St. Gonzaga Gonza was a Musoga from Bulamoogi county. His parents are not known, though it is said in various writings that he belonged to Lion (Mpologoma) clan.
He was a page of the private courts under Muteesa I and a page of the audience hall under Mwanga II.
Gonza was baptized on 16th November 1885 by Pere Lourdel. On his way to Namugongo for execution with fellow Christians, Gonza who had bleeding legs due to chains stuck into his flesh collapsed at Lubaawo, about 4 miles to Namugongo. At this spot, because he could not move any more, Mukaajanga, the chief executioner speared him to death. It was on Thursday 27th May 1886. Gonza died at the age of about 24.
He is the patron of the prisoners and afflicted.
The capture of Gonzaga Gonza and his arrival in Kabaka’s palace
Another foreign page, Gonzaga Gonza, was a Musoga, who, like his fellow-countryman Matthias Kalemba, had been seized and car¬ried off as a slave by a raiding party of Baganda. His original name is unknown, the name Gonza having been given to him because he was captured from a Musoga chief of that name who belonged to the Lion Clan and lived in Bulamogi County.
Gonza was first in the service of one Tegusaaga who started as a palace firewood-cutter and rose to the rank of corporal of the guard. By Tegusaaga, Gonza was presented to Kabaka Muteesa who employed him in the private section of the royal enclosure. Here he lived in quarters known as the House of Eunuchs, the occupants of which had the duty of delivering supplies, such as firewood and salt, to the houses occupied by the Kabaka’s women. Menya, another Musoga, was in charge of this section, assisted by Namulabira, and it was these two who first taught Gonza the Catholic prayers, which they had written on the back of a wooden tablet inscribed with Muslim prayers in Arabic.
The outbreak of plague which, no respecter of persons, carried off one of the Kabaka’s women in February 1881, drove the Court from Rubaga back to the old site at Nabulagala and thus put the three friends in close proximity to the new Catholic mission buildings at Kasubi.
Gonza was one of the pages of Muteesa recalled into the royal service by Kabaka Mwanga. He was then posted to the court of the great audience hall where he served under Charles Lwanga. He was not baptized until after the martyrdom of Joseph Mukasa, when he received the sacrament from Pere Lourdel and with it the name Gonzaga, obviously suggested by his own name Gonza. He was about twenty-four years old at the time of his death on the road to Namugongo.
Gonzaga Gonza defects from Islam to Catholicism and lives to it
At the arrival of the Catholic Missionaries in Uganda in February 1879 Gonza (Ngonzabato: I love children) a page in King Muteesa’s palace was undergoing Islamic instructions.
It was Wednesday 1st September 1879 when King Muteesa I left Lubaga pa1ace because of the outbreak of plague and went to Kikandwa (Nabulagala).
This put the three friends in close proximity to the new Catholic mission buildings at Kasubi. Muteesa returned to Lubaga in June 1880. It was during that period that Gonza converted to Catholicism.
During the time of his conversion he was living in one house with two of his friends, namely; Menya and Namulabira. Their group leader was Menya who converted to Catholicism first followed by Namulabira and finally by Gonza. They were all Basoga by tribe.
At the beginning of 1881 a plague ravaged many parts of Buganda, Kampala area and the palace in particular; soon their leader, Menya, fell victim. On Wednesday 20th April 1881 Namulabira went to the Catholic Missionaries at Lubya for medicine to save Menya’s life. The missionaries themselves wanted to go to the patient but they were not allowed to enter into the palace to visit the sick man and to baptize him. Instead Namulabira was given the drugs with instructions to treat the patient and to baptize him. The next day, 21st April 1881, Menya passed away.
After the death of Menya, the two young men (Gonza and Namulabira) remained in the house. One month later Namulabira was falsely accused of having a love affair with Nankya, one of the king’s wives.
Nankya was also a member of the Bakojja. This was a group of women spying on the boys and men who were befriending the King’s wives. The Bakojja group used to search into the houses at night so as to finding out the culprits who were disturbing the king’s wives.
Another member of Bakojja and Nankya both fell in love with one of the pages and their encounter resulted into a bitter rival between the two women. In the meantime, Nankya’s rival tried to entice Namulabira into a love affair with her. But Namulabira totally refused. The woman got annoyed and falsely accused Namulabira of being in love with Nankya to the king.
