ACCRA, Ghana — The late Jerry John Rawlings, the military leader who led Ghana from 1981 to 2001, once aspired to the priesthood.

Rawlings, 73, founder of Ghana’s opposition National Democratic Congress, died at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra Nov. 12. He was last seen in public Oct. 19, during the final funeral rites for his mother.

Rawlings, who once had the desire to aspire to the priesthood but later had to join the military, spoke as a a special guest at the 75th anniversary of a Catholic Church in Accra in February.

“I wanted to become a priest, not so much because I wanted to sing praises and worship God and other things, but I was looking for ways to deal with the injustices around us, as well as live a virtuous life,” he said. However, “I later developed love for piloting,” which made him eventually becoming a pilot, “even though my mother was not in agreement with the idea.”

Rawlings’ death brought the West African country of Ghana to a standstill, and messages of condolences continue to pour in from personalities in Ghana and abroad.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta described Rawlings as a servant-leader and “a true pan-Africanist who firmly believed and cared for the interests of the citizens of this continent.”

“We will forever be grateful for his efforts to open the eyes of Africans, especially on the management of their resources to develop their own countries,” Kenyatta said. “His leadership style transformed the minds of many people of this continent to see their possibilities in achieving the best with what they have.”

A statement from the Ghana bishops’ conference said, “We pray for strength and consolation for the wife, children, family and the nation as a whole and for the peaceful repose of his soul.”

Moments after the announcement of the death of Ghana’s longest-serving head of state, Ghanaians and African leaders began tweeting messages of condolences.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chadian chairman of the African Union Commission, tweeted, “Africa has lost a stalwart of pan-Africanism and a charismatic continental statesman.”

Ghanaians President Nana Akufo-Addo declared days of mourning through Nov. 21 during which all flags would fly at half-staff.

An analysis in The Washington Post described Rawlings as “a strongman and a populist. But he carried a moral fervor to root out corruption and bring government closer to the ordinary Ghanaian. He led two coups in Ghana yet also won two multiparty elections — a political resume that illustrates the tensions underlying Ghana’s democratic system.”