Rev Odonya to be ordained and installed as new Kitale bishop

Kitale Bishop elect Henry Juma Odonya after attending a mass service at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Eldoret. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

In a surprise announcement on November 4 last year, Pope Francis appointed Reverend Henry Juma Odonya as the new bishop-elect of the Catholic Diocese of Kitale.

At 46, Rev Odonya will be replacing Bishop Maurice Crowley whose resignation was accepted by the Pope last year.

Bishop Crowley had led the diocese since August 15, 1998.

Described by colleagues as a 'quiet man', Rev Odonya has kept a low profile since his ordination to the priesthood in 2005.

He will be ordained and installed as bishop in a religious ceremony at the Kitale showground on Saturday. The event has attracted more interest in Eldoret than Kitale.

Rev Odonya was born in Nairobi on December 10, 1976 but raised in Eldoret where his parents worked for Kenya Railways.

The late George Odonya had a house at the Kenya Railways headquarters near Eldoret West. This became the present-day Kambi Samaki after many railway workers left the North Rift town.

Rev Odonya attended Central Primary School at the heart of Eldoret before transiting to Bishop Delany Memorial Secondary School, also in Eldoret.

In 1997, he joined St Mary's Major Seminary in Molo for his spiritual formation. The next year he joined St Augustine Seminary, Mabanga, for his philosophical studies up to 1999.

From 2000 to 2004, the bishop-elect attended St Thomas Aquinas Seminary for his theological studies.

After his ordination in 2005, he served as a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret.

He was assistant priest of St Patrick's Kapcherop (2006-2007) and assistant priest of St Teresa of Avilla Ndalat Parish (2008-2009) before returning as parish priest at St Patrick's Kapcherop (2009-2011).

For the last week, the Diocese of Eldoret has been preparing to give Rev Odonya what it says will be a heroic farewell to Kitale.

Yesterday, priests who have worked with Rev Odonya for the last 17 years described him as a "humble man who consults widely before making decisions".

Father Raphael Opondo, who grew up with Rev Odonya in Eldoret and went to the same primary and secondary schools, and seminary, said his appointment had come as a surprise to many priests and the Catholic faithful.

"I often joked with him while we were at the seminary that he would one day be appointed bishop. He keeps a low profile. When he was appointed, several people called asking for his picture, and it was difficult to find.

"Odonya was a humble student who never took up church responsibilities in high school but became vibrant, getting involved in drama at the seminary.

"The bishop-elect was a basketball player in high school. He also liked weight-lifting and physical fitness," said Father Opondo.

He added: "Odonya was a hard worker. There was a time his parents were transferred to Kajiado and he was left with his brother. They would cook for themselves while attending school."

Father Opondo said Rev Odonya inspired his second-last-born brother David Masiga to join the priesthood. Father Masiga is a missionary in Ngong.

Meanwhile, preparations for Saturday's ceremony are underway in Kitale.

Celebrations are expected to kick-off today with a thanksgiving Mass that will be led by the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret Dominic Kimengich at his home station - the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Eldoret town.

Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret, Father William Kosgei, said today's Mass will precede a procession from Eldoret to Moi's Bridge, where Rev Odonya will be handed to his new diocese.

Father Kosgei is also chairing a committee that will oversee Rev Odonya's farewell ceremony.

"We are happy because Eldoret has produced a bishop. The bishop-elect is a humble man and his humility stands out. It is what gave him a strong foundation in priesthood," Father Kosgei told The Standard.

On Saturday, Fr Kosgei said, Eldoret faithful will travel to Kitale to witness their 'son's' ordination and installation.

Rev Odonya had been sent to work in the Catholic Diocese of Kitale in 2011 as a 'fidei donum priest'. He was posted as parish priest at St Zeno Kolongolo until 2013 when he became the parish priest at Holy Family Chepchoina until 2015.

He returned to Eldoret as parish priest at St Teresa of Avila Parish Ndalat between 2015 and 2016.

Rev Odonya was chairman of the Eldoret Diocesan Priest Association before leaving for Rome for further studies in 2016.