A Heroic Service To The Sick And The Poor





The mission of Kalongo was founded by the Comboni Missionaries in the year 1934. When the missionary doctor Joseph Ambrosoli, arrived in Uganda in 1956, he was warmly accepted by Fr. Alfred Malandra, who immediately foresaw the importance of developing a hospital in that isolated area to help its population.

Up to that moment, taking care of the sick was left in the hands of the Comboni Missionary Sisters using, at first, a large tree and, later, a big but simple hut as their shelter. Sr. Eletta Mantiero was very much appreciated by all for her loving dedication to the mothers and children. She was able to assist in normal deliveries; all complicated cases were referred to the hospital of Kitgum, 70 kms away. During the years Fr. Dr. Ambrosoli was serving in Kalongo, Drs. Piero Corti and Lucille, his wife, were also developing another hospital at Lacor, in Gulu district.

In 1959, Fr. Ambrosoli opened a midwifery school which, since then, has produced more than 1,250 midwives who apply their skills in protecting the health of African mothers and children. This was one of the more brilliant ideas of the young doctor. Year after year, he also struggled to expand the Kalongo hospital until it could house 350 beds.

Very talented and skilled in performing difficult and rare operations in various surgical branches of medicine, he was attracting patients not only from all over Uganda, but even from Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan. Fr. Joseph Ambrosoli worked in Kalongo for 30 years and died in Lira on March 27, 1987.


In the heart of his people

Without any doubt, Fr. Ambrosoli is remembered as a great surgeon and as a doctor full of love and compassion for every sick coming to him. In every patient, he saw the suffering Christ. On his tomb, we can read the words which inspired him: “God is love. I am His servant for His suffering people.”

While still living, he was considered a “saint doctor.” After his death he became even more popular. In August 1999, the Bishop of Gulu initiated the process for Fr. Joseph’s canonization by collecting documents demonstrating the heroicity of his virtues. At present, he is invoked as “Servant of God.” In the last months, reports on cases of very special healings had been sent to Rome for scrutiny by the official medical commission.

As we well know, a Servant of God is declared “Blessed” only when the Church – after examining the submission of the medical commission – testifies that a certain healing is the fruit of his extraordinary intervention to God – and is beyond any scientific explanations.


One sign of hope

On February 12, 1987, Fr. Ambrosoli was obliged by the government to evacuate the hospital due to the war in the north, at the time of Alice Lakwena (the “religious” rebel). Amidst moral and physical stress, he had to find a new place, on the other side of Nile (Angal Hospital), for the midwifery school in order to save it. During that time, he could have gone to Italy for treatment of his illness but he set that aside. That heroic gesture led to his premature death on March 27, just a few weeks after. He succumbed to renal failure.

For nearly two years, Kalongo was deprived of missionaries and doctors. The people of Kalongo decided to protect the mission and hospital against the rebels who wanted to destroy and loot them. When my superiors sent me to Kalongo to reopen the hospital, I was tongue-tied when I witnessed that, truly, the people of Kalongo had saved “their hospital.”

This was something extraordinary in Uganda where people are so used to lootings at every coup and takeover. The 20 years I spent in Kalongo were marked by the cruel war, which has caused so many deaths and tears among innocent civilians. More than 30,000 children have been abducted to become child-soldiers and/or sex slaves!

Surrounded and protected day and night by the government soldiers, we took care of the sick in our area, being probably one of the few signs of hope amidst the tragedy of the conflict. The midwifery school came back from Angal to Kalongo in 1990 and remained the pearl of our institution. Thanks to the wonderful DANIDA (an NGO from Denmark), which offered a lot of financial support for the renovation of the buildings and for the sponsorship of students.


A feeling of protection

In those years so full of fears and problems, I deeply felt the presence of my confrere, Fr. Ambrosoli. I was staying in his room and even sleeping on his bed. I felt his protection on the nights two tanks and machine guns were shooting at the rebels. We strongly considered it a “moral” miracle of God that the hospital did not suffer any destruction. The prayers of Fr. Ambrosoli, the Servant of God, was also protecting the students from abduction. He was defending us from cholera, when more than 50,000 refugees stayed in the small compound of the hospital, and from Ebola infections. Consider the first victim of the highly-contagious Ebola virus, Daniel, a student from Kalongo studying at Lacor Hospital. When his body was taken home, nobody knew he had died of that dreadful disease. No one who touched his body got infected.

In 2008, I was asked to go back to Italy due to health problems. Following the inspiration of our founder, St. Daniel Comboni who proclaimed the plan to “Save Africa with Africans,” I tried my best to identify some Sisters, among the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate, and some lay people who could take over to run the hospital after all the expatriates would have left. I remained in Kalongo for 20 years.


A special presence of God

It was a great joy for me to be able to spend one week in Kalongo during the Golden Jubilee celebrations. I was not alone. For the first time, two nieces and two nephews of Fr. Ambrosoli accompanied me to share all the emotions of the great event. Together, we visited the cemetery and prayed in front of Fr. Ambrosoli’s tomb. In deep silence, we requested him to protect and bless his hospital during the challenging process of its Africanization which does not mean abandonment by the benefactors but a new way of mutual cooperation. Africa is called to struggle in order to manifest the gifts given by God while Italy continues to contribute through counseling and support.

The relatives of Fr. Joseph were deeply touched to see the place where their holy uncle consumed himself loving the poor and most abandoned people. One of them, Giovanna, says while expressing her feelings: “This journey took us to the roots of the spirit of the founder Comboni, to breathe the air which gave and took away the life of our uncle, Fr. Joseph, to feel the perfume of his spiritual presence. In fact, we knew him when we were only children. When he died in 1987, we were still young but his memory is very much alive in our hearts. Now, finally, we could kneel down before his tomb, grateful to God who chose our family to give birth to a holy missionary and doctor who freely decided to remain with his brothers and sisters even after death. Now with our presence here during the celebrations, we want to offer a sign to the population that we, the family of Fr. Joseph, are still present in Kalongo with our love and desire to support it through continuous cooperation. I hope very much to come back again soon to Kalongo because, here, I discovered the special presence of God who inspires me anew in my life.” 


*After spending 32 years in Uganda, Fr. Egidio Tocalli is now working, as a priest-doctor, in the Medical Centre of Milan (Italy), which is dedicated to Fr. Ambrosoli.


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