Prof. Polycarp Ssebbowa Celebrates Silver Anniversary – Arkansas Catholic


Ugandan priest wanted to be a missionary and served in Arkansas for seven years

Posted: August 1, 2022

Courtesy of St. Richard’s Church

Father Polycarp Ssebbowa is seen here with Bishop Anthony B. Taylor during the April 21 confirmation at St. James Church in Searcy. Father Ssebbowa will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination on August 15. He held many positions in the diocese.

From primary school, Polycarp Ssebbowa knew he wanted to become a priest. He mentioned this idea to his pastor, who became his mentor. He got his wish on August 15, 1997, when he was ordained a priest in his native Uganda.

Next month it will celebrate the 25th anniversary.

“I was in second grade, still a kid,” he said. “My vocation came early. I went to see my pastor who was very nice and in a good mood. I needed to be like him. It was the beginning. I went to see him at Easter and told him: ‘I want to be a priest.’ He said, ‘Well, Polycarp, be a good altar server, study hard in school, get good grades and be disciplined.’ I came back to see him every year at Easter for a review.

Raised by a Catholic father and a mother who was a convert to the faith, Father Ssebbowa said many members of his mother’s extended family wanted him to become a Muslim.

“I feel like I did what I was supposed to, but I have more to give, God willing. I don’t have control over my life, but I’m willing and ready.

“It’s something that I objected to so much,” he said. “With help, I was able to take a stand. The opposition had a great positive impact on me because the more they opposed me, the more I grew in my faith.

Father Ssebbowa attended seminary high school away from home, but Uganda’s civil war made it difficult to return home.

“I became a stranger in my own family,” he said.

He initially wanted to be a missionary with the Congregation of the Apostles of Jesus, but his bishop rejected his request, preferring that he stay and explore leadership options at home. During the first 18 years of his ministry, he carried out various functions in the diocese of Kasana-Luweero.

At an event in Milwaukee in 2012, he met Msgr. Scott Friend, then Vicar General of the Diocese of Little Rock.

“We had a meal together and that started my journey to the Diocese of Little Rock, he said.

“It was like the answer to my unfulfilled dream.”

Father Ssebbowa finally had the opportunity to come to the United States in December 2015 and has served parishes in Arkansas for the past seven years, including as associate pastor of St. James Church in Searcy, St. Albert’s Church in Heber Springs and St. Richard’s Church in Bald Knob; trustee of St. Mary’s Church in Batesville and St. Cecilia’s Church in Newport; and pastor of St. James Church in Searcy and St. Richard’s Church in Bald Knob. Effective July 1, he became associate pastor at St. Stephen’s Church in Bentonville.

Deacon Matthew Glover, JCL, Chancellor of Canonical Affairs, said the diocese is considered a “mission diocese” due to its small Catholic population and depends on foreign-born priests to serve the faithful.

“Our missionary priests from foreign lands help us remember not only that we are all ultimately immigrants from other lands, but also that we are all ultimately migrating to our heavenly homeland,” Glover said. “Our foreign-born priests leave behind the comfort and familiarity of their home country to meet the needs of our faith. And it is our faith that unites us all, despite differences in language, accent , race or place of birth.

Father Ssebbowa said the hardest parts of leaving Africa were being away from family, learning and adjusting to a new culture and struggling to communicate with his heavy accent.

“I must have missed my family for many years and when my father had to leave the world without seeing him face to face. I have to live with that for the rest of my life,” he said.

On Feb. 6, he was one of many foreign-born priests whose visas expired due to a backlog with U.S. citizenship and immigration services. He was legally unable to work until March 29, when he was granted permission to live and work permanently in the United States.

“I was grateful to God, to the people who helped me, including the bishop and the chancellery. I really feel at home.

When asked if he felt like he was responding to God’s call for his life, he humbly replied, “I hope so.

“I feel like I did what I was supposed to, but I have more to give, God willing. I don’t have control over my life, but I’m willing and ready.

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