Mr Jino Owiny was born on the 3rd October 1932 to parents Mr Paskwale Olwoch a former King African Rifle (KAR) Soldier who fought in the 2nd world war and returned to engage in farming and business. He was among the people who contributed materially to the construction of Kalongo Catholic Church. His name is among those inscribed on the inside wall of the church; whereas Jino’s mother, Juliana Apaco was a housewife who complemented her husband in the farm and business activities. She was a good mother and Christian who brought her children up as God-fearing as will later be seen manifested broadly in the life of Mr Jino Owiny. Mr Jino Owiny was the third born of the family, the other siblings all female.
Much as Mr Jino Owiny was the only surviving son of his parents; they nevertheless didn’t question sacrificing him to a celibate life of priesthood just like the proverbial Isaac son of Abraham in the bible. God however had other plans that he wanted his son Jino to undertake later in his lifetime. In contemporary Acholi culture, continuity in the lineage is considered very important and families do not often give up on the male children (especially an only male child) to deny them continuity (bearing offspring) as may result from becoming a Priest.
Mr Jino Owiny whose mother Juliana often referred to him as “Lawii Lwak” literally meaning People’s Leader, dedicated his life basically fulfilling this purpose for which his mother often referred of him.
Mr Jino Owiny was Baptized on 10 February 1934 at Kalongo Catholic Mission, he received his first holy communion on 30 April 1946 and was dully confirmed one and half months later on 12 June 1946. Being brought up in a strict Christian family, the sacraments were considered very important to be fulfilled accordingly, hence his matrimonial wedding later on 25 May 1955 to his wife Jema Adoch and together they were blessed with 13 children.
His first years of education were at Kalongo Primary School where he studied for six years from 1939 to 1944 after which he received a calling to priesthood where he enrolled at Lacor Seminary in 1948. He spent five years at the seminary where he attained a certificate equivalent to Junior level; before he dropped out and his dream of becoming a priest ended in 1952 (as the saying goes, many are called but few are chosen). This however did not dampen his faith in God and his love to proclaim the gospel and lead God’s people both spiritually and socially.
One year later after dropping out from the seminary, he went on to join St. Thomas Moore Teacher Training College in Gulu where he spent two years and graduated with a certificate as a grade II Teacher in 1954, and was subsequently posted to serve as a Teacher.
Mr Jino Owiny served in various capacities; he started as a Teacher posted to Kalongo Mission Technical School where he taught English, Mathematics, Science and Geography and after the Technical School was closed, he was transferred to teach the Junior classes in Kalongo, later on, he served in several instances as Headteacher of schools such as Minakulu Primary School in 1969, Lagot-cuku Primary school from 1969 to 1971, Ngora Primary school 1973 to 1975 then lastly Kuywee Primary School in 1976 where he retired in 1977.
At one point during his teaching career in 1961-1962, he was identified and appointed as an Assistant School Supervisor for all the Catholic Mission Schools in the then East Acholi subregion for a period of one year.
He also underwent a course on “teaching sciences in primary schools” for one year where he obtained a certificate from Makerere University.
During his education career, Mr Jino Owiny had a stint in the Ugandan Political arena by actively participating in the governance of his home area as a Councilor in Parabongo Division in the then East Acholi District Council from 1962 to 1967. However, he could not continue in politics as his passion for education superseded politics. His decision to quit was occasioned by the new government policy that prohibited public servants from taking up political assignments while still serving and therefore you were required to relinquish one for the other. He chose to continue the education path.
Being a promoter of education, Mr Jino Owiny together with Mr Nicholas Opio started Kalongo Modern School which later morphed into St. Charles Lwanga College where he later served as a board member. Mr Jino Owiny also supported the establishment of St. Bakhita Vocational Training School in Kalongo; a school aimed at promoting girl child education; especially for child mothers and abducted girls returning from the LRA war of Joseph Kony.
