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Sister Stefani’s road to Sainthood: What you need to know


The beatification of Sister Irene Stefani of the Consolata Missionaries in Nyeri on Saturday is the second such major occasion in the over 100-year history of the Consolata Missionary Institute.

This International historical and spiritual ceremony will begin with a vigil mass on Friday, May 22nd at Gikondi Catholic Parish, where Sister Stefani worked since arriving in Kenya in 1915, before she died in 1930.

The actual ceremony will follow the next day Saturday, May 23rd at The Dedan Kimathi University of Science and Technology.

Popularly known as Nyina wa Tha (Nyaatha) which means a mother full of mercy, Sister Stefani died of bubonic plague, which she contracted while treating a patient identified as Ngare, in Gikondi area of Mukurweini in Nyeri.

And the fact that the National Government has taken over the preparation and the hosting of this event, the first of its kind on the African soil, is a clear indication of the magnitude and significance this occasion.

CANONIZATION

President Uhuru Kenyatta has declared the Beatification Ceremony a State event.

Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world are expected in Kenya to bear witness of this event, which will be presided by a Papal Legate, a personal appointee of Pope Francis The First.

Beatification and Canonization ceremonies are led by The Holy Father himself, or a person appointed specifically by the Pope. This goes to show the weight and  importance of such an event, the highest honour and  elevation granted to an individual by the Universal Church.

The number of local and international visitors expected at the event is a pointer to the importance and significance of such an occasion for the Universal Catholic Church.

These visitors, most of whom have arrived by now, are coming from all corners of the planet, particularly representing the areas and countries that the Consolata Missionaries have been working, or have ever worked in all parts of the world.

Archbishop-Peter-Kairo
Nyeri Catholic Archbishop Peter Kairo blesses the altar where the beatification of Sister Irene Stefani will take place at the Dedan Kimathi University on Saturday. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI

Regional Superiors of the Consolata Fathers and Sisters will arrive in droves from all Regions of the world, together with the Superior General based in Rome with his government.

Surviving members of the family of Sister Stefani, including her nieces and nephews are already in the country at the special invitation of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri and the leadership of the Consolata Missionaries.

The Congregation of the Causes of Sainthood at the Vatican, will also be represented in a big way, including the postulator of the Congregation Msgr. Pasqualetti Gortado, who is also a professor of Liturgy at the Pontifical Urbanian University at the Vatican. He is charged with the mission of delivering the approved Liturgical Beatification Prayers and Documents also known as Hymnos.

Founded by Blessed Joseph Allamano in 1900, the Consolata Missionary Institute (IMC)  has spread to all parts of the world in Evangelization and spreading the Gospel of Good News of Jesus Christ.

They first arrived in Kenya in 1902, where they founded the first mission in Tuthu in Murang’a. The first Mass was celebrated on the Feast of Saints  Peter and Paul on June 29th, 1902 at Tuthu where today, they have established a museum.

From Murang’a the Consolata Missionaries spread to the rest of the Central Region, opening up missions in Nyeri, Meru, Isiolo, Embu,  Marsabit, Mararal, Moyale, Mandera, Samburu, Loyangalani, Bargoi, Suguta Marmar,  and indeed the rest of Kenya, where they have their headquarters in Westlands Nairobi, that serves  as the Regional House for Kenya and Uganda.

BEATIFICATION CEREMONY

Today, some of the largest schools and hospitals in faraway  places such as Wamba and the entire Northern and Northern Eastern Kenya, were founded by the Consolata Missionaries. In fact, most of the North Eastern Kenya has been developed by the Consolata Missionaries, where they opened schools, hospitals, village polytechnics, water projects, and nursing training schools such as Nkubu Nursing training school and hospital in Meru,  Wamba training and Maternity hospital in Mararal ,  Kieni nursing and training hospital in Embu, the list is endless.

For the Beatification ceremony, a very large number of visitors are coming from Italy, where Sister Stefani was born. But many others will come from North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia, where the Consolata Missionaries have a significance presence. Many of these pilgrims will arrive from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Venezuela, where there is a large presence of Consolata Missionaries, including many priests and nuns from Kenya serving in those areas.

