Tanzanian-born “Giant of African Theology” Remained Humble to his Death: Jesuit Scholar

Late Fr. Prof. Laurenti Magesa Corneli, Priest of Tanzania's Musoma Diocese who died 11 August 2022. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Few hours to his death on Thursday, August 11, Fr. Prof. Laurenti Magesa Corneli who has been described as “the Giant of African Theology” remained the humble man he had been all his life, the President of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) has said in his tribute to the late Tanzanian-born Theologian. He had just turned 76.

In the tribute shared with ACI Africa, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator recalls the final moments of the member of the Clergy of Tanzania’s Musoma Diocese on his death bed at Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he kept his “graciousness, warmth and respect for people.”

Sharing the cause of Fr. Magesa’s death, Fr. Orobator says, “I last met Magesa on his birthday, the day before his death; I was privileged to visit him in Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam. The pancreatic cancer that finally ended his earthly life had taken a devastating toll on his body.”

“Surrounded by his beloved brother and primary caregiver, Professor Evaristi Cornelli Magoti of University of Dar es Salaam, and relatives, Magesa remained the humble and amiable Christian that he always was,” Fr. Orobator says in the tribute.

He adds, “As we gathered around his bed and expressed our emotions of sadness and grief, he muttered, ‘Don’t do that … this [suffering and death] is part of life.’ His imminent death did not rob him of his graciousness, warmth and respect for people.”


Bishop Michael George Mabuga Msonganzila of Musoma Diocese announced the passing on of his Priest, Fr. Magesa, on August 11. 

In the announcement made by the Chancellor of the Tanzanian Diocese, Fr. Alexander Muganyizi, funeral arrangements for the late African Theologian “who died 11 August 2022 at 1 P.M. while undergoing treatment … will be communicated by a committee which is currently underway. Eternal rest grant him O Lord.”

Born in 1946 in Northern Tanzania, Fr. Magesa served as a Parish Priest in a number of Parishes of Musoma Diocese, and taught Theology in various Catholic institutions in Kenya, Tanzania and the United States of America.

Notably, the Tanzanian scholar who has been described as “One of Africa’s foremost theologians” was a pioneer lecturer at the Nairobi-based Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) and the Jesuit School of Theology, Hekima University College.

The widely published Tanzanian scholar is known for such works as The Post-conciliar Church in Africa: No Turning Back the Clock (2016), What Is Not Sacred? African Spirituality (2013) and African Religion in the Dialogue Debate: From Intolerance to Coexistence (2010).

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His other works include Rethinking Mission: Evangelization in Africa in a New Era (2006), Anatomy of Inculturation: Transforming the Church in Africa (2004) and Christian Ethics in Africa (2002).

The 15-chapter edited book, Theology in 21st Century: A Call to Baraza” that was launched on 29 September 2021, is a tribute to Fr. Magesa “who has immensely contributed to development of African Theology” for over four decades, the editors of the 448-page publication indicated on the book cover.  

In the tribute shared with ACI Africa on August 11, Fr. Orobator has described the late Fr. Magesa as a “man of humble demeanor”.

“Magesa practiced the art of theologizing with grace, candor and integrity. He respected his students and always made a point to remind them that he, too, was a learner. A man of humble demeanor, he was not given to self-aggrandizement,” the Nigerian-born Jesuit Priest says.

Fr. Magesa’s thinking was “always lucid, original and inspiring,” Fr. Orobator further says, and adds, “He provoked constructive thinking and shunned ideological controversies and intellectual artificiality aimed at damaging the reputation of his trade or the position of those who held a contrary view.”


The late Theology professor has been likened to “a fallen tree” in the Nairobi-based Jesuit’s glowing tribute.

“In some African cultures, towering personalities in fields of human endeavor are likened to a giant tree in the forest. Their demise is aptly expressed with the metaphor of a fallen tree,” Fr. Orobator says about the late African Theologian.

