoosa Deanery (the current districts of Kyenjojo and Kyegegwa). In this vast territory there were numerous outstations under the care of catechists who were supervised by the priests from Butiiti.
In 1911 the White Sisters arrived in Tooro and were based at Virika. In 1918 the Bannabikira Sisters also arrived from Bwanda (Masaka) and settled at Butiiti. The main work of these sisters was to give catechetical instructions and to uplift the life of women and girls. They taught hygiene, literacy, handcrafts and domestic science.
In 1918 the first indigenous priest of Fort Portal and from Virika Parish, Fr. Leo Bwogo, was ordained. In 1920 the second indigenous priest, Fr. Francis Kibira, from Butiiti Parish was ordained. From 1929- 1935 Butiiti parish was under the care of Fr. Francis Kibira. He was assisted by Fr. Michael Ziwa.
Around 1900 a certain catechist by the names of Jozefu Rutebemberwa was sent from Virika to go and evangelize the people of Kitagwenda. From Kitagwenda, this man travelled to Kooki and met the White Fathers who had a mission there and he guided them to Mbarara where they arrived in October 1900. This marked the beginning of the Catholic evangelization in the whole of Ankole Kingdom and Kigezi. And later, when the White Fathers opened a mission at Ibanda in 1912, Kitagwenda area was entrusted to that mission.
1909 the mission of Mbarara gave birth to another mission at Rugazi in Bunyaruguru. The priests at Rugazi took care of the Busongora and Bukonjo area. It is here at Rugazi that Fr. Leo Bwogo, the first priest of Fort Portal, served as Parish Priest from 1926 till his death in 1947.
As the Catholic Church was growing in Tooro, so was it also growing elsewhere in Western Uganda (in Bunyoro, Ankole and Kigezi) that by 1933 Bishop Streicher who was in charge of the Uganda Vicariate wrote to Propaganda Fide (Rome) requesting for the creation of another Vicariate in Western Uganda. This request was granted in 1934 covering the area of Bunyoro, Tooro, Ankole and Kigezi. The Apostolic Vicar of the newly created Rwenzori Vicariate was Bishop Francis Xavier Lacoursiere. The Vicariate comprised the whole of western Uganda.
About the location of the headquarters of the Rwenzori Vicariate which stretched from Masindi to Kisoro, the Bishop had two options, either Virika, because of its geographical centrality and historical superiority or Nyamitanga in Mbarara. Bishop Lacoursiere chose Mbarara because of the big population in the Southern regions of Ankole and Kigezi compared to Bunyoro and Tooro.
Bishop Lacoursiere started Kitabi Seminary (in Mbarara) in 1935 for the training of the local clergy. He also founded a local Religious Congregation of the Daughters of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus (Banyatereza Sisters) in 1937 for the purpose of evangelization (to teach catechism); and the first Banyatereza sisters took their vows at Virika in 1942. In 1938 Lacoursiere opened a new parish of Nsenyi in present Kasese Diocese and in 1939 he opened another parish, Wekomiire to the extreme east of the diocese bordering with Buganda. Among other things to show the legacy of Bishop Lacoursiere in Tooro are: St. Leo’s College Kyegobe, Butiiti Teachers College, Kinyamasika Teachers College, etc.
The contribution of Bishop Lacoursiere to the development of Tooro was so significant that at the big Golden Jubilee celebrations of Catholicism in Western Uganda in December 1945 Sir George Rukidi III the King of Tooro himself mobilized all his subjects for the celebration irrespective of their religion. As a token of gratitude and appreciation for what the Church had done for Tooro, the King raised from his subjects a total of (5,000) five thousand shillings which was given to Bishop Lacoursiere.
In 1953 Rwenzori Vicariate was made into Mbarara Diocese with its same boundaries and Bishop Lacoursiere who had been its Apostolic Vicar for long, became its first Ordinary. Bishop Lacoursiere retired in 1956 (and later died, 1970 in Mbarara) and was succeeded by Bishop Jean Marie Ogez. Shortly after his possession of the diocese in 1957, Bishop Ogez divided the diocese of Mbarara into four deaneries: Ankole, Kigezi, Tooro and Bunyoro, thus preparing ground for future dioceses.
In Tooro area Bishop Ogez opened three new parishes: Wekomiire in 1939, Kasanga in present day Kasese 1954 and Bugombwa in Bundibugyo in 1957, Yerya in 1958, and Bukwali 1961.
In 1960 Bishop Ogez wrote to Propaganda Fide in Rome asking for another Missionary congregation to cater for the region of Tooro and Bunyoro. In response to his request Propaganda Fide sent the Holy Cross missionaries led by Fr. Vincent Joseph McCauley to Uganda, particularly Fort Portal in 1958. Bishop Ogez gave four reasons for inviting another missionary congregation: a) the diocese of Mbarara was too large to be administered efficiently; b) the existing number of priests was too small to cater for the peoples’ pastoral need; c) Tooro and Bunyoro Kingdoms were culturally alien and shared a common heritage and language, and so could easily be administered together; d) it was an opportune time for creating another diocese with its own bishop.
