Canon John Wheatley Price writes:
BITTEN by a cobra while fetching food from his store, the Rt
Revd Geresom Ilukor, an outstanding African leader, and Bishop of
Soroti, Uganda, from 1976 to 2000, died on 1 September.
Born in 1935, into a humble home in rural Teso district, in
north-east Uganda, where the family grew their own food, he learned
to cultivate crops and herd goats. His bed was a cowhide on the
floor, and his mother taught him to read and write. He went to
primary school, aged nine, and then worked briefly as an accounts
Archdeacon Ken Prentice, an Australian CMS missionary,
encouraged him to sit an exam to train as a church teacher. After a
local vernacular course, he worked, without pay, in two parishes,
and then had a year's training in English at Buwalasi College, near
Mbale. In 1957, he married Lois, always a loyal tower of faith and
love. Seven of their children are alive today, and 23
grandchildren. After more work as a church teacher, he returned to
Buwalasi for ordination training.
He was made deacon in 1964 in St Philip's Pro-Cathedral, Ngora,
by Bishop Stephen Tomusange, the first Bishop of Soroti. The
diocese had been created in 1961, when the diocese of the Upper
Nile was divided into three. Geresom was curate in Serere under
Canon Ongola, one of the first Iteso to have been ordained, and he
was ordained priest in Soroti Cathedral in 1966, by Bishop Asanasio
In 1967, Geresom became Diocesan Treasurer. I was Diocesan
Secretary, and we worked together for five years. Our office was a
garage with electricity, three tables, a safe, filing cabinet, and
hand-worked duplicator and calculator; and we shared a clerk.
Geresom worked very hard, and with complete integrity, to deal with
many debts and problems; for Soroti was one of the poorest
When I became Archdeacon in 1972, he became both Secretary and
Treasurer. Later, the province wanted him as its treasurer, but
Bishop Maraka would not release him. CMS funded him for a year at
St John's, Nottingham.
One parish placement was at St Mary's, Marlborough, where Jeremy
Walsh was Rector. He remembers how Geresom would graciously
challenge the congregation about their lack of thankfulness for all
that God had given them. When Jeremy became Bishop of Tewkesbury,
he went three times to Teso to join Geresom on confirmation
safaris. St John's wanted Geresom to study for a degree, but Bishop
Maraka, believing himself terminally ill, recalled him after one
The diocese was divided into two, with Brian Herd, later
deported by Idi Amin, as the first Bishop of Karamoja, and Geresom
as Bishop of Soroti, embracing all the Teso district. They were
consecrated in St Paul's Cathedral, Namirembe, in 1976, by
Archbishop Janani Luwum, soon to be martyred. It was wonderful to
have been with Geresom for his ordination as deacon, priest, and
Iteso Christians had collected money for a personal gift for
him. He gave it to the diocese to train ten Readers for ordination.
He worked hard to increase the number of clergy, and to improve
their training and support. Amin had been in power for five years,
the army was ill-disciplined, the country's infrastructure was
crumbling, and inflation meant that many people's wages, if paid,
would not be sufficient. Many people had "disappeared". Others had
gone into exile, including three bishops.
Teso suffered very much: the theft of five million head of
cattle; Amin's army's retreat; the looting and pillaging, political
uncertainties, and insurgency. People were herded into camps; and
raids by the Lord's Resistance Army, other armed raids, and drought
and floods made the situation dire. No cattle meant great
The Iteso soon learned that their Bishop had not only integrity,
but energy, courage, and compassion. He faced death threats and was
arrested, with others, by a misguided officer. When a troubled area
was desperately hungry, and the authorities said that it was too
dangerous to travel, he loaded the diocesan lorry with food,
hoisted a large white flag with a cross on it, and drove to the
hungry people. "If they shoot at us, they will know whom they are
killing," he said. As a peacemaker, he often risked his life.
At one time, he and Lois were feeding more than 80 people at
their home. One evening, Lois told him that there was no food left.
They prayed, and the next morning found an anonymous gift given to
feed all those on their compound. Around the time of the 1988
Lambeth Conference, and at other times, several of us were able to
welcome Geresom and Lois into our homes to rest.
Archbishop Runcie and others, having checked how dire things
were, publicised their plight, and help began to arrive - not just
for food, but to help the community to re-establish itself and
become self-sufficient again. Neil Stedman, formerly Ngora Hospital
Manager, with others started what is now the Teso Development
Trust. Geresom refused to have a personal bank account, to make it
clear that no part of any donation would go into his pocket. The
Church doubled in size, and the provincial quota was always paid in
full and on time.
Geresom chaired boards of governors of many senior schools, two
hospitals, and a teacher-training college, and encouraged the
formation of two emerging universities.
After the very troubled years, he was much in demand in the
province. He chaired the Provincial Board of Finance for 15 years,
and was Dean of the Province for the five years before retirement.
He was called to help mend broken relationships, and he preached
and practised forgiveness.
A fellow bishop wanted to nominate him when an Archbishop had
retired. He declined. Three times he was invited to be the
ceremonial head of all Iteso, but he refused, believing that it
would compromise his Christian faith. He was invited to be
religious adviser to the President, but he declined. People in
authority knew that if they asked his advice, he might not say what
they wanted to hear. Geresom would graciously and fearlessly speak
Despite ill health in retirement, he continued to support his
people. He was revered by the Iteso of Uganda, Kenya, England, and
Canada. They knew him as a gentle man of wisdom, integrity,
courage, and compassion, who was approachable and forgiving. He had
a wonderful smile and an infectious laugh. Above all, they knew
that he wanted the best for and from them, loved them deeply, and
loved the Lord. He was more than Father of the Iteso. I think of
him, my friend of nearly 50 years, as the beloved "Patriarch of his