In 1990 the Irish Augustinian mission in Nigeria (now the Province of Nigeria) accepted parishes at BabaDogo and Ishiara in Kenya, and in 1995 they also had established another Augustinian community in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, to prepare African candidates for the Augustinian Order.
But this was not the first Augustinian contact with Kenya. Between 1572 and 1834 the Portuguese Augustinians followed their country's colonial routes and preached the Christian message over a vast expanse of the globe. In 1597 Augustinian friars were sent to Mombasa (Kenya) by their superior Alexis Meneses O.S.A., Archbishop of Goa, India. And on 21 August 1631 four Augustinians and 152 lay Christians were killed in Mombasa by the Muslim, formerly Christian, sultan. For Augnet's page about this, click here.
Baba Dogo Parish, Nairobi
BabaDogo is a parish which in 1990 the Archdiocese of Nairobi carved out of an existing parish and asked the Augustinians to conduct. It is actually a cluster of fifteen large villages in Kasarani Constituency. It is in a poor and densely populated area of the city. There are nineteen separate small Christian communities within the parish. The expenses of both the BabaDogo Parish and the Formation house elsewhere in Nairobi are funded by the Augustinian Curia in Rome.
Some Sisters had previously conducted a medical clinic there. The Augustinians inherited their convent and also a nursery and primary school. Initially the school hall also served as a parish church, but was inadequate for this purpose. A parish church (see photo nearby) was constructed in July 2003; it was solemnly dedicated on 21 December 2003 by Most Rev. Giovanni Tonucci, the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya, who encouraged the parish to continue to educate the poor people. He also wished them well as they set out to build a new Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre for victims of AIDS and tuberculosis.
As well, the BabaDogo Parish is "twinned" with the Augustinian Parish of Clare in southern England. A parishioner from Clare Parish has visited Baba Dogo five times. He describes his experiences; the ceremonies included seventy baptisms during the Easter Vigil. He visited Blessed Theresa School, which began in a house in the slums and is now a thriving school run by SACNET, a local organisation for those affected and infected by AIDS. He accompanied a local priest to a home for street children, and was able to give them clothes and football boots. He spent a day with a man from ACREF (African Cultural Research and Educational Foundation). This organisation goes into schools and uses song and dance to heighten social awareness. They sponsor some students and help prepare them for work and college.
He also had the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of previous visits. On his first visit he donated two sewing machines, and then two more later. The women concerned have disabled children, and their seamstress work enable them get training in massaging their disabled children. They now form a group of eighty women. He said: “I mention these ventures to show the ingenuity and purpose of these people. They are not waiting with their hands out for our aid. They are dynamic and resourceful and have a belief that they can make a difference. Of course any support will be gratefully received, but they carry on regardless.”
The Augustinian Parish of the Sacred Heart is located in the Baba Dogo section of Nairobi, Kenya, and is one of the poorest parts of the city. The parish sponsors a primary school where 857 students learn in an overcrowded "second hand" wooden building. In July 2004, a building was thoroughly renovated for use as classrooms for the elementary school classrooms. At that time thirty-one young German volunteers teamed up with thirty-one young Kenyans from the BabaDogo Parish. They came together to dig ditches, mix cement, carry rocks and stones, and under the practiced eye of capable technicians build walls and put on roofing of the new BabaDogo elementary schoolhouse. The students cooked and ate together, had fun and prayed together, and as a result left a lasting reminder of the love of God for the current and future students of the BabaDogo elementary school. While it takes two hands to clap it takes one heart to pray; we pray in gratitude for this clear demonstration of unity of minds and hearts which allowed this great work to come to completion.
During the time he was the pastor of BabaDogo Parish until January 2006, Michael Boni O.S.A. had commissioned an architect to draw up a project for school classrooms. The plan was to alter the original church building, which was no longer used for worship since the inauguration of the new parish church in 2004. During Lent 2007 the Order of Saint Augustine in the Midwest of the U.S.A. raised funds to build additional classrooms at the parish school at Baba Dogo. Hoping to raise $12,000, they in fact received $24,000, which was enough to pay for two classrooms in the six-room addition being planned. In October 2008 the then-Prior General Robert Prevost, O.S.A., world leader of the Augustinian Order, dedicated this seven-classroom addition to BabaDogo Sacred Heart School on 12 October 2008.
Inscribed on the plaque attached to the building are the words: “BabaDogo Sacred Heart School was refurbished in 2004 with help from the Youth of the Archdiocese of Berlin, Germany. It was expanded in 2008 with donations from Santander Bank of Spain, Manos Unidas, Anos Unidas, Apurimac of Rome, Clare Priory of England, and the Augustinians of U.S.A. and Ireland.” BabaDogo Sacred Heart Parish School has since then increased its enrolment to over 900, comprising an equal number of boys and girls. When it was started in 1992, many children of the area were not attending school. Besides the promise of a good education, the school's feeding program attracts many children and helps to ensure regular attendance and student achievement.