The diocese of Fort Portal was created by Pope John XXIII on April 19, 1961 together with the appointment of its first Bishop Rt. Rev. Vincent Joseph McCauley. Fort Portal Diocese comprised the area of Tooro and Bunyoro till 1965 when Hoima Diocese was created to comprise the northern area of Bunyoro. By the time Fort Portal broke from Mbarara Diocese, in 1961, it had 125,672 Catholics and 10 parishes.
Under Bishop McCauley Fort Portal continued to grow in all dimensions, pastoral, economic and demographic. Bishop McCauley opened three more parishes namely Kahunge in 1963, Kasese in 1968 and Kitagwenda in 1969. He intensified the extension of health and education services in the diocese. When his Cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake in 1966, Bishop McCauley built the magnificent Cathedral of Virika that stands as his most visible legacy. He also started St. Mary’s Minor Seminary for the training of future priests. While bishop of Fort Portal, Vincent McCauley worked tirelessly as well for the building of the National Seminary of Ggaba in Kampala. Most lasting of Bishop McCauley’s legacy is his exemplary Christian and spiritual life that has led to the request that he be beatified for the benefit of the universal Church. The now Servant of God Bishop Vincent Joseph McCauley died on 1st November 1982.
When Pope Paul VI visited Uganda in1969 he ordained among others Bishop Serapio Magambo, Auxiliary Bishop of Fort Portal on 1st August 1969. When McCauley resigned the seat of Fort Portal he withdrew to Nairobi as Secretary General of Association of Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA) where he worked almost till his death in 1982, he was succeeded by Bishop Magambo on 1st January 1972.
Serapio Magambo, born of Wekomiire Parish, was the second bishop of Fort Portal Diocese as well as first indigenous bishop of the same diocese. Bishop Magambo opened the parishes of: Kamwenge in 1975, Katoosa in 1984 Kitumbi in 1986, Mabira in 1989 and Town Parish in 1991. He founded the Religious Congregation of the Brothers of St. Joseph the Worker in 1973, and convened the first diocesan synod of Fort Portal in 1989. Bishop Magambo is remembered for his charismatic leadership, for his assiduous prayer life and pastoral zeal; he commanded a rare preaching talent; he was committed to social-economic empowerment of his flock and initiated a number of economic projects; he supported education and founded many primary and technical schools throughout the diocese. Bishop Magambo led the diocese up to 1991 and resigned prematurely after had had a brain stoke while celebrating Mass in 1990 and was paralysed. Bishop Serapio Magambo died on February 8, 1995. It was in the time of Bishop Magambo in April 1989 that Kasese Diocese was cut off from Fort Portal with Right Reverend Egidio Nkaijanabwo as it first bishop.
Magambo was succeeded by Bishop Paul Kalanda who was transferred from Moroto Diocese in Eastern Uganda. Bishop Kalanda was appointed to the See of Fort Portal on 28th August 1991. Bishop Kalanda opened six new parishes, namely: Kicwamba in 1993, Kyarusozi in 1994, Kanyamukale in 1995, Bisozi in 2000, Hapuuyo in 2001 and Kiijuraneema in 2002. He also built the new offices and residence of the bishop at Kijanju (adjacent to Virika hill). When the old hospital of Virika was destroyed by the earthquake of 1993 Bishop Kalanda mobilized resources for the construction of the new hospital. In 1999 the diocese was graced with the appointment of Joseph Mugenyi Sabiti as Auxiliary Bishop. He was ordained on April 24th 1999. Bishop Kalanda convoked the third synod of the diocese in 2000. Due to canonical age limit Bishop Kalanda resigned the See of Fort Portal in 2003 and he was succeeded by Bishop Robert Muhiirwa.
It is under the leadership of Bishop Robert Muhiirwa that the diocese celebrated it Golden Jubilee and third synod. Bishop Muhiirwa has so far opened the parishes of Nyahuka in 2006, Butunduuzi in 2009, Kagoma in 2012, Kasule on 15th August 2013 and Nyakasura on 25th August 2013.
There are plans to pen more new parishes in future but mindful of the sustainability by the Christian community. This is done in a bid to reduce the vast sizes of some parishes in order to bring pastoral services closer to the faithful. The roads linking up our parishes are not good; in fact they sometimes become impassable especially during the rainy season. The Parishes are subdivided into sub parishes which in turn are subdivided into outstations. Each outstation is served by a Catechist. Some of the sub parishes are Eucharistic centres with trained extraordinary ministries who distribute Holy Communion to the faithful on Sundays and also take it to the sick and the aged.
The total population of the Diocese is approximately 2,515,600 people 956,092 of whom are Catholics.