When the Almighty God calls someone to work in his vineyard, he usually acquiesces and, exuding that graceful dignity laced with humility, he abandons all he is doing, no matter how rosy, to follow God. So it happened to the fair-complexioned, tall and sturdy Rev. Fr. Charles Uganwa, born in the early 1960s to the family of the late Sir. and Mrs. Emmanuel Uganwa, of Umugakwo Eziama, Ngor Local Government Area of Imo State. Fr. Uganwa’s life began in the era when a father would say to his child, “Remember the child of whom you are,” an admonition that carried a great deal of weight, ensuring the honour and dignity of the family lineage and the proper ordering of society at large.
Although he was enviably leaping forward in his banking profession, having acquired his Associate Chartered Institute of Bankers Certificate, Part I, in 1984, he nonetheless happily bowed out of African Continental Bank Limited, Ibadan, Oyo State, where he had put in five years of service as chief cashier, to answer the call of God. And, with thanks to Almighty God, the call, reminiscent of the mustard seed, has, 10 years after, blossomed into Rev. Fr. Charles Uganwa having been ordained Catholic priest on August 20, 1994, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Issele-Uku, Delta State, by his mentor, Most Rev. Anthony Gbuji, the then Bishop of Issele-Uku.
The third of eight children (six boys and two girls), he started his education in 1967 at St. James School, Nnorie, and completed it in 1973 at Eziama Central School, Okpala, Imo State. He proceeded to Emekuku Comprehensive School, Owerri, in 1973, where he obtained his West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1978. Four years later, he was at the Polytechnic, Ibadan, for his banking course. As an enterprising young man eager to survive in the face of the harsh economic realities, after obtaining his WASC, he picked a job as a clearing and forwarding officer in the Nigerian Ports Authority, Apapa, with Rompen Commercial Enterprises, between July and December 1978, before moving to Nigerian Television Authority, Channel 10, Lagos, between 1978 and 1979. He later got an appointment with ACB, where he worked for five years, and finally worked with Caribbean Finances Limited for a year, saying bye as it were to ‘earthly things.’
These experiences prepared him for a career in the priesthood that would involve alternating periods of upheaval and success. He succeeded where others had failed because he developed confidence in himself from day one. It was confidence that gave him the strength and the energy later in life to engage people of all classes in his homilies at practically every stage of his career. A member of Chartered Institute of Banking and British Institute of Management, Rev. Fr. Uganwa, who has always demonstrated steadfastness in his commitment to the priesthood since he was called, started his priestly training in 1984 at SS. Peter and Paul Seminary, Ekpoma, for his Spiritual Year programme. He later entered SS. Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Ibadan, in 1987, and finished in 1994, where he obtained a BA in Philosophy from the University of Ibadan and BTH Pontifical Urban University, Rome, before his ordination in 1994.
Soon after ordination, Fr. Uganwa, renowned essayist, academic and public intellectual, was posted to St. Patrick’s, Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State, as a parochial vicar for two months. In November 1994, he was appointed first parish priest of St. Matthew’s, Idumuje-Unor, Delta State, and, in February 1995, he was appointed director of communications for the diocese and asked to live in St. Patrick’s, Westend, Asaba. In 1996, he was asked to be the parish priest of the new Church of Assumption, Zappa, Asaba, and in 1997 he was transferred to Sacred Heart, Umunede, Delta State, as the parish priest. In 2001, he was sent to St. Augustine, Ute-Ogbeje, and later to Holy Trinity, Ewulu. In 2005, he was sent to St. Columba, Agbor, Delta State.
He also worked in St. Michael, Onicha-Uku, for nine years. Aside from these pastoral assignments, he was the laity chaplain for seven years; chairman, Hospital Management Board, St. Elizabeth Hospital, Umunede; and the diocesan communications director for 24 years. He was also the chaplain of Catholic Media Workers of Nigeria, Issele-Uku Dioceses chapter. In 2004, he was on mission in the United Kingdom, as an associate pastor at the Church of Transfiguration, Kensal Rise, London, under Very Rev. Fr. Kevin Mcdevitt.
An intellectual of repute, Fr. Uganwa has acquired various degrees from different universities. He holds a degree in Philosophy, University of Ibadan, 1989; Bachelor of Theology, Pontifical Urban University, 1994; and a postgraduate diploma in Pastoral Communication of Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, 2000; master’s degree in Education Administration and Planning, NOUN, 2009; ; and a PhD in Education Administration and Planning, University of Nigeria, Nzukka, 2014, among others.
Fr. Uganwa has authored many books and edited some, while he has greatly contributed to knowledge through his writings in journals, newspapers and magazines. Some of his books include Fidelity in Christian Marriage, Encountering the Holy Spirit, Television and the Adolescent Mind and Essential Elements of Christian Marriage. He has also edited many writings of scholars and accomplished members of the Church’s hierarchy. A widely-travelled priest, Fr. Uganwa has visited over 30 countries and has worked in Europe and the United States and all these have shaped his world view, hence he is able to associate with all, irrespective of creed, race or class. There is no doubt the fidelity to the ideals of the Catholic priesthood and exemplary life of Fr. Uganwa are the result of a combination of attributes, intelligence, hard work, endurance, sincerity, discipline, determination and unwavering moral conviction, even if it meant taking on the entire world all by himself. He is equally interested in harvesting more souls for God, as he loves the Church, the priesthood and humanity.
He can be described as a child of grace and destiny and a blessing to the church, his hometown, and to the people of his generation. Fr. Uganwa is certainly a testimony to the mercy of God, one whose birth reminds us of the prophecy that a child was to be born who would be a stumbling block to the irresponsible, given his restless mind, strong principles and his discontent with indolence and lack of undisciplined people.
A time-conscious priest, anyone would greatly admire his impatience with mediocrity, his intolerance of authoritarianism, and his desire to make a difference in whatever position he finds himself. He is a fearless crusader for truth and justice, who seeks justice and fair play in all situations. He is remarkable not only in the charm and zeal with which he attends to issues but also in the underlying principles at the centre of everything he does. He combines his God-given wisdom and intelligence, which help in his natural adaptability, aggressiveness and occupational skills that produce a formidable, confident figure with a prodigious mind.
A man of letters, Fr. Uganwa could weaponise words and press them to social regenerative service, and his public interventions against dysfunctional nationhood as an essayist and public intellectual see to his being appositely referred to as the “The Editor.”
Rev. Fr. Uganwa is particularly thankful to God for the vocation and prays that God would give him the zeal, vigour and wisdom to continue to lead God’s sheep to the way of salvation.