Mr Jino Owiny retired after a 22-year-long public service as a Teacher, this did not, however, waiver his passion and enthusiasm for education. He went ahead to spearhead the establishment and superintended the “Kalongo School Project”. This was supported by Kalongo Catholic Church and funded by the Christian Children Fund (CCF), an international organization whose core objective was to see more children gain access to basic education; the emphasis of being a support to primary school children with the prime target being vulnerable, needy but bright children accessing good education.
As there were only two primary schools in Kalongo; both public schools but with Catholic foundation; the others being distant away, Mr Jino Owiny became one of the key promoters who worked tirelessly towards the establishment of a private school with a Catholic foundation that was named “Dr Ambrosoli Memorial Nursery and Primary School” where a good number of these children who were sponsored under the CCF were able to study.
Besides the task of connecting children to potential sponsors and subsequently securing them the possibility for a bright future, he also saw the establishment of a cottage industry where Sweaters and Blankets were made as well as introducing mass production of sunflower with value addition; a sunflower mill was procured with support from donor funding and this enabled the community to get good sunflower oil from their very own products which further helped in improving livelihood through increased income as well as in promoting better nutritional health.
For several years after the establishment of this mill, many families and individuals in Agago district and beyond have continued to benefit from his business acumen.
Mr Jino Owiny being a staunch Catholic was a member of several church groups, he was a member of the Church Choir, Lay Apostolate, Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Parish Council of Kalongo Catholic Church for several years, he was eventually elected as the Chairperson in 1984. He held the position of chairperson until 2004-2005 when the parish council was dissolved and in its place, a new structure “The Parish Pastoral Council” was birthed and developed to oversee the affairs of the parish. This new establishment was designed to be chaired by the Parish Priest instead of a laity. He was in essence the last Chairperson of the Parish Council but continued to support the new Parish Pastoral Council.
During his time as chairperson of the Parish Council, he also served as a member Board of Governors at Dr Ambrosoli Memorial Hospital – Kalongo and St. Mary’s Midwifery Training School – Kalongo.
Following his resignation from the apex of the council management, Mr Jino Owiny continued to be an active member of the church.
At the time of the closure of the Catholic Mission Complex of Kalongo in February 1987, Mr Jino Owiny was still the chairman of Kalongo Parish Council and many Christians looked to him for guidance in the face of unforeseen and unfolding events that was to eventually change significantly the trajectory and perception of life in the entire community as the missionaries and the health department were evacuated and their facilities closed.
Mr Jino Owiny decided not to leave with the evacuees, he rather opted to put his life on the line by refusing to abandon his people and deciding to remain behind with them even when he and his immediate family had the opportunity to leave with the other evacuees that left for Ngetta in Lira Town (now Lira City) to the extent that the NRA commander who was in charge of the evacuation had to temporarily stall the takeoff for a couple of hours to convince Mr Jino Owiny to abandon this stance and agree to leave. This happened twice when the commander sent a lorry to pick him and he turned them down on both occasions, partly because of the lack of space to take on in his large extended family (those who looked unto him for hope) and more importantly his conviction for the greater cause. The commander told Mr Jino Owiny that the Intelligence they got had him featuring high on the list of targeted people for execution once the mission is closed. Again, here you see the calling “Lawii Lwak” manifesting. Mr Jino Owiny seeing that his fellow Christians would remain in limbo and without direction decided against fleeing. His decision was premised on three facets which he saw as a necessity worth staying put even at the greater risk of exposure to hostile armed elements marauding around with ravenous appetite for the likely “spoils” they would be privileged to freely harvest in the absence of the (NRA) new government forces:
First and foremost, his love for God and his people was cardinal hence the need not to abandon them, especially during their most vulnerable moments. He chose to be with his people than to save his own life. Secondly, he so much loved and valued the existence of the hospital that he vowed to protect it from destruction and thus promised Fr. Dr Joseph Ambrosoli that he would remain to take care of the hospital. He also vowed to ensure that, with the support of a couple of health workers and some few trained-on job who also sacrificed to remain with the people, continue to provide whatever basic services that would be available from what was left of the hospital for the benefit of the community. And thirdly, he valued education both spiritual and academic; he foresaw the absence of any kind of formal education as a receipt likely to breed hopelessness and wayward behaviours, especially amongst the younger generation necessitating the need for him to remain and help in some way.
