Today, we cover the last of three articles dedicated to a great and special priest-cum-teacher, Fr. Dominic Sinya Longwe, as he celebrates 25 years as a priest. Today, we will focus on his open door policy. I am quite aware that from my experience, most of the leaders that introduce themselves as people who practise open door policy are rarely approachable and rarely listen.
In fact, my observation is that most leaders who are very approachable do not even mention that they practise open door policy. Fr. Longwe is one such type of a leader. He never mentioned open door policy or anything and yet his office was so open and indeed the door to his office was always wide open and any student could walk into his office any time and talk about any issue any time.
It was not just the door that was open but his heart and mind too. I know of a young priest friend of mine who told me of his glowing admiration for Fr. Longwe, especially because he helped him make a good decision when he almost left the major seminary. He narrated to me how talk by other people made him begin to lose interest in pursuing his vocation to the priesthood. He approached Fr. Longwe who told him that he is at liberty to leave priestly training at any time but not when he is angry, frustrated or disappointed. He told him that it was a wrong time to make that decision. And Fr. Longwe’s word kept the young major seminarian in training and now he is a proud priest, proud to be doing what he had desired all his life. We should never make big decisions when angry or frustrated.
Then we had his unique approach to the weekly Rector’s Talk, which he changed to ‘Rector’s Forum’ – to depict his desire that it should be a two-way forum between him and the entire student body. The weekly Rector’s forum gave a chance to every student at the seminary to voice out suggestions, concerns or any issues directly to the Rector in front of everyone without fear of rebuke, punishment or any other treatment. Everyone had a say in the management of the seminary, even Form one students. And if one made a good point, Fr. Longwe took it up.
In the Rector’s forum, Fr. Longwe challenged the students. If you had a point, you needed to make it very clearly and very strongly for him to buy your idea. He was building good negotiators and he wanted us to make a case for our points. The best example would be the experience my classmate Moses Thosi Mvula had with the Rector Fr. Longwe.
Moses wanted to go to Rumphi Boma on a Wednesday afternoon to buy some groceries. Fr. Longwe refused, on the basis that Moses had the chance to buy the groceries on the Saturday before or he could wait another three days to buy the next Saturday. Moses accepted the rejection and said: “Thanks Father, I understand.” As Moses was walking out of the office, Fr. Longwe called him back: “Moses, come back, you can’t even ‘kunyengelera’! it is in our culture!” Moses went back, made a big case and justification for why he needed to go to town on that Wednesday and Fr. Longwe granted him the permission.
We all learnt a big lesson from that. Not just that Fr. Longwe was approachable and flexible but that in life, we have to fight and make our case. Things will not just happen simply because we expect them to happen that way or simply because we ask. We have to make a good case for what we want or need.
As Fr. Longwe celebrates his 25 years of distinguished service as a priest, we salute him for what he has done, teaching many young people including the many priests that have passed through his mentorship. We want to also encourage many that work for the betterment of others like Fr. Longwe does. The world is better off because of Fr. Longwe and all people like him. Let us all emulate this great example. n