He adds, “Magesa’s pilgrimage from his humble origins in his birthplace, Musoma in northern Tanzania, to the towering heights of his renown on the global stage of theological erudition tells the story of a faithful pastor, humble scholar, beloved teacher and exemplary Christian.”

In his tribute shared with ACI Africa, Fr. Orobator recalls having first met Fr. Magesa in Musoma in 2004, where he was doing pastoral ministry in a rural Parish.

This was a time when the professor’s book, “Anatomy of Inculturation: Transforming the Church in Africa (Orbis, 2004)” was under preparation for publication.

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The Jesuit Priest says in reference to the late Priest and his book, “He gave me a galley proof to read. The significance of that book was instantaneous and unmistakable: Magesa had written the magna carta of African theology of inculturation. The combination of his penetrating insight, engaging originality and evidence-based analysis redefined the meaning, significance and practice of inculturation.”

In the book, “What Is Not Sacred? African Spirituality”, Fr. Magesa is said to have “brilliantly explored the beauty of the spirituality of African Religion and its enduring gift to Christianity as a light, not a shadow.”

The book, Fr. Orobator says, “tended to be portrayed by those who were either ignorant of or biased against its true nature.”

Fr. Magesa’s final contribution to the publishing sector was in March 2022 to an edited volume on Synodality, “A Pocket Companion to Synodality: Voices from Africa (African Synodality Initiative, 2022).”

Titled, “Journeying Together in Service and Harmony: The African Jamaa as a Model for a Synodal Church,” Fr. Magesa is said to have explored the meaning and practice of Synodality from the cultural perspectives of Africa.

The late widely published scholar is said to have pointed out that “what is intended by the synod as a whole is unity in thought, word, and deed of all the faithful who as a body and beyond the purpose of jamaa, which is primarily social self-preservation, are on the road toward the objective of their salvation and the redemption of humankind.”

In his tribute, the President of JCAM says that Fr. Magesa’s scholarship, research, writing and publication gave “a distinctively African face to Inculturation Theologies, Liberation Theologies, and Catholic Theological Ethics, three areas where he was the undisputed leader.”

He adds, in reference to the late Priest, “Strikingly, he put his theological convictions, ideas and principles into action in his everyday living. During his teaching spell at Hekima University College, he created and led inculturated Eucharistic liturgies that drew on the best traditions and values of African cultures and religion in dialogue with the Gospel.”

In his tribute, Fr. Orobator says that the late Tanzanian Priest and scholar has earned himself a place in the ranks of ancestors of the Church in Africa.

“The belief is strong in many parts of Africa that the status of an ancestor is reserved for people who have made a transformative and enduring contribution of service to their community,” he says in his tribute to Fr. Magesa. 

Fr. Orobator adds, “By his life of service as a pastor, the depth of his scholarship and the example of his life as a Christian, Magesa now qualifies to join the ranks of ancestors of the Church in Africa and the World Church.”

Tributes of Fr. Magesa have continued to fill the internet, with many social media users describing the late scholar as “an icon and a theological trailblazer” and “a theologian of all times”.

A Facebook user identified as Itumeleng Mothoagae has posted, “Prof Rev Fr Laurenti Magesa is an icon and a theological trailblazer. His theology has challenged us on how Africans have to take our contexts seriously. He has now bowed out of the theological stage. May your soul rest in eternal peace.”

Another Facebook user, Stan Chu Ilo, has described Fr. Magesa as his hero, mentor, and intellectual father.

“Today one of the greatest African theologians of all times, Fr. Professor Laurenti Magesa joined our ancestors. An iroko (African ancestral tree) has fallen and we all are in shock and in pain,” Stan Chu Ilo says in his Facebook post.

The Facebook user continues, “But Baba Magesa lives on in his numerous books and hundreds of articles all of which helped to define theology and Christian scholarship on the continent of Africa.”

“Baba Mwalimu Magesa, You are my hero, my mentor, my friend, my intellectual father, and my cheerleader,” Stan Chu Ilo says in his August 11 Facebook post.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.