After due consideration and personal reflection on the matter, he made his final decision and gave his word to the Priests and Sisters that he would stand steadfast with the community, protect the sanctity of the church and the overall mission complex and its infrastructure. The Parish priest Fr. Ambrosio accepted his decision and handed over all the keys to him and the parish council. The priests then bestowed God’s blessing upon them and departed in a very sombre mood.
After the evacuation of the hospital, school and the missionaries to Lira, Mr Jino Owiny together with the Parish Councilors, Elders and the Christian Leaders congregated to forge ways of managing the mission complex, this being a very new and unexpected experience. In the process, Mr Jino Owiny was unanimously elected the de-facto head of the mission complex. He was bestowed the title President. He went ahead and formed a pseudo governance and administrative body comprising of a cabinet of twenty-six men and women that would eventually help him fulfil the promise he made to Fr Dr. Ambrosoli and also the fraternity of the hospital and Midwifery Training School, the religious leader (Priests, Nuns and Brothers) as well as the community. This formation worked alongside the parish council which was composed of eleven members (some of them holding portfolios in the newly formed governance and administrative body).
In order to take care of the infrastructure of the mission complex (residents of Priests Nuns, Doctors, Nurses, catechumenates midwifery school and other hospital buildings), more than 200 people were allocated temporary occupancy of rooms as places of abode and this was tagged with the responsibility of taking care of the environs therein, and this they did thanks to Lawii lwak’s organizational prowess.
It is important to note that in the spiritual dimension, Mr Jino Owiny in mid-1988 was able to mobilize the Christians of Kalongo Catholic Parish mainly composed of the youth and members of the lay apostolate numbering about eighty people, to Pajule Catholic Mission on a holy pilgrimage. The pilgrims walked on foot through dangerous terrain sporadically occupied by marauding rebels. With the grace of God, they were able to make the journey successfully without any major incidence. This pilgrim was purposed to rejuvenate and engender the faith and spirituality of the Christians and more importantly to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, and receive Penance and Holy Communion which they had missed since the priests were evacuated from Kalongo. The Parish Priest of Pajule Catholic Church Fr. Tarasisio Luyaromoi, was overjoyed to receive the pilgrims and celebrate mass with them.
Fr. Tarcisio happened to be the only Comboni Missionary Father who had opted to remain in this troubled area, he was, therefore, by default mandated with the responsibility of spiritual guidance for the parishioners of Kalongo, Patongo and Namukora Parishes.
Besides the spiritual aspect of the pilgrim, they engaged in other activities such as carrying out thorough cleanliness of the entire mission of Pajule Catholic Church which was found to be very untidy and bushy. This was done spic-and-spun both from the interior to the exterior all under the community mobilization strategy of Mr Jino Owiny.
As earlier opined, Mr Jino Owiny being a person who had a passion for Education had in his cabinet a Ministry of Education headed by Ms Emma Aguu the defacto Minister of Education. Through her ministry working jointly with Mr Alfred Ojok Ojara the Justice Ethics and Integrity minister also coordinator of Church Choir, a program dubbed “Education Week” was developed. This was designed to promote religious education through competitions involving the three parishes of Kalongo, Namokora and Patongo.
Competitors were expected to have a fundamental knowledge of the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the catechism, acclimatise with the bible, ability to comprehend and articulately recite prayers, quotations and verses of the holy scriptures as well as demonstrate the ability to piously sing church hymns.
Awards with religious intonations were given to the best performers. The parish church choir that performed best in the competition carried the flag with the portrait of Fr. Dr Joseph Ambrosoli.
In spite of the closure of the hospital and the evacuation of the training school, the community of Kalongo endeavoured to remain optimistic about the future of the hospital. In order to keep this hope alive, Mr Jino Owiny kept an open line of communication with the training school of St. Mary’s Midwifery School which was temporarily relocated to the catholic mission and hospital of Angal located in the West Nile region. This window enabled the community to secure the enrolment of five girls from Kalongo (selected on merit) for the certificate course in midwifery. The girls were prepared for the odious journey on foot to Kitgum en route to Angal hospital. These girls are now successful medical health workers serving in different positions in the country.
