Where retired nuns find peace and quiet after service to God

Sisters at the Little Sisters of St Francis Lady Jacoba Convent, a home for elderly nuns on March 26, 2019. (Kennedy Gachuhi, Standard)

Like everybody else, nuns too hang their boots after spending their youthful years serving mankind and leading a life of celibacy. For years, elderly nuns have lived with the youthful ones in designated places near the church. However, the frail nuns lack people to take care of them full time.

“The youthful nuns have professional responsibilities in the medical, educational and social fields.

These are busy engagements and they may not have time to spend with the aging ones,” says Sister Priscilla Wairimu, administrator of Little Sisters of St Francis Lady Jacoba Convent.

As a result, the Catholic Church, through the Nakuru Diocese has set up a home at Barnabas estate along the Nakuru-Nairobi Highway, where retired nuns can spend their sunset years. Here, the church provides everything even as they continue to serve where possible.

“The retirement age for a nun is 70. However, one may be retired earlier depending on their health and strength to continue with active service,” says Sr Priscilla. During a visit to the home, Sr Priscilla introduces us to five elderly Fransiscan sisters who joined the vocation in the 1940s.

Serve humanity

“These women sacrificed their social lives to serve humanity in different capacities,” says Sr Priscilla.

The sixth nun, Sr Mary Didacus, 80 is bedridden. “God is doing miracles for me. I am getting stronger by the day and will be off this bed soon,” she says.

Sr Priscilla is assisted by two other nuns, Sr Mary Muthoni and Sr Schola Wanjiru in taking care of the elderly nuns. An elderly nun died last year and another earlier this year due to age-related illnesses. What is striking about the nuns who joined the vocation when they were barely out of her teens is their willingness to spend time with people sharing life experiences.

The eldest is 92-year-old Sr Mary Dolorosa, whose second name refers to a processional route in the old city of Jerusalem which Jesus is believed to have taken on his way to crucifixion.

“I spent most of my life in Uganda, where I also doubled up as a teacher. I rose to become regional superior before my retirement,” says Sr Dolorosa.

Sr Mary Alexandrina Moraa, 86, became a nun at only 16 after joining the missionaries in Uganda in 1949.

“I finished training as a teacher in 1954. I taught in Ugandan schools until 1967 when I was transferred to Elburgon, Nakuru for missionary work,” she says. Apart from being a teacher, Sr Alexandrina is also a professional counselor. Sr Augustine Wanjiku alias Sr Gus, turned 80 in April. She recalls going through numerous challenges during Kenya’s fight for independence.

“I was a learner at St Francis School, Mang’u, when I met with Mother Kevin, founder of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa who had started a congregation in Uganda. Her works inspired me to join her after finishing school in 1955,” she says. As the struggle for independence intensified, her name Wanjiku betrayed her as a member of the Kikuyu community who were by default termed as members of the Mau Mau movement.

“We would be harassed and our fingerprints taken. To them, being a Kikuyu meant I was a spy for the freedom fighters. This forced me to substitute Wanjiku with Gus - coined from my English name - whenever I met the authorities,” she says.

Sr Bernadette Ateya, 76, a teacher and social worker joined the vocation at 30. She worked closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “After serving as a teacher for more than a decade Cardinal Michael Otunga appointed me to work with the refugee agency where I met refugees from Sudan, Congo and Rwanda in Nairobi,” she says.

Eight-year-old Sr Venantius Munee is a retired nurse and midwife, having been trained into the profession by missionaries she joined in Uganda in 1958.

“I came back to Kenya in 2002 and was posted to Kimangau Parish in Kitui.

I was later transferred to Kasarani in Nairobi where I served as Catholic Women Association matron,” says Sr Munee.

And after leading such extraordinary lives in the church canopy the nuns agree that their retirement does not mean they are tired.

Their diary is dotted with activities and their time is dedicated to praying for the church and the country. “They wake up early for mass. Then they take a walk around the home’s compound and exercise for fitness. If there are visitors they spend time with them before saying further prayers,” says Sr Priscilla.

They nuns are exposed to the outside world and watch the evening news to know what is happening outside the facility’s walls.

They are also granted time to visit their families whenever there is pressing need and can also be visited.

Father Moses Muraya says the nuns are a source of great counsel. “We are living at a time where crimes of passion are rampant and depression is on the rise. These sisters are professional counselors and we should make use of them,” he says.