Leonard Wiedemayr mhm
I was ordained a priest on 8th July 1953 in our College Chapel at Mill Hill London, and after 4 years of university studies in St Louis USA, I arrived in Uganda by train from Mombasa on 16th December I960. Since then I have lived all the time in Uganda, except for my home leave and one year of spiritual renewal in Europe.
After 6 weeks in Uganda I started teaching Science at St. Peter's College Tororo. At that time about half of the 200 Millhillers in Uganda were teaching in one school or another. In all, I taught for 35 years: 22 years in Tororo College and the rest of the time in different schools founded by Mill Hill, like Namilyango College, St Paul's College Mbale and Nagongera Seminary. I liked teaching and I think I was a fairly good teacher. But I had not become a missionary just to be a science teacher. So right from the beginning of my missionary career I went every weekend, and during my school holidays, to one of the parishes to help with pastoral work.
Combining Parish and School
In May 1975 I was appointed to look after the newly opened parish of Osia, near the Cement factory of Tororo, on the condition that I would still take some classes at St Peter's College. Because I wanted to stay with the people in the parish and because there was no parish house as yet, I lived for a year in a caravan. Looking back on the 11 years I was in Osia, I must say that I enjoyed the pioneering work immensely. When I left in 1986 the parish was spiritually and materially well established, and I was happy to hand it over to a young diocesan Priest.
Len Wiedemayr mhm
In 1987, after my sabbatical year, I was appointed to Gangama parish in Mbale and a stayed there for 5 years. I found that Gangama parish was well organised and had a lot of sound traditions. It took me some time to get used to parish life there. Gangama is a big parish with over 20 outstations. Some of them could only be reached on foot. As I was alone most of the 5 years, there was not much time for relaxation. I had also to take some classes at St. Paul's College nearby. Because the parish centre was well established I concentrated my activities more on the outstations, visiting most of the families in all of them, and organising a parish census and helping the people to build their chapels. I liked the people of Gangama parish, and I was quite sad to leave the place.
A new Challenge
But in Mbikko, where I was appointed next, new and different challenges awaited me. Since the opening of the Philosophy Centre in Jinja, Mill Hill was looking for a place, where our philosophy students could do pastoral work on week-ends and during holidays. Mbikko, the first town across the Nile, was chosen, mainly because there was a Mill Hill presence in that place many years before the parish was started, in the person of Father Henry Bone, of blessed memory, who retired and even died there.
At the beginning, life in Mbikko was tough. There were few facilities and even water had to be brought to our residence in jerry cans from a tap about 1.5 km away. But the cooperation of the people was great, and eventually Mbikko parish was built up spiritually and materially to what it is now.
In Mbikko I was confronted with a new feature of modern missionary life: "Team Work". In the parishes where I had been before I was most of the time the only priest, and pastoral work was usually planned and discussed once a month with the catechists. But in Mbikko there were always more people, sometimes a group of up to seven: priests, associates and students. All the members had to be involved, and parish activities had to be planned together and shared out properly. Although we hardly had any formal team meetings, things were usually discussed and planned during meals or recreation time in the evening. Looking back on it now I think we were a great team, helping and supporting one another all the time. We never boasted about this, but the fact is that there was great solidarity among the community members in Mbikko.
Parish church Mbikko built by Len Wiedemayr
A big Change
When I heard that our Society was going to do missionary work in Karamoja I very much wished to go there in spite of my age. At the end of June 2000 I was able to hand over Mbikko parish to Fr. Wijnand Huijs mhm, and a short time later I joined our people in Kotido Diocese. The Bishop appointed me construction supervisor of the diocese and asked me also to give a hand with the pastoral work in Kotido town chapel.
At the time there were 8 Mill Hillers in Karamoja: two priests, an associate and two seminarians in Panyangara Parish, 6 kms outside Kotido, and one priest and a seminarian at Kotido town chapel. We met twice a week, mainly socially but sometimes also for prayer and Society business. There was great concern and support for one another and for the people. Never before have I seen the Mill Hill motto "loving service" lived more faithfully.
Len Wiedemayr (l) with Cyprian Taah mhm and others in Kotido
I am often asked what I enjoy most in my missionary work. This is not an easy question to answer because there are many things I like doing. But teaching catechism I always enjoyed very much and still do. I also get a lot of energy and satisfaction out of working along with other people, especially on community projects. On the other hand, I get soon bored sitting round the beer pot and listening to the wise or less wise talk of the people. One reason for this might be that I am not very good at local languages. As a young missionary I never had a chance to learn a language properly. I was 57 years old when I was given 2 month's leave to learn some Luganda. But by that time I was too old, even to get a fair working knowledge of the language.
Recently I was asked about retirement. Here is my answer: "Yes, I am all for it as soon as I become a burden to the people I am living and working with."
Len Wiedemayr mhm
(from: Friends of Mill Hill Magazine)