During the period (1987 to 1989) of the closure of the Kalongo Catholic Mission Complex, Mr Jino Owiny suffered a lot of tribulations, threats and outright persecution by the various armed groups that were operating in the region to the extent that he and his colleagues were arrested by some unscrupulous elements of the UPDA and incarcerated at the subregion UPDA brigade headquarters at Labuce were they were forced to dig a dungeon on hard rocky soil that would eventually become their prison abode. Following intense prayers by Mr Jino Owiny and colleagues, and the Christians back home, providence showed its face through some senior UPDM/A soldiers who happened to pass via Kalongo during their rendezvous. The community swiftly took this advantage and petitioned these UPDM/A leaders to intervene and free Mr Jino Owiny and his colleagues and that is how they were saved, otherwise, they were already condemned to slow death of hard labour.
At some point when the NRA attempted to make a comeback to Kalongo after their “tactical withdrawal” from the sub-region, the occupying armed groups then started to become more hostile, arresting people, persecuting them and a number of extrajudicial killings of people within the community while others were locked up in safe houses and beaten severely. There was total lawlessness and a breakdown in the rule of law. In some cases, others were subjected to Kangaroo Courts and subsequently executed.
Mr Jino Owiny intoned that God’s work and providence was always hovering over them; at some point, antagonistic groups happened to be operating within Kalongo, and the mission complex was always in constant threat because of their common interest of taking possession of the goods and materials available in the mission by whatever means so desired. In one incident Mr Jino Owiny and his members were saved by one commander of the holy spirit movement (HSM) who claimed to be a strong and faithful member of the catholic church much as he was also an active member of this outfit. He was able to avert the imminent assault planned on the mission by another parallel outfit of unscrupulous UPDA elements.
Mr Jino Owiny was a man of integrity, and even in the midst of threats and challenges, he faced from these armed groups who frequently forced him to release whatever items of the mission to them, he still successfully managed to ensure that records of the items were kept to the extent that they had to sign for whatever they took away from the mission.
Mr Jino Owiny was no exception to the hostilities, he was the most sought after, purportedly on the top list of people to be executed, again as fate would have it, an unknown soldier he had never seen before came and tipped him off. As Mr Jino Owiny narrated, this particular soldier had gotten wind of the plans to kidnap him for execution and did not feel comfortable with this turn of events, he then moved ahead of the assembled team that was designated to carry out this mission. As soon as he located Mr Jino Owiny, he told him; “I do not know you and you do not know me but something in me has compelled me to save your life, now go, they are coming for you, don’t ask questions listen to me and just go”. He did listen to him, went inside his room picked up his bible, rosary and a few portable belongings and took off. And that is how he escaped unscathed through uncharted territory infested by different unscrupulous armed elements and wild animals and through the battleground between these armed groups and advancing NRA soldiers up to Patongo trading centre where the new government soldiers (NRA) were camped. He was lucky not to get shot when he entered an ambush of the NRA soldiers, who captured him and took him to their detach and interrogated him. Due to the harsh condition in which he traversed in the thick and thicket of the night, a distance of about 22 miles or more as a result of crisscrossing; he was shaken, cold and totally beatdown by the harsh weather though his spirit remained strong resulting from reciting the rosary throughout his ordeal. As fate would have it, his captors treated him well gave him a cup of hot coffee and slowly he started regaining from the condition of hyperventilation he was exposed to. He would later return to Kalongo a few days after the recapture of Kalongo by the NRA soldiers.
It has to be underscored that protecting the mission’s complex infrastructure in fact was indeed one of the greatest gifts Mr Jino Owiny offered; to the fact that when the missionaries returned in 1989 and the hospital was reopened by Fr. Dr Egidio as the new medical superintendent, a lot of things were found in place, in good and usable conditions; including buildings, various hospital equipment and tools, books, some medical sundries, furniture and many other valuables items that were saved, thanks to this initiative.