The miracle that elevated Sister Stefani to this status happened in Mozambique, and therefore a very large number of pilgrims are coming from that region, that also covers South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia. IMBISA, the Interregional Meetings of The Bishops Conference of Southern Africa, will certainly  send a large delegation of faithful, to join their sisters and brothers of the  AMECEA –  Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa.

The main celebrant will be Tanzania’s Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, the Archbishop of Dar-es-salam, who is also the President of the Symposium of the Catholic Bishops of Africa and Madagascar – SECAM, which is the Continental body of the Catholic Bishops in Africa.

If the first ever Consolata Missionary Beatification ceremony in Rome in October 1991, is anything to go by, then Kenyans and Africans in general are in geared  to witness a lifetime event, that will remain in their memories for a long time to come.

    Cardinals kiss the casket of late Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican following his beatification on May 1, 2011. PHOTO | AFP
Cardinals kiss the casket of late Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican following his beatification on May 1, 2011. PHOTO | AFP

I was in Rome at The Vatican on Saturday, October 7th 1991, when the founder of the Consolata Missionaries, Blessed Joseph Allamano was beatified by the late Pope John Paul II, now St Pope John Paul. It was a function I have never forgotten, nearly 25 years ago.

A large contingent of Kenyans, enough to fill in two 60-seater capacity buses flew out of Nairobi in the morning of Friday October 6th, 1991 to attend the ceremony, whose preparations had been going on for more than two years earlier. They came from Nyeri, Meru, Murang’a, Embu, Maralal, Samburu, Nakuru, Kisumu, Kiambu, Nairobi  and other places that the Consolata Missionaries had been working.

We arrived in Rome in the evening of the same day, and took two buses from Italy’s Fumicino International Airport headed to the city centre. I still remember Rev Father Angelo, who was working in Wamba at the time telling us as we boarded the buses “you have a chance to see Rome by night’. And indeed we enjoyed our journey into the famous Roman City.

It was my first trip ever to Rome and The Vatican – the dream of any Catholic Christian. I will never forget the experience of being at the Vatican, courtesy of Rev Padre Pietro Schiavinato, who was then The Editor of The Seed Magazine.

After the Beatification Ceremony, a few pilgrims selected from different parts of the world went to meet the Pope. I was in the front row, and was therefore able to shake his hands, where he gave me a small circular rosary, that I cherished all my life. I gave the gift to my late mother who used it all her life, until she died on May 1st 2011.

The Beatification ceremony was held at The Saint Peter Square, where thousands of pilgrims were gathered. We waved miniature flags with the Consolata Missionaries’ logo and colours. There was no more standing space at the large St. Peter Square, and those who came late had to stand along the streets and avenues outside The Vatican City.

The following Sunday, we went for the first mass of the beatification at the Basilica of Santa Maria Marggiore (St. Mary Major), whose chief celebrant was our very own, Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga (May He rest in Eternal Peace).

Cardinal Otunga, (whose  process of his beatification is currently going on) was together with some other Kenyans Bishops in Rome for the beatification ceremony and celebrated the entire Mass in Italian, including the homily.

John Cardinal Njue presides over the swearing-in ceremony of a team overseeing the beatification of Maurice Cardinal Otunga in May 2010 at the Holy Family Basilica, Nairobi.  PHOTO | DAILY NATION
John Cardinal Njue presides over the swearing-in ceremony of a team overseeing the beatification of Maurice Cardinal Otunga in May 2010 at the Holy Family Basilica, Nairobi. PHOTO | DAILY NATION

After the Mass, a few of us went to the Cardinal and told him, “Your Eminence, did you forget that there were Kenyans in the congregation, who did not understand a single word in Italian?’

And in his humour, Cardinal Otunga replied, “When you go to Rome, do like the Romans”. None of us had another question, and we all laughed.

We later flew to Turin and visited  Castelnouvo di asti, the birth place of Blessed Joseph Allamano. In Torino, we also visited the famous Basilica who has become the custodian of the famous “Shroud of Turin”, the cloth whose legend has it that it was the piece of cloth that wrapped the body of Jesus Christ when He was laid to the Tomb, after the Crucification.

We also went to the City of Assisi, the birth place of St Francis of Assisi, and  and later to Naples in the Southern part of Italy.

