RSCJ Uganda/Kenya Province | Sharing my story


Ursula Bugembe,rscj Ursula Bugembe,rscj

May the remainder of my years here on earth be years of gratitude to God
For His fidelity to me
For His plan of life for me
For His gift of friends
For all the experiences of my life
What a treasure I hold
Indeed, when one finds the pearl of great price one sells all to buy that pearl

Let me also try to enter by another door, my favorite Scripture text: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground, it remains but a single grain but when it dies it bears much fruit” (John 12:24-26)
As an old woman now, I feel this text explains my first experience of call. When I look back on that first moment when I heard it in my heart, it sounded like someone affirming me in some way. I was in our family plantation where my mother had sent me to bring her a banana leaf. I felt lifted up and leapt with joy. I got what mother had sent me for and started dancing as I returned to share my message with her.

Filled with joy I announced, “I am going to be a sister.” To my surprise, mother did not react. She only said in her usual gentle way, “Did you bring what I sent you for?” I said, “Yes, mother, here it is.” I left her in the kitchen and went out still dancing. However I never shared my experience with my two elder sisters. Life went on.
How did I see myself becoming a sister without having gone to school? By now I was around five and a half years old. My two sisters were attending Catechism classes in the Parish; did I think I was going to join them? I did not ask them, nor did I ask my mother.

Later on I learnt that my father did not have much faith in giving his girls formal education. He felt it was a waste of money for girls who after a while are only interested in boys and then they become pregnant. But to my surprise, one day that same year he decided to send me to school at St. Immaculate, Villa Maria. My sister, who was attending Catechism classes, accompanied me to have me enrolled for formal education in the next year’s intake. The money for registration was given to my sister. I do not know why, at a given moment, she gave it to me to hold and took me over to the school to have me registered. But disaster befell. The heavens came down and we were drenched to the skin. After the rains had stopped, my sister asked me for the money. Where could I find it? What had I done with it? How had my little hands failed to hang on to it? That was my first big disaster.

When we get home and my father asked for the receipt. My sister told him I had lost the money. This, I remember; he said. “You see, that is why I think girls are hopeless. Well then, you remain here with your sisters.” I did not cry, but my heart was heavy.
Then fate struck again. That same year my dear father died in a motor accident. His eldest brother had to take care of us nine children, not all of the same mother, five girls and four boys. My mother was the first wife and had four children, three girls and one boy. She had lost two boys in their first year.

My uncle loved his brother dearly and wanted very much to bring us up as he knew his brother would have wanted. The problem my uncle faced was how to bring us up, young as we were, over such a distance. He decided to put the younger ones in school. The life of the grain of wheat began on a journey of hope. I found myself in St Immaculate at the age of almost eight and a half. I had many friends from my village with whom I went to school and on the way we used to share our dreams of what we were to become. My friends, three of them, joined religious life soon after Primary Leaving Examinations and I envied them.

As for me, my mother wanted me to join Christ the King Secondary School. All during the course of my Primary education, the little seed kept coming back, so I would share with my mother the desire that I had. I wanted to be both a sister and a doctor. For my mother to ‘be a doctor’ was good news but to ‘be a sister’ was not. But I did not give up. From time to time when my friends questioned whether I was going with them, after our Primary Leaving Exams, to study in the school of their chosen congregation, I would pick up courage again to talk to mother. I always brought it up when we were relaxed, enjoying life, just our two selves. But finally she told me, “Ursula, I do not want to hear that conversation again.” I asked her, “But why?” She answered, “When young women leave home for Religious life, they do not come back, so this conversation is over.”

From then on I started looking for ways to get my request accepted. I worked hard at my studies in school, I behaved well and loved my schoolmates and they loved and trusted me. In the family I was a friend of all my sisters. I took note of all the things that mother desired to have in her life, to have them in place and give comfort to her. You see, after my father’s death, life in the family changed; the fun, music and entertaining of many visitors reduced. At one time mother told us of all the things my father had planned to do for the family; I took stock of that.

I had to walk five miles from my home to the school. I would get myself ready, do the home chores, and then run to school, arriving in time for the boarders’ morning Mass. I think this running to school kept me in shape for I always walked fast. I loved the Eucharist. I wished to be in the boarding section of my school but that was adding a problem to my mother; she told me there wasn’t enough money. When I started pestering her to join the movement of the Girl Guides, she said, “You choose either to be a girl guide or to go to school. I told you there isn’t enough money for all the things you want to do in school.” I understood but secretly I did all the stages of a girl guide up to the point of making my promise: still, alas, there was no money. The things I learnt in this club I used both at home and in school. What helped me was that these extra activities that I undertook did not interfere with my studies. I did well in my Primary leaving exams.

Before the results came out I talked to my Head teacher, a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa from Canada, about my desire to become a sister. She told me I could join the Daughters of Mary. Then I asked her if I could join her congregation. She told me that it was not yet allowed by the Bishop that international congregations take in Africans and then she suggested that I join a High School called Christ the King run by the Grail Sisters. My mother was delighted to hear that news. At this time I had no idea of what type of religious the Grails were, for I had never seen them. I studied under them for two years, and then in the last year, we heard that there was another congregation coming to take over the running of our school.

Who were these Sisters? They belonged to the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus! 1964 was my first encounter with them. All of us loved them and they loved us. They did a lot with us. I told my mother that the School Administration had changed, the Grails were leaving and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart were the ones coming. She was happy. By now many of us had fallen in love with these sisters’ way of praying and being with us and my desire to be a nun was rekindled. I dared not tell anyone yet in case they should tell my mother but little did I know what was in store for me.

In 1965, my dear mother died. She died when I was in Senior One. I was badly affected in many ways; my studies went down quite a lot: I had to live with my aunt for some time and did not like this at all. The only thing that remained stable was the desire to join religious life. One day I shared my dream with one of the Sisters, Sr. Jackie Kearns. She helped me and then put me in touch with Sister Freda Killeen. My journey into the family of the Sacred Heart had begun but it was not without challenges. The first was when I spoke with Freda, asking if I could enter immediately after Senior Four. She told me I had to complete my studies and then be trained in a career. I told her, “But I am old and I will be too old to join religious life.” She explained everything to me to help me understand why it was like that and I accepted the process.

It was on January 6th, 1972, that I entered the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, after working for one year in Karamoja with the Comboni Sisters. I loved every day of my first year in the field of teaching. All my shyness was cured, how, I do not know. In all these experiences, I see the gradual process of the dying of the seed so as to give life. This is the mystery I have discovered as I go on growing in age and wisdom!

Then in 2012 during my retreat I asked the Lord to show me clearly where he wanted me to continue living the joy of His call and bearing witness to Him. He was good to me, for it was clear that his call was to serve his mission in Chad, heard earlier but not possible to answer at that time. I kept hearing him say, “If your health is good here it will be good in Chad.” So in 2015 I went to serve in the little community at the College du Sacré Coeur, N’djamena. So far, so good. I speak French poorly but can say what I need, and feel that I am improving. No matter what I do, it is done out of love.