Mr Jino Owiny’s efforts through protracted and complex negotiations to convince the government to allow the missionaries, hospital and school to return and more so, to convince the missionaries and the health workers themselves needed providence from God and this cannot be overlooked, this being a daunting experience.
The fact that the community of Kalongo were able to ensure protection from destruction of the entire fabric of the mission infrastructure and the maintenance exhibited for almost three years through the superb organizational governance and management system set up by the community in the absence of security and the rule of law in itself was a stimulus that oiled the wheels of negotiation that subsequently convinced all stakeholders that indeed the mission complex could be reopened.
On 21 June 1989, Mr Jino Owiny handed back the administration of the parish to the hands of the parish priest Fr Ambrozio and his assistant Fr. Rafael who had now returned to settle. On the 14th of October 1989, Fr Egidio Tocalli arrived in Kalongo to assess the hospital and prepare it for reopening. He was later to become the next medical superintendent and on 2 December 1989, The Bishop of Gulu Diocese His Lordship Martin Luluga officially reopened Kalongo Hospital. This was the most awesome day after almost three years without proper medical care. Everybody chanted Ot yat wa odwogo literally meaning “our hospital is back”. Mr Jino Owiny’s promise was realized though his heart was heavy that it was not to be Fr. Dr Ambrosoli returning in person following his untimely death which was likely occasioned by the closure of the hospital and school and events surrounding it. Nevertheless, he was extremely elated by the return of the institutions.
Upon the return of the missionaries, Mr Jino Owiny disbanded the pseudo governance and administration body, however, the Parish Council continued to operate under the stewardship of the Parish Priest Fr. Ambrosio.
Shortly after the missionaries had settled, efforts then began for the return of the remains of the Late Fr. Joseph Ambrosoli to Kalongo as he had reportedly willed prior to his death. Mr Jino Owiny alongside the parish priest spearheaded and led the team. Mr Jino Owiny personally participated in exhuming the remains of Fr. Dr Joseph Ambrosoli in 1994 from Lira where he was temporarily buried. The reburial then took place at Kalongo Catholic Cemetery according to his wish.
Mr Jino Owiny like many Christians including non-believers who knew or heard about Fr. Dr Joseph Ambrosoli believed him to be a highly religious and a truly chosen servant of God who dedicated himself wholly to all but most especially to the sick and vulnerable; who would one day be meritoriously recognized among the holy men and women who have ever lived. Unfortunately, he did not live to see this happen in his lifetime, though it’s likely they are united in heaven.
The other very important and extraordinary contribution of Mr Jino Owiny to the church was his role in the process that led to the beatification of the young catechists Jildo Irwa and Daudi Okello. He personally frequented Paimol where the two were martyred; investigating and researching for supportive information necessary in promoting the process of beatification which eventually came to pass; he was privileged to have travelled to Rome to witness the ceremony.
Earlier also, Mr Jino Owiny had the opportunity to travel to Rome Italy where he witnessed the landmark event of canonization of Bishop Daniel Comboni-the founder of Comboni Missionaries, into sainthood.
Mr Jino Owiny experienced a long battle with cancer, a condition he accepted and managed without any bitterness. He was always a very disciplined and principled person even in sickness; his doctor from the cancer institute where he was getting treatment once remarked that she had never gotten a patient who accepted his condition without desperation and crestfallenness. She observed that he religiously followed his appointments and adhered to the latter doctors’ prescriptions and advice. Mr Jino Owiny in one of his remarks about the service he was receiving praised his doctor for always being companionate like Dr Ambrosoli towards patients. Mr Jino Owiny further averred that his doctor intimated that she was greatly inspired by his courage which she claimed was quite rare among such patients she treated. Mr Jino Owiny exited this world at eighty-two years of age on 12 April 2014, may His Soul Rest in Eternal Peace Amen.
A book detailing the life and experience of Mr Jino Owiny proceeding the closer of Kalongo Mission Complex – 1987-1989 is underway and will soon be published.