MEMORIAM: The Living Legacy of Sr. Genevieve at St. Theresa Namagunga Boarding Primary School 

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Sr. Genevieve Kerins (left) with Sr. Cephas Cormack, the former headmistress of Mt. St. Mary’s Namagunga.

Sr. Genevieve Kerins, the third headteacher of St. Theresa Namagunga Boarding Primary School in Mukono district made a lasting impact on the school. She influenced and shaped the lives of many former female students who attended the school during her remarkable time as headteacher.

Recognised by everyone who was part of the school during her leadership, Sr. Genevieve went beyond the typical duties of a headmistress.

Her leadership stood out not just for her excellent administrative skills but also for her unique ability to form personal connections and employ nurturing approaches.

A dedicated member of the Little Sisters of St. Francis, Sr. Genevieve assumed the role of school head in 1968 and served until her retirement in 2000.

This week on Friday February 3, 2024, the school, in conjunction with the old students, organised a poignant liturgy to celebrate her life and legacy following her passing on December 24, 2023. She was laid to rest in Ireland on December 26, 2023.

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Born in August 1927 in Ireland, Sr. Genevieve played a pivotal role in St. Theresa Namagunga, a school founded in 1936 by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa under the leadership of Mother Mary Kevin Kearney.

Sr. Genevieve did not only maintain the school’s mission to expand opportunities for girls in the country but also significantly broadened its vision.

Reflecting on their experiences, former students unanimously acknowledge that Sr. Genevieve was a formidable figure. While her strict measures may not have been fully appreciated by the children at the time, the enduring impact became evident as they matured and observed the positive influence in their lives and society.

Her legacy as a true mentor lives on through the accomplishments of the many students she guided. Annet Mpuuga Masembe, an alumna, describes Sr. Genevieve as an inspirational leader who silently mentored many.

Masembe reflects, “It was leadership that added value to anyone. She fearlessly advocated for our worth, even if it meant being disliked. Her discipline was unwavering – finish your food, drink your porridge, clean up after yourself, and exhibit proper behavior in every circumstance.”

Adding a personal touch, Masembe notes, “Her corrective measures were strict but never personal. Those who once complained now reminisce fondly, realising the overwhelming impact of her actions on their lives.”

Masembe stresses Sr. Genevieve’s philosophy of ‘tough love,’ crediting it with encouraging success in numerous individuals.

In the sacred halls of the school, Sr. Genevieve was not just an educator but a pillar of strength and a source of love. She dedicated her life to nurturing students and instilling a profound sense of self-worth, creating a lasting community known as the Namagunga family.

Even in the face of adversity, Sr. Genevieve stood strong and fearless, exemplifying grace under pressure. Her commitment was evident during the 1986 war, where she took risks to protect her students and staff, leaving an enduring legacy that extends far beyond her time at St. Theresa Namagunga.

Susan Wamala Sserunkuuma, an esteemed alumna, former teacher under the tutelage of Sr. Genevieve, and the Chairperson of the Gunga family, fondly remembers Sr. Genevieve as a champion of academic excellence and a fervent supporter of artistic development.

Sr. Genevieve’s particular passion for Music, Dance & Drama set St. Theresa Namagunga apart, making the school a national standout in theatrical presentations.

Recalling a defining moment, Sserunkuuma reminisces about the AIDS play, “The Riddle,” in 1991, directed by Sr. Genevieve.

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The school emerged as the overall winner in the country, a testament to Sr. Genevieve’s commitment to excellence. She dedicated substantial time, classes, and resources to ensure that every presentation was not only classic but also flawless.

The inclusive approach of involving every child in the performances left a lasting impact on both students and parents, nurturing a belief that everyone in the community possesses unique talents, a philosophy carried forward by Sserunkuuma in her leadership roles in subsequent schools.

Despite her strict demeanour, Sr. Genevieve served as a mother figure, displaying a remarkable degree of compassion. Sserunkuuma describes Sr. Genevieve as a unique and exemplary representation of a strong woman in a leadership position.

Sr. Genevieve’s innovative approach to admission set a distinctive standard nationwide.

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Admitting children at birth, regardless of their religious or tribal affiliations, encouraged mothers to prioritise their children’s well-being, ensuring they qualified to join St. Theresa Namagunga at the age of 6.

Sr. Genevieve managed the entire school system while maintaining accessibility and active involvement in campus life. The impact of Sr. Genevieve’s teachings is evident in the character of the alumni today. “What we are today is a reflection of her teachings of being simple, courteous, humble, kind, and always having the fear of God,” Sserunkuuma reflects.

Sr. Genevieve’s perfectionist nature is recalled through the meticulous details, from the straight lines at assemblies to the orderly arrangement of benches in the main hall—an enduring testament to her organised leadership.

Elizabeth Namubiru Balaba, Sr. Genevieve’s deputy headteacher, remembers her as someone who derived pleasure from transforming seemingly lost individuals into admirable figures with a sustainable future.

Sr. Genevieve’s impact extended beyond the school’s infrastructure, turning a rural institution into one of society’s most respected and sought-after establishments.

Balaba notes Sr. Genevieve’s dedication to improving the school’s environment by constructing additional classrooms and dormitories, as well as introducing the concept of streams to enhance education.

Despite her toughness, Sr. Genevieve’s principles guided her actions, promoting an environment where compliance meant harmony. She remained an impartial mentor, leaving an enduring legacy in the lives of many, including Balaba herself.

Sr. Genevieve’s impactful legacy at St. Theresa Namagunga Primary Boarding School continued as she was succeeded by Sr. Mary Assumpta Babirye, making history as the first black African headteacher of the institution.

Assuming the role of an influential Irish religious missionary with extensive international connections presented a formidable challenge for Sr. Babirye. Sr. Genevieve had become synonymous with the school, and stepping into her shoes posed a considerable dilemma.

Sr. Babirye initially hesitated to accept the appointment but sought guidance from her Mother Superior, who encouraged her to embrace the responsibility.

“Replacing an influential Irish religious missionary with many international connections appeared a tough assignment for me. Sr. Genevieve had become synonymous with the school,” she explains, adding that fitting in her shoes became a huge dilemma.

“So, I hesitated to accept the appointment until I consulted my Mother Superior, who encouraged me to take up the office,” shares Sr. Babirye. The school has continued to produce a multitude of notable individuals who have made significant contributions to society.

Among the distinguished alumni are Gertrude Wamala Karugaba, a renowned lawyer known for her involvement in the country’s corporate deals, Dr. Bataringaya Sekalala, a senior lecturer at the Orthodontics department of Makerere University, Justice Lydia Mugambe Ssali, a judge at the International Residual Mechanism of International Crimes Tribunal, and Salaamu Musumba, Vice President of the FDC, among others.

The accomplishments of these notable individuals stand as a testament to the enduring impact of Sr. Genevieve’s nurturing and Sr. Babirye’s continued commitment to academic excellence and leadership at St. Theresa Namagunga Primary Boarding School.

For decades, the school has demonstrated consistent academic excellence, as evidenced by the commendable results in the recent 2023 Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). The school registered a total of 301 first grades and 40 second grades.



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