Hanga Monastery, Tanzania

16 July 2018

Aiming at Efficiency, Perfection and Holiness

On 16th of July, 2018 at 08:45 pm, the Eternal Heavenly Father picked the ripen fruit in faith, the Benedictine monk and the first African Prior, Fr Gregory Johannes Mwageni OSB and welcomed him into eternal rest.

The late Fr Gregory Mwageni OSB was born in 1922 at Igoma, Uwemba Parish in the Catholic Diocese of Njombe from the pagan family of C. Mpandakilima, his father, and Mlimingi O. Samdendemi, his mother. On 24th December 1933, Fr Gregory was baptized as an Anglican Christian. He was then converted into Catholicism, and on 28th December 1935, he joined Kigonsera Junior Seminary and he went on Peramiho Major Seminary for his priestly studies. On 15 July, 1954, he was ordained to priesthood by His Lordship Bishop and Abbot Eberhard Spiess, together with his classmates James Yafunani Komba, the first indigenous archbishop of the Archdiocese of Songea and Maurus Komba, the first indigenous bishop of the Diocese of Tanga Tanzania.

After priestly ordination, Fr Johannes was sent to open the parish of Mkumbi-Mbinga and worked there for three years. In 1956, he joined the African Benedictine religious who were founded at Liganga (currently, Liganga Parish in the Archdiocese of Songea). On 15th January, 1957, Fr Johannes was accepted in the novitiate together with his three companions: Oblate Bernard Monji OSB, and two postulants, Bonaventura (Xaver) Malibiche and Joseph Chinunda. Fr Johannes Mwageni was given the religious name Frt Gregory Mwageni OSB. On 16th January 1958, he made his first profession and was asked to teach novices and he was also put as an in-charge of the church.

In 1961, Liganga monastery was shifted to Hanga and in 1963, Frt Gregory was sent to St Anselm University in Rome where he graduated with his degree in monastic theology. In late 1964 he came back from his studies in Rome and in 1965 he was accepted to make final religious professions together with his five companions. On 21st August, 1965, he was elected as the first prior of Hanga monastery and on 28 December, 1971, when Hanga monastery was raised to Conventual Priory, Frt Gregory was also elected as the Prior of the Conventual Priory—sui juris—of Hanga, where he stayed in that position for 21 years until 1986 when he retired. On October 1, 1987, he went to Katibunga, Zambia to found another African Benedictine Community. In 1996, he came back to Hanga and endured as a Benedictine religious of prayer and work until when God took him into his eternal rest.

His Biography: Father Gregory is the founder and coordinator of religious life, who aimed at Africanizing the Benedictine life and giving it the Bantu monastic structure, as he was guided by his maxim which he always professed, “Kutarajia Ubora, Ukamilifu na Utakatifu” (Aiming at Efficiency, Perfection and Holiness). As a founder, his aim was to form the monastic congregation in accordance with African traditions and customs for the good of the Church and the nation at large. Under this line he wrote the only Constitution which had tasted in the African religious life called “Particular Statutes” (Statuta Particularia); it was officially registered by Rome in 1965. Then he registered it with the Tanzanian Government as a Trustee with the name of “African Benedictines.” He also added the African Benedictine customaries in his booklet which he called, “Msimamo Wetu, Sisi Watawa Waafrika wa Hanga” (Our stand, We the African Religious of Hanga). From his stable religious life and that of his community, the Hanga monasticism was well-known both in and outside the country, which led many bishops of Africa to ask him to have that religious life in their dioceses. In Tanzania, for example, the Episcopal Conference asked him to start his community in Tabora and work in the publishing house of the Episcopal Conference TMP. In 1974, the Publishing House of TMP Kipalapala was handed over to the care of the Benedictine of Hanga, work which has been carried on until today. In 1979, Fr Gregory opened another Benedictine Monastery in Mvimwa, Sumbawanga, where in 2001 the monastery was raised to an abbey. Following the request of the bishop of Mbala in the Mpika Diocese in Zambia, he also founded the Katibunga Monastery in 1987. Apart from these areas where Father Gregory founded monasteries, he also founded the areas for agricultural activities, for example, Nole and Kadaga in the Catholic Diocese of Njombe.

