First Catholic Priest in Sierra Leone and Pioneer Native Bishop Dies Aged 91

Late Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Henry Ganda, the first Priest in Sierra Leone who passed on Wednesday 9 August 2023. Credit: Radio Maria Sierra Leone

The Catholic Church in Sierra Leone is mourning the passing on of Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Henry Ganda, the first Priest in the West African country.

Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles of the Archdiocese of Freetown announced that his predecessor died on the morning of Wednesday, August 9 at a hospital where he was undergoing treatment.

“With deep regret, I announce the death of our beloved Archbishop Emeritus, Most Reverend Joseph Henry Ganda. The sad event took place this morning at the Choithrams Hospital in Freetown. May his soul rest in peace,” Archbishop Tamba said in a Facebook post.

In an earlier update on the health situation of Archbishop Ganda, Caritas Freetown Executive Director Fr. Peter Konteh had appealed for prayers for the Archbishop who he described as “a pillar of the Catholic Church in Sierra Leone”, disclosing that he was battling an illness.

“I am writing to request your prayers for Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Henry Ganda, who is currently hospitalized here in Freetown. As we all know, Archbishop Ganda has been a pillar of the Catholic Church in Sierra Leone, and his contributions to our spiritual growth and development cannot be overstated,” Fr. Konteh said in the May 26 note.


He added, “As he battles his illness, I ask that we all come together and pray fervently for his speedy recovery.”

Born on 22 March 1932, Archbishop Ganda goes down the history of Catholicism in Sierra Leone as the first native Priest in the country. He proceeded to become the first native Bishop of the Diocese of Kenema in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone.

The late Archbishop is the first fruit of the efforts of early Catholic missionaries who sought to evangelize the country amid stiff competition from Protestants.

In a recent tour of Sierra Leone, ACI Africa learned of the important role that Archbishop Ganda played in the growth of the Catholic Church in the country at a time when Protestantism blossomed. Attempts by Holy Ghost missionaries who arrived to evangelize the country in the eighteenth century bore negligible fruits, and in the early years of the nineteenth century, Sierra Leone still didn't have a single native Priest. 

Young Ganda was the first. And he opened the door for many other young men who expressed a desire to serve the people of God in the country as Catholic Priests. Many of those he ordained, including Fr. Konteh, threw themselves at the forefront of the 11-year Sierra Leonean civil war that ended in 2003. Young Priests at the time were fearless, dodging bullets to deliver food to IDP camps, and burying the dead. They also put their lives on the line when they preached against the junta.

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He was born in Bo District where he served during Mass. Stories are told of how sickly and frail he was, that he spent most of his childhood years in hospital. Because of his frailty, he is said to have been baptized twice; first as an infant when his parents thought he was going to die.

Young Ganda entered Bigard Memorial Seminary in Enugu Nigeria and was ordained a Priest in April 1961, the same month Sierra Leone gained independence.

On 23 November 1980, Ganda was installed as the first native-born Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Freetown in Sierra Leone. He retired on 2 March 2007, after over three decades of service in the Catholic Church. He was replaced in the Archdiocese of Freetown by Archbishop Tamba.

Tributes to the late Archbishop Emeritus have started pouring in, with Francis Lebbie saying on Facebook, “Your Grace Emeritus you will forever be missed. In fact, your name is synonymous to the Catholic mission in Sierra Leone.”

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.