Last week, we started a series of articles on the great Catholic priest, Fr. Dominic S. Longwe as he celebrates his Silver Jubilee as a priest. He was my teacher and rector (Headmaster) at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Rumphi where I did my secondary education in the early to mid-1990s.
May of my peers from the generation of ex-seminarians that were taught by Fr. Longwe remember him for his great philosophical quotes and his logical arguments. I asked a few friends on their recollection of the great philosophical statements from Fr. Longwe. One of the most remarkable was the one shared by Dr. Mark Lungu, now a senior economist at the Reserve Bank of Malawi and a former student of Fr. Longwe. Mark remembers strikingly, Fr. Longwe saying: “I am only responsible for what I say, not for what you hear!” Fr. Longwe said this in one of the heated debates in the weekly Rector’s forums held every Wednesday night. The Rector’s forum/ talk is a traditional one to two-hour sessions in any seminary where the Rector meets all the seminarians in the recreation hall and addresses them on pertinent issues relating to campus life, student spiritual development and any other topic that the Rector deems important and relevant.
By his style, Fr. Longwe made the Rector’s Forum—as he renamed it from the original Rector’s Talk—very interactive, relaxed and open where the young seminarians felt very free to debate with him on wide ranging issues—from catering services in the cafeteria, to prayers held in the chapel to general issues facing the church in that moment. In doing so, Fr. Longwe developed very good debating skills, personal confidence and self-esteem in most of us. Many of his former students are everlastingly grateful to him for this great and positive dosage!
As a matter of illustration, and as an example among many personal anecdotes from him, I remember how one time the whole campus was against a stand taken by the association of priests on some hot local church matter at the time. Students had got wind of the resolution of the priests, which they did not agree with. When we asked him to justify the position, Fr. Longwe knew that it was not necessary to go into detail with the young seminarians on a topic that was possibly out of scope for them.
Students asked him if he had attended the meeting and he agreed. When he was pressed to agree if the understanding of the resolution by the young seminarians was correct, Fr. Longwe said: “You are right that there was a meeting of the association of priests. I am only one of them. I am not them. If you have any questions for them, ask them, not me because I am not them!” It is a statement that every seminarian of the mid- 1990s remembers vividly from Fr. Longwe.
For me, this quote serves many purposes, the greatest of which was when it saved me from big trouble five years later, when I was at the Polytechnic and president of the students’ union (PSU) there. I had led the students in a fierce fight to reduce the university fee hike from K46 000 down to K25 000. In that fight, as students, we had proposed a figure of K3 000. When the Chancellor, who was president Bakili Muluzi, responded to our petition by reducing the newly increased fees from K46 000 down to K25 000, many media practitioners came to the Poly to record a statement of my reaction to this, I recalled Fr. Longwe’s wisdom that the fees matter was for all students and so the media needed to ask students as I was only one of them and not them. This saved me from big trouble from the students on the one hand and politicians on the other. A colleague in a similar situation at another campus answered the question in detail and students were baying for his blood and he had to escape from campus for a few days for safety. This is the true measure of the impact of the wisdom of Fr. DS Longwe!