Fr. Gregory has also been a great counselor to many superiors of the men and women religious congregations who came to ask for the advice on how to found religious life communities in accordance with the African traditions and customs and he assisted them in making Constitutions for their Congregations. Also from his good religious life, he attracted many to the holy vocation. He succeeded to attract two diocesan priests to join his religious life, and he has eventually left an historical legacy and given great honor to the monastic life of the African Benedictines of Hanga by attracting to religious life the diocesan bishop, Placidus Gervas Nkalanga.

Fr Gregory was a famous pastor in his time, ministering to everyone, and when Hanga Parish was started he became the first parish priest. He was a good adviser to married people and the government leaders to participate in his religious life according to their respective vocations by initiating them into the life of Benedictine Oblates, that is, Benedictines living outside the community.

He was man of the people and a person of development wherever he lived. He cooperated with all people including the village, district, regional and the national government at large. He was also capable of initiating youth, mothers and fathers’ groups in mobilizing development among themselves here at Hanga village, and himself stood in the front line offering aid to the old, disabled people and to the sick. That is why at the beginnings of the village of Hanga, Fr Gregory was the first clinical officer who gave health services to the villagers here at Hanga and those surrounding, healing the sick for medical treatment, praying and blessing them. When the sick people increased, he built the dispensary which later on was raised to a Health Centre. Moreover, Fr Gregory had the gift of exorcising demons through prayer and he managed to write the book entitled, Uchawi na Majini ni nini? (What is Superstition and the Jinns?)

Regarding development, wherever he lived, he managed to survey the areas, conducted feasibility studies and constructed all roads connected to the monastery. In the education sector, he had constructed the first buildings for the school of DDC Hanga. He accepted the primary school diocesan seminary of Hanga and he changed it to the Secondary School of Hanga Religious Seminary (HARESE); he also founded the trade school.
As a Tanzanian citizen, Prior Gregory became zealous for his nation. He adopted the ideology of “Ujamaa na Kujitegemea” (Socialism and Self-Reliance) of Mwalimu Nyerere, the First President of Tanzania, by encouraging his monks and even the villagers to develop the spirit of self-reliance. Seeing that, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, recognized in his time the contribution made by Prior Gregory in society, and in 1969, the president himself visited Hanga to witness the village development. Father Gregory devoted himself to protecting the national wealth, cooperating with the government in combating the poaching of ivory in the district of Namtumbo. His wisdom and love made him worthy to be called LIHOKA la Hanga, the name given to the dead because of the moral authority they had in society. Now, LIHOKA has joined with his fellow MAHOKA (the dead), praying for us and continuing to be the best model for African religious and national patriotism.

Sickness: The health of Fr. Gregory slowly started deteriorating from February 2018, as he was experiencing blood pressure and severe inhaling problems. Following this, he was sent to Peramiho, Ikonda and Songea Regional Hospitals for treatment. Unfortunately, his health continued becoming weaker as the days went on and his legs began swelling. On 12th July 2018, after his health became worse, he was rushed to Peramiho Hospital again for diagnosis and due treatment. Unfortunately, despite all clinical and medical efforts taken to save his life, Almighty God had planned the end of his earthly life. Thus, on 16th July 2018 at 08:45pm, after receiving his last sacraments of penance and holy anointing, our beloved Father Gregory himself sang the song for the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Nampenda Maria” (I love Mary) until he finished the last stanza; there he commended his soul to God in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Father Gregory has left us at the age of 96, with 64 years of priestly ministry and 60 years of religious profession.

May Almighty God bless all doctors and nurses, individuals and all people of good will who helped him in his life, especially during the infirmities of his last days.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

July 26, 2018

Abbot Octavian Massingo, OSB
On behalf of all community members founded by Prior Gregory Mwageni OSB