By Umaru Kashaka
The funeral of the Rev. Fr. Cornelius Ryan, a former teacher at St. Henry’s College Kitovu (SHACK) and St. Leo’s College Kyegobe, will be held on Wednesday, January 5 at the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Indiana, US.
Ryan, who was a very big football figure in Uganda between the 1970s and 1990s, died on December 29 at the age of 84. The cause of his death has not yet been made public.
A Holy Cross priest of the Indiana Province ordained in 1966, Ryan lived and worked in Uganda as a teacher from 1967 to 1999, when he returned to Indiana.
In June 2013, he was serving as administrator of a Fort Wayne parish when he was removed after he reportedly admitted to the child abuse allegation 20 years earlier. Ryan had been sent to Fort Wayne parish in December 2011, after the parish’s previous pastor was removed due to allegations of child sexual abuse.
He previously served at Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend and was named associate pastor there in 2002 and pastor in 2007.
In 2011, Ryan took a brief retirement to write a book before taking the Fort Wayne position. New Vision learnt that he breathed his last before finishing the book.
Old boys pay tribute
Ryan’s former students at SHACK, where he taught for over 25 years before heading to St. Leo’s Kyegobe in Fort Portal, are also planning a memorial, to be held mid this year at Notre Dame. They say he touched many people’s lives in Uganda and Kenya.
“He was a selfless man even here in the US. He never forgot his other home Uganda. During the National Resistance Army/Movement liberation war, he helped the rebels because some of them were his old boys at SHACK like Gen. Elly Tumwine,” one of Ryan’s former students living in the US told New Vision.
He also said Fr Ryan worked with generals like Salim Saleh and the late Fred Rwigema.
“He had confrontations with Paul Muwanga (former vice-president), when he refused athletes who were officers in police and prisons to go for further studies on scholarships he had gotten for them. His story is long… how he would drive at night in Masaka to take expectant mothers to hospitals to deliver. At Kitovu, he was a pillar of a lot of things. His life wasn’t basically about football. Ryan loved Uganda like his own,” the old boy of SHACK added.
Journalist Yozefu Lukyamuzi, one of the old students of SHACK, said in a Facebook post that Ryan was an enigma at the school.
“He also went by the nicknames Kirevu, Omuzungu or Liyaani. His name preceded him. From when we were still at Kabojja, tales about him and the soccer prowess of Kitovu abound,” he wrote.
Lukyamuzi said for those who joined the school in 1995 like him, they were with him for only one term, but he made a lasting impression on them.
He recalled that his football trainings were a magnificent spectacle.
“Some found it hard to choose between playing Kikame (different streams of fun football) and watching his training,” he said.
Lukyamuzi said the late trained people like former Uganda Cranes’ star David Obua and musician-cum-politician Daniel Kazibwe aka Ragga Dee, the former Kampala Lord Mayor contestant.
“The rivalry that was between Masaka’s schools ensured that a football match at Masaka Recreation Grounds between Kitovu and Masaka Sec. Sch, St Charles Lwanga Kasasa, St Bernards Kiswera, Kako SS, Nyendo Mixed, Blessed Sacrament Kimaanya… was always going to end up in flares…” he wrote.
He, however, said SHACK stood out because of Ryan’s best football tactics.
“He would have the team don jerseys and kits that Uganda Cranes dreamt of wearing. He had football boots suitable for every pitch condition and weather,” he recalled.
Lukyamuzi said Ryan’s best footballers were always destined for universities in the US.
He also said Ryan’s opposition to the plans of increasing school fees during the parents-teachers’ association meetings at Kitovu endeared him to students, but put him at loggerheads with the Brothers of Christian Instruction who run the school.
“They eventually deployed Brother Joseph Kawuki up against him and those who witnessed the last fights and skirmishes remember those sad moments. We were S1s and surely couldn’t understand what was going on…but the journalism in me was ingrained early on,” he wrote.
Sheds tears at assembly
Lukyamuzi said he will never forget Fr. Ryan shedding tears at the school assembly when bidding them farewell.
“It was such an emotional moment bidding farewell to a hill and community he had come to call home for close to 30 years,” he said.
When Ryan left Kitovu, he went to St. Leo’s Kyegobe.
In the 1995s, the then Post Primaries that are today’s Coca-Cola Championships, Lukyamuzi said, were held in Masaka.
“As if to show us what we had lost, the Kyegobe team arrived in Masaka dressed to impress; well-branded white-graying tracksuits and sneakers of Umbro make. Colleagues who had gone with Fr. Ryan came to the hill to visit friends and the nostalgia set in. St Leo’s Kyegobe actually lifted the tournament cup. That was Ryan the impresario,” he said.
Other former students of SHACK such as Samuel Stuart Jjingo, who served as the president of the school’s Youth Alive Club, left behind a great legacy.
“Fr. Ryan is gone. This name can never be rubbed off the books of St. Henry’s College Kitovu and the football of Uganda,” he posted on his Facebook page.