A sombre mood has engulfed the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi, as Catholic Leader John Cardinal Njue leads the requiem for retired Archbishop Ndingi Mwana’a Nzeki.
The archbishop died on March 31, 2020, at the age of 89 after a long illness. In attendance are Chief Justice David Maraga, his deputy Philomena Mwilu, retired Presbyterian Church of East Africa Minister Timothy Njoya among several other clerics.
While factoring in the social distance rule to avert the spread of coronavirus, the mourners are seen standing at least a metre apart from each other as they follow the proceedings of the service.
President Uhuru Kenyatta sent an officer from his office, Kenedy Kihara, who relayed his apologies and read his message. Mr Kihara said that Uhuru missed the funeral service due to other state engagements.
“We had arranged for him to speak to us through video link but technology failed us last minute. That is when he sent me to come and relay his condolences,” said Kihara.
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Uhuru said that he would set a day that the life of late retired Archbishop would be celebrated.
Fr. Ndingi’s life and legacy
According to the funeral programme, Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana ‘a Nzeki was born in Myanyani village, Mwala location, Machakos County on December 25, 1931.
The cleric was the last born in the family of five children. Their parents were Maria Muthoki and Joseph Nzeki Ngila. His siblings were Paul Muli, Veronica Kavenge, Ann Muluu and Teresia Katunge.
The archbishop began his education at Myanyani Holy Ghost Primary School, and later to Kabaa after his father replaced him with one of his relatives to comply with a colonial government order that required every family to have one child going to school.
“Mzee Nzeki, wanting to escape the fine, volunteered a son to go to school. However, this son did not take up the position, so Mzee Nzeki offered Ndingi as a replacement in order not to suffer the dreadful fine of a cow,” funeral programme reveals.
His learning would later be interrupted by a plaque which wiped out students, nuns and priests but he was unscathed. He proceeded with his education at Etikoni and later on at Kabaa High School for his Form One and Two. He then went to Kilimambogo Teachers’ College where he graduated as a P3 teacher in 1950. After this, the late Ndingi taught shortly before moving to Tanzania to study theology.
“…he then proceeded to Kibosho Seminary, Moshi, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) to study Philosophy and later to Morogoro senior Seminary for Theological studies where he qualified to be ordained as a priest,” the programme states.
It adds: “He was ordained as a priest at Kabaa Parish on the solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, on 1st January 1961 by Archbishop J. J. McCarthy CSSp. He was the first Kamba to be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.”
Role in education
In his journey to priesthood journey, and as an educationist, Ndingi was instrumental in setting up classes at Mangu and Loreto secondary schools.
The burial programme says: “The young priest was instrumental in the establishment of Forms V and VI classes at Mang’u High School and Loreto High School Limuru. Sr Colombiere Kelly IBVM still recalls Fr Ndingi arguing with senior officials who were reluctant to grant ‘A’ Level classes.”
Apart from this, he never let his finger off the education button as he pursued a course at Cambridge School as a private candidate. He later secured a scholarship at St. John Fisher College, New York, where he pursued a degree in History and Political Science.
It was upon his return to Kenya in 1969 that Pope Paul V appointed him as the bishop of Machakos Diocese. He would then be transferred to Nakuru in 1972. And later to Nairobi in 1996 where he achieved a milestone of ordaining 56 priests.
Apart from his drive to better education sector, the late retired cleric has been hailed as a charitable man who stood with the needy at the trying moments.
An instance is given in the programme where he other clerics intervened as hunger struck parts of the country in 1999.
It says: “One recalls his intervention in conjunction with Dr. Wilfred D. Kiboro and the Nation Media Group, among others, when many parts of our country were struck by a serious drought in 1999. Archbishop Ndingi Mwana ‘a Nzeki championed an effort that focused on bringing relief to hungry citizens and also sought to find a permanent solution to the challenges of hunger and thirst.”
Another comical tale is told of how the late cleric described himself as an adept swimmer who learned the ropes at Athi River.
Fr. Lawrence Njoroge of the Archdiocese of Nairobi recalled in his tribute how he joked with the late Archbishop how the latter learnt how to swim in Athi River.
“Your Grace, you are lucky to have been born near the Athi River and learning to swim at an early age,” Fr. Njoroge told him.
“Let me correct you, Fr. Lawrence. It is not the Athi River that swims. Rather, it is Ndingi Mwana a’ Nzeki who learnt to swim in the flowing waters of the Athi River,” Ndingi replied.