The king got very annoyed and said “They are both despising me, they are guilty and they deserve a severe punishment.” He ordered the executioners to punish them for adultery. One leg of Namulabira was tied up to the adjacent leg of Nankya and the legs were burnt from foot to ankle after which the two were taken to prison. Nankya was taken to Mpinga’s prison (the gate-keeper). The burns of Nankya were more severe than those of Namulabira and consequently took longer to heal.
Gonza visited Mabuzi’s prison where they had imprisoned his friend Namulabira. He was very much disappointed at the prison’s condition, particularly the poor feeding. Namulabira was still undergoing his religious instructions and Gonza envisaged that the prison sentence would become a great hinderance to his instructions. He therefore resolved to try to solve both predicaments, i.e. Namulabira’s catechetical attendance and the poor feeding of the prisoners at Mabuzi’s prison almost concurrently. He, therefore, went to Mabuzi and begged him for; (a) permission to be imprisoned instead of Namulabira whenever the latter was due to go to the mission for religious instructions and (b) to prepare some food for the prisoners in whatever way he could.
Mabuzi willingly accepted the proposals, but made sure that during the time Gonza stayed in prison in the place of Namulabira, he was severely punished in many various ways so as to make him give up his stand-in idea. On the contrary, despite all the tortures, abuses etc, Gonza became more and more determined on his decision. He was happy to suffer for Christ and to enable Namulabira attend his religious instructions.
On returning from the Mission Namulabira would continue with his sentence as a prisoner while Gonza got released. Then Gonza would embark on the task of preparing food for the prisoners, a job that was looked upon as degrading and left only to women. But he did it satisfactorily and happily. He convinced some of his friends, like Louis Gaayiiya, of the importance of the job and they agreed to assist him. They took the food to the prisoners almost daily. The prisoners were happy and felt relieved of many of their problems.
In addition, Gonza and a few of his friends had to go round and fund-raise money for ransom for to rescue their friend Namulabira from prison. They raised the ransom secretly and from a few Catholics. Thus the prisoner stayed rather long in prison while waiting for the required big amount of ransom including some other property.
The brutal slaughter of Gonzaga Gonza
After the condemnation, Christians had to be taken to Namugongo and be burnt to death, and on their way from Munyonyo, where the cruel judgment was passed, prisoners p first wet to Mmengo.
The Musoga page, Gonzaga Gonza, formed part of the cortege which left Mmengo for Namugongo on the morning of Thursday, 27 May but, in spite of his effort to keep up with his companions, he soon fell behind the rest of the party. Like some of his fellow vic¬tims, he had spent the night in chains; but in his case the chains around his legs had been fixed so tightly that, during the night, the flesh had swollen around them, and it was found impossible to unhook them in the morning. He had to set out on the ten mile journey with the chains biting into his flesh, and could only drag himself along slowly, every step an agony. Before long, raw wounds encircled his legs and blood trickled to the ground. Although the fierce sun and the flies, attracted by the scent of blood, contri¬buted to his sufferings, Gonza displayed an almost unbelievable heroism in struggling along after his fellows for over seven miles. Finally, in sight of Lubaawo hamlet, at a spot where three roads met, he collapsed.
The custom of butchering one prisoner at each road junction was highly respected in Buganda culture, and was probably not unknown to the martyr. It may well have been this knowledge, as much as sheer physical exhaustion that made the gallant youth fall to the ground at this spot and wait for the stroke that would release him from his agony. It came from the spears of the executioners or, according to one report, from that of Mukaajanga who had waited there for the laggard. One of the executioners later paid tribute to the courage displayed by this young man of twenty-four. ‘That boy,’ he said, ‘was very brave, he did not show any signs of fear.’
It seems that the martyr’s body was not hacked to pieces, like those of Ngondwe and Bazzekuketta. Sotieri Zibalaba of Gayaza claimed to have seen Gonza’s body lying on the road, two or three days after his death. The head had been severed from the trunk and decomposition had set in: Kamyuka, on the way back from Namugongo a week after Gonzaga’s death, saw only the martyr’s hair on the road. Gonzaga Gonza died about noon on Thursday, 27 May.
“Next morning, they took us back to the capital. … On Lubaawo Hill, they pointed to locks of hair lying about on the road, saying, ‘That hair belonged to your friend Gonza.’ We saw nothing but his hair, for the vultures had already eaten all the flesh from the corpse. Gonza had let his hair grow because we were not allowed to have our hair cut while we were at Munyonyo,” narrated Kamyuka