By Chioma Ajafuo
When the Almighty God calls one to work in his vineyard, one 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 strongly-built- Rev. Fr. Charles Uganwa born in the early sixties to the family of late Sir. & Lady Emmanuel Uganwa, of Umugakwo Eziama , Ngor LGA, Imo State. Fr Uganwa's early beginning was the era when a father would say to his child, "Remember the child of whom you are" a reminder that carried a great deal of weight, ensuring the honour and dignity of the lineage and the proper ordering of the society at large.
Although he was enviably leaping forward in his banking profession having acquired his Associate Charted Institute of Bankers Certificate Part I in 1984, he nonetheless happily bowed out of African Continental Bank Ltd, Ibadan, Oyo State where he had put in 5 years of appreciable service as a Chief Cashier to answer the call of God. And quite interestingly with great thanks to Almighty God, his call can be with the mustard seed which dawned rather impalpably has 10years after, blossomed into Rev. Fr. Charles Uganwa having been ordained Catholic Priest on August 20, 1994at St Paul Cathedral, Issele – Uku, Delta State by his mentor, Most Rev. Anthony Gbuji, the then Bishop of Issele-Uku
The third in the family of eight, (6 boys and 2 girls), he had his first bite of education in 1967 at St. James School, Nnorie and completed in 1973 at Eziama Central School, Okpala in 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 apparently eager to survive in the face of the hard economic realities, after obtaining his WASC he picked a job as a Clearing and Forwarding Officer in Nigerian Ports Authority, Apapa with Rompen Commercial Enterprises between July and December 1978 before moving over to Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) Channel 10, Lagos between 1978-1979. He later got an appointment with ACB, Ltd., Lagos where he worked for 5years and finally worked with Caribbean Finances Ltd., for a year saying bye as it were to 'earthly things'. All of 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 is this 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. Charles Uganwa who has always demonstrated steadfastness in his commitment to priesthood since he was called; started the 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 1n 1994.
Soon after the ordination, Fr Charles Uganwa- the highly renowned essayist, academic and public intellectual, was posted to St Patrick, Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State as a parochial vicar for two month. In November, 1994 he was appointed first parish priest of St Matthew, Idumuje-Unor, Delta Sate and in February 1995 he was appointed director of communications for the diocese and asked to live in St Patrick West end 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 in 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 of these pastoral assignments, he was the laity chaplain for 7 years, chairman, Hospital Management Board, St Elizabeth Hospital, Umunede and the diocesan communications director for twenty four years. He is also the chaplain of Catholic Media Workers of Nigeria, Issele-Uku dioceses chapter In 2004 he was on mission in United Kingdom where he was an associate pastor at the Church of Transfiguration, Kensal Rise, London under Very Rev Fr Kevin Mcdevitt.
A highly intellectual and academically sound priest, Fr Uganwa over the years has acquired various degrees from different universities. He holds a Degree in Philosophy, University of Ibadan, 1989, Bachelor of Theology Degree, Pontifical Urban University, 1994 and a Postgraduate Diploma in Pastoral communication of Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, 2000. He equally holds Postgraduate Diploma in Education of Delta State University, Abraka, 2003, Masters Degree in Public Administration, University of Nigeria, Nzukka, 1999. He also holds a Masters Degree in Education Administration and Planning, NOUN, 2009 and a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism, NOUN, 2006. In 2016, Fr. Uganwa bagged a Masters Degree in Mass Communications, NOUN and a PhD Education Administration and Planning, University of Nigeria, Nzukka, 2014. He is an academic supervisor with National Open University of Nigeria and has successfully moderated post graduate students of the University. He equally does teaching practice for the students in the education department of the University.
Fr. Charles is a highly principled, brilliant and transparently honest man and he is always on the 'fast lane' in his activities. His hobbies include: driving, travelling, reading and journalism. This explains why there have been many publications credited to him even while he was in the seminary. In 1990, he won a prize as the best writer of that year in the Seminary. 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 edited many writings of scholars and accomplished members of the Church's hierarchy. A widely travelled priest, Fr Uganwa has visited over thirty countries and has worked in Europe and USA and all these travels help shape his horizon and make him see things in their right perceptive hence he is able to associate with all irrespective creed, race or class.
There is no doubt the fidelity to the ideals of the Catholic priesthood and exemplary life of Fr Charles 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 interest in harvesting more souls to 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 irresponsible people. Given his restless mind, strong principles and his discontent for indolence and lack of undisciplined people
A time - conscious priest, anyone associated with Fr Charles can greatly admire his impatience with mediocrity; his intolerance of authoritarianism, and his desire to make a difference in whatever position he finds himself. A fearless crusader of truth and justice, Fr Uganwa seeks for justice and fair play in all situations he finds himself. He is remarkable not only in the charm and zeal with which he attends to issues but also in the underlying principles that are at the centre of everything he does. He combines his God-given wisdom and intelligence which helps in his natural adaptability, aggressiveness and occupational skill that produce a formidable self-confidence figure with a prodigious mind in him.
A quintessential man of letters, Fr Uganwa weaponise words and press them to a social regenerative service, and his public interventions against a dysfunctional nationhood as an essayist and public intellectual, see to his being appositely referred to as the "The Editor." He is the first editor of the Catholic Beacon, a newspaper of the Church that is widely read and acclaimed as one of the best in the Catholic tabloid
Asked how he decided to leave banking for priesthood, he had this to say; “I had always had a positive view of the priesthood from the priests I'd known growing up. When I went to college, like most young adults, I had a lot of questions. But, I had an intellectual conversion as I delved into the writings of such men as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. I started going to daily Mass, and, there I associated myself with young boys preparing for the priesthood where I was going to school, I knew and was impressed by the seminarians I met.
One day, I was praying at a grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. I asked for guidance about the priesthood versus getting married. When I thought about becoming a priest, I was flooded by a sense of peace and joy. I had my answer.”
As a priest, Fr Charles has positively touched many lives and he is loved by many of the faithful. Fr Charles loves the youth and his abiding engagement with them, who he labours to counsel and mentor, has set them on the right paths. He would be seen as the high priest of the Nigerian millennial generation, seeking to educate them out of a seemingly 'congenital' dysfunction inherited from society. He simply bends over backwards to engage them in their natural points of convergence on social media, which he considered as crucial sites of cultural interaction and meaning-making, most of them he has seen through school.
Rev. Fr Uganwa is particularly thankful to God for the vocation and prays that God would give him the zeal, vigour and above all wisdom to continue to lead his sheep through to the way of salvation. He thanks all the Bishops he has worked with; Most Rev Anthony Gbuji, Most Rev Emmanuel Otteh and presently Most Rev Michael Elue for their guidance in the ministry. He thanks all who helped him to actualize the priestly call and solicits for prayers from all for good health of mind and body and equally to enable him work more gracefully in the Lord's vineyard.