Nairobi (Agenzia Fides)- “This is a tribute to all the Sisters who worked in Kenya, who taught, nursed and were present in many vital and creative ways” writes Sr Maggi Kennedy of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa MSOLA, known as the “White Sisters", in a report sent to Fides on centenary celebrations for the Congregation's presence in Kenya.
“On 21 April 1907- Sr Maggi recalls- the first six Sisters reached the coast of Mombasa. Bishop Emile Allgeyer, then Vicar Apostolic of Zanzibar, had asked the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa to open a mission at Mangu, Thika, 50 km north of Nairobi”.
On the 6 June 1907, the Sisters arrived at Mangu, Thika - the first MSOLA community in Kenya. They bought land on which they planted coffee and fruit trees to provide finance for their new projects. The trees flourished in the ideal climate. The Sisters learned Kikuyu and the local customs. The beginnings were hard. They began to visit people and to teach Catechism. A maternity, dispensary, orphanage and school where basic skills were taught were established. The school developed into Madaraka Primary School with Maria Goretti Hostel. While education was provided for Africans, Asians and Europeans in Kenya, little was done for children of intercultural families and these children were often marginalised. The Sisters therefore started a boarding school for these children from all three Eastern African countries.
The White Sisters opened communities and schools in other parts of Kenya. The work of the Sisters was so appreciated that in 1955 the Archbishop of Nairobi, Archbishop McCarthy, asked the White Sisters to help form a new local religious order the Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary today a congregation of pontifical right and present in Kenya, in Jamaica, West Indies and the United States.
In 100 years of fruitful presence in Kenya, the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa opened many schools and charity centres many of which are today run by local congregations.
“At the moment in Kenya, we are present only in Nairobi, with four communities” says Sister Maggi. The White Sisters work among the people in the slums of the capital, assisting those most in need, women and children especially.
The Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa were founded in 1869 by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, Archbishop of Algiers. They were quickly nicknamed “White Sisters” because of their white habit which was like the clothing of the Arab women. The Cardinal saw the importance of women apostles among women and recognised their vital role in the transformation of society. The Cardinal wanted his missionaries to be as close to the people as possible eating their food knowing and respect the culture knowing the language and respecting different faiths. Lavigerie was a visionary, a man with an open mind. He longed for Universal Church where all could be brothers and sisters and adapted to the times. He was prominent in the movement for the abolition of the slave trade. His action was important for the spread of the Gospel on the African continent. This pioneering thrust marks his missionaries even today. Today the congregation has 900 Sisters coming from 29 different countries.
There are 43 communities in Africa, 74 in Europe, 15 in Canada, United States and Mexico, with formation houses in Burkina Faso and Kenya. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 3/9/2007 righe 35 parole 406)