Inspired by his father’s beating, Catholic priest now has five degrees


Catholic priest John Mbai Muthee conducting a mass in a past ceremony. [Ndungu Gachane,Standard]

In 1988 when John Mbai Muthee had just finished his Form Six education, his father beat him up mercilessly. 

It wasn’t that he had failed his exams but had made a career choice that rubbed his father the wrong way. He had decided to become a priest but the beating didn't change his mind. 

“At that time, the priesthood was a preserve of average students. My parents could not believe that with my performance of 34 out of 36 points, I could join priesthood which does not pay. I maintained that it was my decision,” he says.

The idea that he couldn't also continue the family's lineage didn't also go down well with his family. 

He was brought up in extreme poverty with his family being forest squatters under the Shamba System known as Pelis (Plantation Establishment for Livelihood Improvement Scheme) where farmers were hosted inside forests and used to plant and tend forest plantations whilst growing their own crops among trees.

Forests squatters lived in cold, segregated, and poorest communities and Muthee was determined to study hard to liberate his family from the grip of this life.

He joined Nyarumoru Primary School which became extinct after the shamba system was scrapped in the 1980s.

“Life at the forest stations was survival for the fittest. Sanitation was extremely poor. We could compete for the toilets and at one time, I badly knocked my head on a door as we scrambled to get it first sustaining some injuries” he recalled.

Due to his excellent performance in primary school, Muthee was admitted to Chinga Boys High School in Othaya but his admission letter never arrived by post as they would those days.

It was only by the grace of some of his teachers that he eventually claimed his place in the school where he would become an active Catholic Action member assisting priests in conducting mass every Sunday. It was here that the bug to become a priest would bite him.

After completing his Kenya Advanced Certificate of Education in 1988 (KACE), Muthee made up his mind to join seminary but his decision did not auger well with his family.

They all thought that seminary was a preserve of students who did perform well in school.

“My choice was also a great motivator of wanting to become a scholar because of the resistance that arose due to the decision. I decided that God gives talents and bright minds and he deserved the best,” he adds.

The 52-year-old Catholic priest says at the seminary, he opted to pursue different courses.

Muthee was awarded his first Degree in Philosophy in 1991 from Urbaniana University, Rome. Afterward, he graduated with a Degree in Theology n 1996 from the same institution and later pursued a Degree in Sociology from Catholic University of Eastern Africa and graduated in 2013.

In 2015, Muthee graduated with Masters in Sociology and Criminology from the University of Nairobi, and upon completion, he enrolled at Moi University for a PhD in Criminology and graduated on August 13.

“When I compare my impact to the society between the times I have been serving in the mission centres and when I’m in schools, I realise that I do well mostly when with students,” he adds.

Dr Muthee who is the chaplain and a criminology lecturer at Karatina University believes that to mold a moral society free of social vices such as corruption, priests should go back to school and enroll in various courses and use the knowledge in impacting the congregation they minister to.

The scholar says that as currently constituted, the education sector is structured on the desire for performance but not Godliness.

He says having God as an integral part of the system is an important tool that would enhance social and moral fabric.

“To get a breakthrough we need to have many priests in every discipline, be at education, medical and also in government departments,” Muthee explains.

Muthee has also opened the first home for the aged in Nyeri County.

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