The two institutes which Comboni started were a direct result of a challenge which a Cardinal in charge of Propaganda Fide, the Department in Rome which dealt with the Missions, had put to Comboni when he expressed the desire to go back to Central Africa. The Cardinal told him: “Either bring a medical certificate that assures me that you will live for another 30 years or start an Institute”. Comboni founded what are now called the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus and the Comboni Missionary Sisters.
In 1872 he was made Pro Vicar Apostolic; although he was still a priest he had the full authority of a bishop in an area which extended from the south of Egypt to the Great Lakes, ie including Uganda. In 1877 he was appointed Bishop, Vicar Apostolic of the area. His Episcopal See was in Khartoum and from there he planned to visit Uganda. Gordon Pasha, the Governor of Khartoum invited him to visit it, telling him he would meet all the expenses of the trip provided Comboni started a dispensary in Wadelai on the west bank of the River Nile, north of present day Pakwach.
Due to drought and famine in north Sudan and a journey back to Italy for health reasons and the situation of his Institutes, Comboni could not take up the offer to reach Uganda. On 10th October 1881 he died of fatigue and fever in Khartoum at the age of 50. His dream of reaching the zone of the Great Lakes and Lake Nyasa died with him. From 1872 to 1881, 30 of his young missionaries died. From 1847 to 1881, there were 76 graves of missionaries who had died along the White Nile in their attempt to bring the Gospel message to the interior of Africa through the Nile Valley right up to Uganda.
These deaths had nothing to do with colonization; the missionaries died bringing Christ. Jesus had said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. (Mt.28:18-20). The Berlin Conference was held much later, in 1884.
Cardinal Lavigerie, who knew the vastness of the territory entrusted to Comboni, submitted a plan in 1878 for the evangelization of those territories which had not yet been reached by the missionaries of Comboni. Pope Leo XIII approved the plan and so the sons of Lavigerie took responsibility for the evangelization of the territories south, east and north of Lake Victoria. In the north, not only Uganda but also a large part of southern Sudan was taken from the territory entrusted to Bishop Comboni.
Fr Lourdel and Br Anans landed in Uganda on 17th February 1879. Fr Livinhac and others followed. The great adventure started and reached the milestone of the deaths of the Uganda Martyrs between 1885 and 1887.