The environment at St. John Seminary Rakwaro is serene with a lush green compound and neatly trimmed lawns.
Due to the tranquility, I almost fail to notice the students clad in their black and white uniforms quietly going about their activities.
“Here we are allergic to noise,” states Fr George Ochola, the Rector, St. John Seminary Rakwaro,the only minor seminary in the Catholic diocese of Homabay.
St. John’s Seminary Rakwaro is a single streamed school, with about 130 students. According to the Rector, the number is very advantageous because “we know each student individually and are able to trace their history, academic performance, and discipline.”
“With a small number we are able to provide for them adequately so that quality is not compromised plus it is easy to relate with them not just as teachers and students but as members of the same community,” he says adding that seminaries have a huge role to play in mitigating societal problems such as corruption and school strikes.
The institution located in Rongo, Migori County has been home to many priests and prominent leaders.
“Many young people who would wish to go to the major seminary and proceed to priesthood start from here, because it is here that we give them that initial formation,” Fr George says.
History has it that St. John’s Seminary Rakwaro was started as a catechism class by the Mill Hill Missionaries in 1949, before developing into a primary school. In 1956, Bishop Fredrick Hall then of the Diocese of Kisumu (1948 – 1963) appointed Fr Carol Wolf, a Mill Hill Missionary priest to start the seminary at Rakwaro.
“Rakwaro was an ideal location for the minor seminary since it was at a central place for the former larger diocese of Kisumu and thus easily accessible by everyone,” explains Fr Ochola.
Two priests including Fr Wolf who became the first Rector of the seminary and four local teachers were then tasked with the responsibility of forming 42 pioneer students: 22 boys from Misikhu Mission in Elgon Nyanza, 10 boys from Kibuye in Kisumu, and 10 local boys from Rakwaro.
From then on the minor seminary gained a reputation for its holistic and quality education and was coveted by students countrywide, but as Fr Ochola explains the chances to join were reserved for a chosen few that were very close to the Church.
“The selection process was rigorous, about 800 boys would come for interviews and only 50 would be selected,” he says.
“Parish priests knew particular young boys who were serving in the Church and would recommend them to Rakwaro, majorly from Kisii and Homa Bay, others students would also be selected from other dioceses to give it a national outlook.”
Bishop Emanuel Okombo of Kericho, Bishop Joseph Mairura of Kisii and Bishop Joseph Obanyi of Kakamega, politicians Chris Okemo and Musikari Kombo plus a good number of priests especially from the dioceses of Kisii and Homa-Bay trace their roots back to the minor seminary.
Sixty years after its establishment, the minor seminary has stuck to its core business of offering a unique human holistic formation alongside the government curriculum.
“There is need for a holistic formation so that a person is able to be productive and fit in the current society, and in the future they can be responsible and morally upright,” says Fr Ochola.
Prayer is an integral part of the minor seminary as evident by the chapel that is strategically located at the main entrance of the school compound and the school motto cum deo studere vincere est – with God the student conquers
“They pray four times a day; during morning prayers and Mass, during Angelus, in the evening and night prayers. That indicates that God is central in their lives,” says Fr Ochola adding that students are normally taken through liturgical preparations twice every week, and given all of them are Catholics it is important they be liturgically conscious.
Manual work is also part and parcel of the activities in most seminaries and St. John’s Seminary Rakwaro is no exception. Among other duties, the students work on the farm where they even rear pigs.
“A student should be able to do manual work lovingly and not grudgingly. We actively involve them in the farm to produce food that they later meet on their dining table, and this way we train them to love working with their own hands,” explains Fr Ocholla.
According to the Rector, young people are very energetic and that energy needs to be directed to a particular goal. Consequently, students at the seminary also engage in a lot of sporting activities.
“Sports are important because tomorrow you never know what a student can become, if sports can help him find somewhere to fit in life, so alongside his academic capability he’s going to add more value to the society,” Fr David Ochieng Obuya, Vice Rector St. John’s Rakwaro Seminary tells The Seed.
The holistic education however is achievable only through instilling high level of discipline, says Fr Obuya who is also in charge of the students’ welfare, especially on discipline.
“We train them to be responsible for their lives, the church and the larger society that they are almost joining. The manner in which they will impact the larger society depends on the formation they have undergone,” he says.
“The education in Rakwaro has made me to be who I am today,” Phillip Omollo, a former student of the minor seminary tells The Seed.
Omollo, a graduate of the University of Nairobi is today English and Literature teacher at Asumbi Girls High School says the way of life at his former school positively impacted on his personal life.
“I learned to do the right thing at the right time. The school taught me honesty and discipline which I am also transferring to my students today,” he says.
Omollo was in the class of 1997 which excelled in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Examinations which saw Rakwaro emerge the top school in Nyanza and number fifteen (15) nationally.
Unlike many schools today, the minor seminary has not been taken up by the excitement and emphasis of drilling students to only pass examination.
“I see the role of religion in nurturing an individual, it impacts internalized discipline. The problem in schools today is emphasizing on mean grade, the process notwithstanding but the education system should also look at values,” says Mr Mukobe who has taught in Rakwaro for over 20 years.
The school admits boys from a Catholic background and a baptismal card indicating the sacraments received is among the requirement during admission process.
However, not all who join go on to become priests– in fact in recent years only about 5 percent of the class proceeds to priesthood.
“I have seen my former students who have not necessarily become priests being dependable people in the society,” says Mr Mukobe.
“My explanation to that is biblical where Jesus said that ‘many are called but few are chosen’. The other reason is that formation to priesthood is very rigorous and many young people today love shortcuts which are not provided for in priesthood so they get tired very fast,” Fr Ocholla adds.
According to the rector, challenges that come with running a minor seminary today include low enrolment rates which he relates with the provision of school fee subsidies in public secondary schools which many parents today prefer.
“Public schools also enjoy the presence of teachers for a long time but in the seminary we have a high turnover rate,” he says adding that education has become very competitive and that young people are nowadays attracted by facilities such as the presence of school buses.
“A seminary such as this one forms young people in mind and at heart to be corrupt free, and so we will have a future of young people who will be relied on, and will not be talking about corruption anymore and instead we will be appreciating how people can be upright and serve for the common good of humanity,” he concludes.
THE SEED MAGAZINE