I remember a day before we flew out to Italy, I had attended mass on Thursday, October 4th, the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, at the St Jude’s Chapel along Rupta Road in Westlands, where the priest, a Franciscan missionary,  told us that  if one time, you happen to go to Italy, make it a point of travelling to the  city of Assisi.

PILGRIMAGE TO ITALY

Little did I know that the Itinerary to Italy, just the following day, included a trip to the city of Assisi, where St Francis was born and lived. We visited the Basilicas of St Francis and St. Clare who was his companion. While in Assisi, we also visited the garden of Thornless Roses.

Legend has it that one time, when St Francis was seeking penance, he threw himself into the roses, so that the thorns could pierce him for his repentance. But all the thorns in the roses miraculous fell off, creating the only garden in the world that has roses without thorns.

In Napoli, we went to the Basilica of Pompei, and met with the Cardinal, before returning to Kenya, after a two weeks pilgrimage to Italy.

That was the  trip to Italy to  mark and cerebrate  the Beatification of Blessed Joseph Allamano. The second such Beatification in the History of Consolata is taking place in Kenya this coming weekend, May 22 to May 23. It tells you how important such as event is, and particularly to the Consolata Missionaries, who will accord this occasion all the importance and significance it deserves. I can assure you, they have left nothing to chance. They have devoted all their resources, financial, material and human to this once in a lifetime event.

It is good that the National Government has taken over this preparations and hosting of this event because it will place Kenya on the International Map, and bring in thousands of Tourists  at a time when Kenya’s tourism sector is suffering due to bad publicity out there.

British Army soldiers rehearse how they will carry the remains of Sister Irene Stefani during the beatification at St Mary’s Boys on Saturday. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI
British Army soldiers rehearse how they will carry the remains of Sister Irene Stefani during the beatification at St Mary’s Boys on Saturday. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI

Many of these pilgrims will also want to visit other areas that have been evangelized by the Consolata missionaries, and see for themselves the magnificent Churches and Institutions build by the Consolata Missionaries.

One such centre is the Joseph Allamano Pastoral Institute in Marsabit  town which is a site to behold. Another one is the Resurrection Gardens in Karen, Nairobi, which is visited by thousands of people attending Retreats and prayers sessions.

The Consolata Missionaries have left an indelible mark in the cultural and socio-economic development of Kenya. Wherever they have been, and particularly in the marginalized areas of Northern and North Eastern Kenya, they have greatly improved the  lives of the people in those regions. In many cases, they will be the only ones providing humanitarian services to the marginalized zones of the pastoral communities in Samburu, Turkana, Maralal, Marsabit, and others.

Out of the 26 Bishops of the Catholic Dioceses of Kenya, The Consolata Missionaries boasts of Three Bishops and one retired. They are Bishop Peter Kihara of Marsabit, Bishop Anthony Ireri Mukobo of Isiolo, and Bishop Virgilio Pante of Mararal, and the Bishop Emiritus of Marsabit, Right Rev Ambrose Ravasi.

CONSOLATA PRIESTS AND NUNS

On the International scene, many Kenyan Consolata priests and Nuns are holding senior positions at the General Council of the government of Consolata Missionary Institute (IMC) in Rome, and other cities all over the world. They are animators of large Cathedrals in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well as heading Major Seminaries and Training Institutes of the Consolata Missionaries all over the world. Before being appointed Bishop, the then Father Mukobo was the Rector of the Consolata Major Seminary in Bogota, Columbia.

When I went to Brazil a few years ago, the Vice Rector of the Consolata Seminary in Sao Paolo was a Kenyan Consolata priest. Another Kenyan priest was in charge of a large Cathedral in El Salvador in the State of Bahia, while another sister was headmistress of a girl school in Brazil.

The first Consolata Mission in Mongolia was opened by a Kenyan priest, while others are serving in war torn places such as Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Congo DRC, Chad, Central African Republic,  Burkinafaso, and in remote villages such as The Amazons.

These are the Consolata Missionaries for you, whose confere is being beatified and declared Blessed on the Kenyan soil. And who knows, she could also be on her way to become the first of these missionaries to be Canonized.

Francis Peter Muroki is an MA student of Mass Communication at Daystar University and currently writing his final thesis in Development communication. For more than 20 years he has worked as The Editor of The Family Magazine at The Seed Magazine, Consolata Fathers. Email: [email protected]