Kenya

It is probable that the Franciscans arrived in Kenya with the Portuguese colonisers, who visited the coast of the region from 1498 to 1698 and had built the famous “Fort Jesus” at Mombassa. The English Friar Br. Killian Holland was already a missionary in Kenya before the “Africa Project”, where he worked with the nomadic tribe of the Maasai. It was he who, later, found and acquired a House in Westlands, Nairobi, which, restructured and made bigger, is the Provincial Curia today.

The first Friars of the “Africa Project” arrived in Nairobi on 19th April 1983, a day late, and were welcomed by Br. Killian. These were: Gualberto Gismondi (Italian), Daniel Hannaford (New Zealander), Heinrich Gockel and Hermann Borg (Germans), Conrad Schomake and Finian Riley (Americans), Francisco Oliveira (Brazilian).

During the early days, the Friars organised all what was necessary to remain in the country, they acquired things and one of them had the first experience of being robbed in the “Matatu” (small bus). They visited Cardinal Otunga, who advised them cordially about how to live their mission in Kenya: “serve the people of God – he said - especially through spiritual direction of the seminarians, organising spiritual retreats and parish missions for the laity, helping in the parishes at week-ends, making yourselves available to the communities of Sisters for Mass, confession and conferences, and helping, in general, to reinforce the faith of all”.

At the end of April Br. Greg Tajchman and Joseph Ehrhardt arrived from Rome. They should have continued on to Nigeria, but, not being able to enter that country, they stayed in Uganda. Their project was to begin two fraternities, but in the meantime they began to study Kiswahili, the African language spoken in Kenya.

Westlands - Nairobi

After some months of adaptation and organisation, the fraternity of Nairobi was formed with the following Friars: Br. Gualberto Gismondi, Vicar of the new Vicariate; Br. Greg Tajchman, vicar; Br. Heinrich Gockel, Guardian and Bursar of the Vicariate; Br. John Roberts, secretary; Br. Daniel Hannaford.

This was the central House of the Vicariate, where the other Friars often came for meetings, shopping, visits to the doctors and also to rest a little. The house, situated in one of the two richest districts of Nairobi was too luxurious for some and, therefore, not in conformity with Franciscan simplicity and minority. But later, all or almost all understood that the most important thing was the style of life of the Friars and that it was, therefore, important to have a place in the Vicariate where the Friars could meet and recover their energies in order to continue their mission.

By following the advice of the Cardinal and Nairobi being an African megalopolis with very many needs the Friars did not have difficulties in finding their field of mission: the animation of the young; spiritual accompaniment of the Sisters and religious, as well as of the priests and catechists; visits to the sick, help to the poor, and others.

During the meeting of the Council of March 1985, it was decided to expand the House, it having become insufficient, with the building of an extension which was finished towards the end of  1986. Two years later the novitiate was opened in Bahati, to where the Provincial House was transferred for a time. The House in Nairobi, which was always considered to be the Provincial Curia, carried out the service of hospitality for all the Friars of the Vice-Province.

Subukia

Main Parish Church
Main Parish church.

the friary chapel
The friary chapel.

friary in Subukia
Friary in Subukia.

At the beginning, the Friars had accepted to open a second fraternity in the Diocese of Nyeri, at the request of the local Bishop. But, when they understood that the Bishop wanted professors for the Seminary, the Friars looked elsewhere. Among the many Bishops who had invited them, Mons. Raphael Ndingi, of Nakuru, offered them the parish of Subukia, where the Pastor at that time – P. John Jones – had also invited them. On the 31st May 1983, Brs. Heinrich, Finian, Francisco and Joe made their first visit to the diocese and the immense parish of Subukia.

The Bishop offered two possibilities: to found a new parish in Lower Subukia, or to accept a parish in the city of Nakuru. The Friars preferred to go to Subukia. At the beginning of July of that year, Brs. Finian, Hermann, Francisco and Joe went to Subukia, where they remained about four months during which time Fr. John Jones introduced them to parish work in the country-side of Kenya. At the end of November 1983 they went to Lower Subukia, where they found an old abandoned farm which they could repair and live in. Br. Joe Ehrahrdt became the first Pastor and, in February 1984, Br. Louis Taishi joined the fraternity.

St Francis clinicSt Francis clinic
St. Francis-clinic meant to serve the poor and needy.

A little later they opened a clinic for the care of the sick, which was entrusted to the Medical Missionaries of Mary who arrived in May and installed themselves in the house already prepared by the Friars. These found another old farm in the neighbourhood, which they repaired and inhabited. The Parish was officially erected on 17th September 1984: it had a main church with 12 chapels and about 40 basic Christian communities. Br. Ulrich Gellert, who came from Tanzania, became pastor in December 1985.

Friars with childrenFriars with children
Friars with disabled children in the small home in our parish.

The Friars had first of all to try to change the idea which the people had of the white-man, a rich landowner and authoritarian coloniser, by making themselves neighbours and like the people, even through manual labour. They then carried out a good promotion of vocations by contacting different young aspirants to the Franciscan life, but they did not open the Postulancy in the first three years. They were also involved with the promotion of the Secular Franciscan Order, with the young of the diocese (Br. Hermann), in the field of Justice and Peace (Br. Joe) as well as in collaboration with lay volunteers. Two Mexican women, Teresa Pena and Olga Munoz, arrived in Subukia between August and December 1985 and remained there until the end of 1988.

In August 1991, Br. Joe Ehrhardt, who always worked in defence of the poor against injustice, was arrested and imprisoned, accused of anti-government activity by some local leaders annoyed by his work. He was released a few days later.

Friars strive to sustain themselves and the poor they work with-a step towards self Reliance:

Friar Josephat gardening
Friar Josephat gardening.

turkeys, chickens and ducks
Turkeys, chickens and ducks.

Rabbits
Rabbits.


Nakuru

There were two Japanese among the first group of volunteers, Br. Louis Taishi and Br. Joseph Sato, who went to England to learn English. Having arrived in Africa they also studied Kiswahili and then Louis was sent to Subukia and Joseph to Tanzania. But they were not happy. They wished to live as “little brothers” on the periphery of some city. A little later they were given permission to set up in a small house in the Ronda district of Nakuru, where they arrived on the 15th November 1985.

They only had two rooms, just like every family: they adapted one to be the chapel and they used the other for their private life (kitchen, living- and bed-room). They established great relationships with the people of the district, who came to them to pray, to talk and to share the joys and sorrows of life. The pastor of the place was also pleased to have such Friars, who also helped in the parish, and the Bishop became a Franciscan Tertiary. This Franciscan presence lasted ten years and was then closed.

Projects underway meant to improve lives of the people:

Pastoral Centre
Pastoral Centre under construction.

Kindergarten
Kindergarten - just started.