The BabaDogo parish is bursting with life! On Sunday, 17 April 2005, three were ordained to the deaconate on their way to priesthood, two of whom were the first Kenyan Augustinians to be ordained. The Archbishop of Nairobi performed the ceremony, with the Augustinian Prior General present. There were 3,000 people inside the church, and another 2,000 outside. The night beforehand, the church precinct was busy with decorators, people preparing food for the deacons and their families, an AIDS support group meeting, a youth seminar, a meeting of Eucharistic ministers, a choir practice and a prayer meeting.
Parish of Ishiara
In 1990 Augustinians from Nigeria took responsibility for the parish of Ishiara, Kenya. Ishiara is four hours from Nairobi by motor vehicle. The last hour is on a very rough dirt track. The local people are mostly subsistence farmers. It is located in a semi-arid area, and famines (serious shortages of food) are frequent. At such times, for many months the parish has to spend time and resources in just helping to feed the local people. In early 2006 there is a serious drought problem in East Africa. This has affected many people, farms and animals in Kenya. The Augustinians at Ishiara spent a lot of time trying to organise the feeding of many hungry people in the parish. They have received a sizeable grant of money from the Irish Bishops NGO (non-governmental organisation) called Trócaire, which is the Irish word for MERCY.
The Augustinian Parish of Ishiara has eighteen smaller centres, some of them twenty kilometres away, where Catholics gather each Sunday. talian Augustinian contemplative nuns from Mira Porte, Venice (Italy) initiated an Augustinian return to Kenya when they established a monastery at Ishiara, near Embu, in 1977. They soon accepted contemplative vocations from among local Kenyan women. In February 2003, there are twenty Kenyan contemplative nuns at Ishiara, and a further six in Italy and Spain. Augustinian Sisters from Spain came to Ishiara in 1984 and then in 1986 began a secondary school in the town, initially staffed by five Spanish and two Kenyan sisters. Saint Monica's Girls School soon enrolled 325 girls. They board at Saint Monica's House (see photo above) at the school because travelling distances there are very large.
Augustinian Formation in Kenya
The preparation locally of Kenyans and other Africans for Augustinian religious life and for priesthood has shown encouraging growth since its beginning in 1995. Some years ago, Cardinal Otunga, on behalf of the Kenyan bishops' conference, requested the international leader (Prior General) of the Order of Saint Augustine accept Kenyan candidates to the Order. In 1995 the (then) Vice-Province (now a Province) of Nigeria accepted the challenge of re-establishing the Order in Kenya. By August 2003, there were twenty-seven Kenyan students (in 2003 eleven in theology and sixteen in philosophy) and four Congolese seminarians there. After 2003 Kenya was no longer a delegation within the Augustinian Province of Nigeria but became directly under the Augustinian General Curia in Rome.
The previous Augustinian Curia in Rome had seen it wise to purchase a second site for Augustinian formation in Nairobi. This was further prompted by the goal of having Nairobi become a centre for Augustinian candidates from many parts of Africa for the study of theology. (See photo above.) This second site is a strategic plot of land in the south-western section of Nairobi. Five acres in area, it is adjacent to the Catholic University and to Tangaza (a formation centre run by the Religious Orders of Kenya, which number over sixty congregations in total).
In February 2004, eighteen Augustinian simply-professed theology students from Kenya and Congo (11 Kenyan, 7 Congolese) had lived in a house in Nairobi that had been rented from the Capuchins. The rented Capuchin house was required so that the present Augustinian residence in the north-eastern part of Nairobi cpild make room for a new intake of Augustinian students. In January 2005, Saint Augustine's Friary (convento) was built and opened there for Augustinian students of theology. These Augustinian projects in Kenya continue to grow.Two more parishes in 2017 The delegation of St Rita, Order of St Augustine in Kenya has opened two new parish communities this year. The first parish is in Meru Diocese near Mount Kenya. The name of the parish is Holy family Mbwiru catholic parish. This parish was canonically established on 1st January 2017.
The second parish is in Kericho diocese. The name of the parish is St Luke’s Kebeneti Catholic Parish. This parish was established 18th October 2009. Augustinians officially took over the parish on 29th January 2017.
In Kenya now the Augustinians have six parish communities, one postulancy house and an international house of theology. The mustard seed of faith planted in 1597 by Augustinian friars from Portugal and watered by the Irish and Nigerian friars from 1990 is now taking shape and becoming a big tree where people of God can find a shelter.
Catholic Church in Kenya. Official website. http://www.gcatholic.org/dioceses/country/KE.htm
Kenya. A starting point for your exploration of Kenya: Country facts, links, news and photos. Photos by Jacob Crawfurd. http://crawfurd.dk/africa/kenya.htm