Over 110 years have passed since Joseph Allamano, the founder of the Consolata Missionaries sent out his first missionaries from Italy to evangelize Kenya.
The pioneer Missionaries Fr Thomas Gays, Fr Phillipo Perlo, and Brothers Celeste Lusso and Luigi Falda arrived in Kenya from Turin on May 8, 1902 and conducted their first official Mass in Tuthu Muranga on June 29, 1902.
“The Missionaries came by ship and were received by the Bishop of the Spiritans, Holy Ghosts in Zanzibar from where they travelled to Nairobi then to Naivasha where they crossed the Aberdare on foot and arrived in Tuthu Muranga,” narrates Fr Hieronymus Joya, Regional Superior of Consolata missionaries in Kenya and Uganda.
The story of the Consolata missionaries in Kenya cannot be told without mention of Kikuyu paramount chief Karuri wa Gakure who received the first missionaries in Tuthu and assigned them a compound to stay in and to conduct their first Mass; under a Mugumo tree.
“…we sang the Magnificat (My soul glorifies the Lord…) it was the inauguration of the Consolata Mission established in the Kikuyu region, about two days walk from the foot of Mt Kenya at 2,050 metres above sea-level…”wrote Fr Filippo Perlo in his diary published in the September issue of La Conslolata magazine.
Today a beautiful memorial shrine stands at the point where this first mass was celebrated.
According to Fr Luigi Brambila, in charge of the Tuthu Shrine, the unique design of the Memorial Shrine was done by Italian architects during the 2002 Centenary Celebrations of evangelization by the Consolata Missionaries in Kenya.
“The design of the Shrine is like the trunk of a tree which has been cut and which is going to grow into a tree of faith, it symbolises faith.”
“Mugumo tree was a sacred tree among the Kikuyus; a place to offer sacrifices …so by providence the missionaries did their first mass under a sacred tree where other sacrifices had been offered,” said Fr. Brambila.
Fr Joya adds that the round shape of the shrine is traditionally African and signifies communion and togetherness.
“This place is significant to us the Consolata Missionaries for two reasons: this is the first place where the missionaries celebrated mass and shared with the local people in Kenya their faith through the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist and it is where the seed of faith was planted and two it was from this place after being taken care of by Chief Karuri that the missionaries started doing their work,” explained Fr Joya
From their humble beginnings under a Mugumo tree in Tuthu, Consolata missionaries have grown and worked in 29 parishes across Kenya and in Tanzania and Uganda.
Tuthu however was not conducive for proper evangelization, “the topography of the place, very poor road network and lack of means of transport made the missionaries move to Mathare in Nyeri which was flat land,” says Fr Brambila.
“Here they were able to build institutions and form a base that was like the head quarters of evangelization from where congregations departed to various parts of the country.”
From Nyeri the colonial powers then gave the Consolata missionaries permission to evangelize the Northern frontier (which covers most of North Eastern Kenya).
“The Holy Ghost took from Zanzibar, the Coast up to Nairobi while the Consolata were given the Northern frontier by the colonial powers which means Nyeri became the headquarters of all the Consolata Missionaries evangelization in the Northern frontier while Western Kenya was evangelized by the Mill Hill,” says Fr Brambila.
Today, 111 years old congregation has members from diverse cultures and continents around the world.
“The Congregation is intercultural and at the same time international as well as it is cohesive. It brings people from allover the world, “said Fr Joya the regional superior.
Over the years the leadership of the congregation has been changing hands from the expatriate missionaries to locals.
According to Fr Joya, “The number of expatriate missionaries from Europe and the Americas who have worked as missionaries is reducing due to diminishing vocations.”
“The Kenyan region which includes Uganda is producing more vocations more than any other region or country in the world, when the congregation was started the majority were Italians now they are Kenyans, “he revealed.
The Congregation has over the years attracted the admiration of Bishops who have been requesting their deployment in their various dioceses.
“I have been getting positive requests from dozen bishops requesting and appealing we go and deploy missionaries in their dioceses,” said Fr. Hieronymus Joya.
He attributed the positive requests to the significant impact they have had as missionaries.
The biggest challenge facing the Consolata missionaries just like many church institutions in Africa is the need to become self reliant considering that traditional funding which used to come from the Europe and the Americas has reduced due to hard economic times.
“Our Missionaries working in Isiolo, Maralal, Marsabit and lower Meru among the Tharaka demand a lot of financial resources as these are hardship areas,” said Fr Joya.
He however commended local Christians who are already chipping in to help the work of evangelization go on.
“We are trying to animate the Christians who can reciprocate to support the work of the missionaries and there is a positive response. We hope they will come to our aid and really support missionary work,” he said.
There is also a shortage of personnel due to aging of some of the congregation’s members.
“A good number are aged and a sizeable number having health challenges while the few young ones are not able to meet all the demands of missionary activities,” said Fr Joya.
The superior also expressed concern that although they enjoy having seminarians from all over Kenya, the congregation has never had a Masai seminarian.
Despite these challenges the Consolata Missionaries have achieved a lot in the over 100 years they have been in Kenya. They have evangelized in urban areas, city slums, rural Kenya, semi-arid areas and even among the nomadic communities in northern Kenya.
That seed of faith first planted in Tuthu has born fruits and today the Kenya has produced 2 bishops, 130 priests, 9 brothers and 76 seminarians within the Consolata missionaries from other parts of the world in the work of evangelization.
As the superior said in homily to pilgrims to Tuthu shrine on May 11, “Many have been educated through the help of the missionaries, the poor have been assisted to fend for themselves, the sick have found health in hospitals; schools, hospitals and Churches have been built by the missionaries. That is our testimony today.”
From Tuthu in Murang’a, the Consolata missionaries successfully opened missions in Ethiopia (1913), Tanzania (1919), Somalia (1924), Mozambique (1925), Great Britain (1936), Brazil (1937), Portugal (1943), Argentina (1946), USA (1946), Colombia (1947), Canada (1947), South Africa (1948), Spain (1955), Venezuela (1970), Congo DRC (1972), Uganda(1985), Korea (1988), and Ivory Coast (1995), Mongolia (2003), Djibouti (2004).