He was born on 12th July 1912, in of an aristocratic family Bukongo village, Rutabo Parish, Bukoba, North west of Tanzania on the bourder with Uganda. After his Secondary school education at Rubya Junior Seminary and his Philosophy and Theology studies at Katigondo major Seminary in Uganda, he was ordained priest on 12th December, 1943. After years of pastoral work, in 1948 he was sent to Rome for higher studies. He got his doctorate in Canon Law at the Urban University.
On 16th December 1951, Fr. Rugambwa was nominated Apostolic Vicar of Lower Kagera. He was ordained Bishop on 10th February 1952. In 1953 the vicariate was raised to a diocese of Rutabo. The diocese was run by an exclusively African clergy, they were 18, all determined to prove themselves. They managed with little financial support as they had little outside contacts. Under him with success they organised the people to support their diocese. In recognition of these successful efforts, Pope John XXIII elected him the first African cardinal in history in March 1960. The same year cardinal Rugambwa was transferred to Bukoba diocese. He participated in the Second Vatican Council. Due to his contributions he was published as one of the eminent personalities of the council. After that he worked in a number of pontifical commissions. In his diocese he organised people into social guilds and trained many people both locally and abroad both men and women. A number of them were destined to hold important posts of leadership in the country. By 1969 he had developed the diocese both spiritually and materially through hospitals and schools. Among the hospitals are counted Rubya Hospital and Mugana Hospital, among the schools is the major seminary of Ntungamo and the girls secondary school called after him, 'Rugambwa secondary school'.
In 1969 he was nominated the Archbishop of the Capital city of Tanzania Dar es Salaam. He was its pastor till 1992 when he retired at 80 years. Here he introduced religious from different congregations both men and women. This helped him to open many parishes in the predominantly Moslem city. He built its first catholic hospital at Ukonga. At the end he founded a women religious congregation for Dar es Salaam, the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.
Both in Bukoba and Dar es Salaam he was the undisputed leader of all religious denominations, the catholics, protestants and moslems. They all accepted his leadership in comon negotiations with the government. All governments respected him and took seriously his word.
His Eminence Cardinal Laurean Rugambwa died on 8th December 1997 at 22.15 hours. His body was laid to rest in the church at kashozi the first mission in Kagera region, north of Tanzania. A good devotion has developed around his tomb with people coming from far to pay their homage and say a prayer. It will be transferred to the Cathedral church once the repairs are finished.
He is remembered for his simplicity, pastoral concern especially for the spiritual and social needs of the people, and his solicitude for the pastoral workers. His relations with all including the government officials was amiable. He has left a rich legacy to all especially in the places he has worked.
Afuneral Poem by Fr. Stanislaus Mutajwaha
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Last updated October 10, 1998
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