Aoko: A charismatic but rebel prophetess behind church walkout
Her life was shrouded in controversy and mystery. Aged only 20 in 1963, she caused havoc in the Roman Catholic Church in Nyanza when she led a mass walkout into a new church whose fame was spreading like bush fire.
Prophetess Gaudencia Aoko, who died in Kisumu two weeks ago aged 75, is one of the few radical spiritual leaders who founded the Legio Maria Church, which has today spread across East and Central Africa.
She was charismatic, daring and possessed. She fiercely fought for gender equality in the church and quickly ran into trouble when she insisted that a woman must be allowed to be ordained just like men.
No one could stop the young prophetess in spreading the gospel of the new church which to date remains one of the most dramatic religious formations across Africa.
Even in death, Aoko’s life remained shrouded in controversy and mystery.
Those who claim to know her well, like former Education Assistant Minister and two time MP for Muhoroni - Prof Ayiecho Olweny - claim she was the real founder of Legio Maria, and that the other leaders only took over after she was ex-communicated for demanding changes in the church to allow women to be ordained.
“Aoko is the bona-fide founder of Legio Maria. I have known her for many years. She was shoved aside because she was tough and radical,” said Prof Olweny.
He added: “In fact from what we know she was the one who baptised the late Messiah Melkio Ondeto, widely believed to be the church’s founder and spiritual leader.
Prof Olweny said the people of Muhoroni had lost a great woman, who he said remained a pillar in society. The former MP said Aoko hailed from Wangaya community, near Awasi Township. “In 1963 when Aoko baptised Ondeto, I was about 10 years old. She was set for a bigger role in Legio Maria, when she was toppled and decided to form her own church. Her job was to baptise and convert people from Catholic and other denominations to Legio,” Prof Olweny told The Sunday Standard
Olweny said Aoko also baptised former Assistant Minister Stephen Ondiek and his family.
But Senior Legio Maria leaders have laughed off Prof Olweny’s claims, saying Aoko did not found the church.
Although they acknowledge her as a powerful and brave spiritual leader, they said it was Ondeto and Mama Bikira Maria - another shadowy spiritual leader - who founded Legio Maria.
Rev Dismass Kagose, a principal assistant to Pope Romanus Ongombe who lives at the church’s Got Kwer Calvary discounts reports that Aoko was the sole founder of Legio Maria.
“It is true she was very charismatic but she was not the founder. She was just one of the senior leaders in the formative years of Legio Maria in 1963,” said Rev Kagose.
The official Legio Maria website gives a detailed account of Gaudencia Aoko and says contrary to beliefs in some quarters, she never founded the church nor did she baptise Messiah Ondeto.
The website recognises Aoko as one of the worthiest prophets of Legio Maria. It says she was was ordained nun in 1964 but quickly stoked controversy with her aggressive leadership style. According to the church, Aoko joined Legio Maria in 1963, one year after it had been founded.
“Officially, Simeo Melkio (Messiah) and Mama Maria met in 1962 and Legio Maria was founded a few weeks later on March 9, 1962,” says the church in its website.
It adds: “Nevertheless, Gaudencia Aoko’s efforts in the development of the new movement must be recognised because she played a huge role in converting many people and spreading the movement.”
It is reported that Aoko ran into problems with the church in 1966 after Apostolic Council wrote the Legio Maria constitution and reserved priesthood to males only. The website blames her pride for her fall.
When the Apostolic Council sat, Aoko was demoted from nun to sister general. This made her even more furious and she decided to take the matter to court.
When she lost the battles, she decided to start her denomination in 1968. She founded Legion of Mary Orthodox Church in 1968, but the government declined to register the church.
At a round the same time, tragedy hit Aoko, when she lost two children all in one day following a mysterious disease.
In 1969, Aoko founded the Holy Church of Africa, but again the church was not registered. In 1971, she was allowed to register a church called the Communion Church, where she worshiped until her death.
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Prophetess Gaudencia AokoLegio Maria ChurchRoman Catholic ChurchNyanza