A First For The Catholic University of South Sudan

Saturday, 12 May, was a special day for the Catholic Church and the Catholic University of South Sudan (CUofSS). Why special? The University Community was celebrating with the 25 pioneer students who were completing the four year degree program in Economics and Business Administration at the Catholic University. Although low key and modest, it was a gala occasion, marking  another first and a signal step in the realization of a dream of many years, a dream shared by generations of Catholics and their Bishops and by many who gave their lives to achieve an independent South Sudan.

Fittingly, the day began with the celebration of a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Joseph’s  Parish Church in Juba. Representing the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, His Lordship Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro welcomed the University administration, the pioneer students and their families and friends. He observed that University, now four years old, is somehow special for him  --  he is four years a Bishop!  

Five years ago, in July 2007, the Bishops decided to establish a Catholic University as a national institution, with branches or faculties in north and south Sudan.  

The following year, on 29 Sept 2008, His Grace Archbishop Paolino Lukudu Loro welcomed 50 pioneer students and the University staff to the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Spirit to inaugurate the University. In his remarks that day, His Grace urged students to study hard, to use this opportunity that the University was offering them.   

After the Mass of Celebration, friends gathered for the graduation ceremony. It was designed as a family event, properly so, given the difficult conditions that South Sudan faces and the poverty that surrounds. But it was a gala occasion too. Younger students accompanied them with songs of joy and traditional dances – in Acholi, in Zande, in Latuko. Mr. Richard Miriga, Dean of Students and Master of Ceremonies, introduced the Special Guests, including the Guest of Honor, the Deputy and Acting Governor, H.E. Manase Lomole Waya. Fr. Peter Gichure and Fr. Frederick Mvumbi from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) represented Fr. Pius Rutechura, the Vice-Chancellor. 

Fr. Frederick, Dean of CUEA’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, read the Affiliation Agreement and noted a main condition -- in the initial years, CUEA will accompany the Catholic University of South Sudan and will grant a CUEA degree in Economics to those whose performance meets CUEA standards.   

Before the awarding of Certificates of Completion,  Sr. Janet Kiden, the Head of the Department of Education, read the letter from the Apostolic Nuncio, His Grace Leo Boccardi, in which he wrote, “I wish to congratulate all the CUofSS Family for this important result which rewards the efforts and the hope of those who believe in the achievement of the project. To the new graduates I wish them every success, hoping that they will significantly contribute to the needs of their communities and their Country South Sudan.”

He continued: “The message that the first Graduation ceremony is sending is very clear: it is necessary perseverance, personal engagement, seriousness and sacrifice to succeed. The Pioneer Students deserve all our encouragement and praise. Bravo!”     

His Lordship, Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro on behalf of His Eminence Gabriel Cardinal Zubeir Wako, the President of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Chancellor of the Catholic University, again welcomed the graduates and invited them to come forward to receive their Certificates. Families and student companions dressed the pioneers with garlands and bouquets as they moved individually to the reviewing platform, where the Vice-Chancellor, the Deputy Governor and other dignitaries greeted them and Bishop Hiiboro presented them with the Certificates of Completion.

Before the congratulatory messages and speeches, there was again an intermission of singing and traditional dances, followed by a special poem “Oh Common Man” dedicated to the graduates. Then Jacob Adut Mabor, representing the graduates, gave his Valedictory Address. He recounted the hurdles and challenges of the past four years, personally thanked the dedicated instructors and others  who accompanied them along the way, and appealed to the government to join hands with the churches and other stakeholders in developing higher level educational institutions to world class standards.

Fr. Peter Gichure, CUEA’s Director of University Linkages, brought a special message from CUEA.  who warmly congratulated the graduates and challenged the Catholic University to continue its efforts to offer quality education to students, preparing them for the challenges of a complex and competitive world. The Hon Mary Apayi Ayiga, Minister of Gender and Social Development, spoke passionately of women’s central role  in developing  the New Sudan and encouraged the University to strengthen the number of women students and instructors.

H.E. Prof. Paul Bureng, State Minister of Animal Resources and Fisheries, a trusted friend and special advisor, recalled the evening in February 2007, when some 17 Southern Sudanese gathered in the office behind the reviewing stand to meet Fr. Prof. Michael Schultheis, now Vice-Chancellor, for discussions on the Catholic University Project and the vision that is unfolding here this afternoon. Fr. Michael traced the steps that brought him here, a journey that began some 40 ago with Sudanese women weaving baskets on the shores of Lake Victoria when he was teaching at Makerere University, that continued two decades later when he was director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Africa and Bishop Paride Taban asked him to accompany the growing number of Sudanese fleeing the violence in South Sudan – that led to friendship with Uncle Clement Mboro and the occasional meeting with, among others, the late John Garang and  Peter Adwok Nyaba, the Minister of Higher Education. Significant in that journey was a Sunday liturgy at Hekima College when several young Sudanese received their first Holy Communion and the question emerged: “what will their future be?” That question remained over the next two decades, with refugees in other areas of Africa and assisting in the establishment of Catholic Universities in Mozambique and Ghana. A graced response to that question led to the meeting that Prof. Bureng mentioned and many more meetings across North and South Sudan and finally, brings us to this Day.  

The Guest of Honor, the Hon Manase Lomole Waya, the Acting and Deputy Governor of Central Equatoria State (CES), spoke forcefully to the pioneer students and the assembly. He observed that this was the first graduation in the young republic of South Sudan and brings to fruition a dream too of the late Dr. John Garang. He urged the graduates “to be lamps for others,” to set standards and to establish records. To his question, “What will you do with your degree?” he challenged them “not to hang your degrees on the wall” but “to be prepared to be leaders, be stewards of resources.” Turning to the six young women graduates, to the two from Juba he offered employment immediately! As for the land the State Government allocated for the permanent campus, he assured the audience that the key would be passed to the University on Monday, and if more land is needed, it will be made available.

These few words of wisdom and congratulations cannot capture the four years that have passed nor can they unfold the far future that lies ahead. In fact, the baby is born and with proper nurturing, it promises to be a significant contribution to the Church and the new country of South Sudan, in forming lay people who are competent and committed and have a sense of the social ministry of the Church. In his concluding remarks, Bishop Hiiboro, again thanked all those involved in the Catholic University and observed -- although we have “come far”, we still have “far to go”! He encouraged the students to assume a leadership role in building the Church and Society in South Sudan, and concluded with a prayer asking God to bless the new graduates and the new Catholic University.   

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