Italian nun who died 100 years ago on journey to sainthood

Sister Maria Carola Cecchin who served in Mt Kenya region in the early 1900s. Pope Francis last month bestowed on her the title venerable, setting in motion a process of potential sainthood. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Sister Maria Carola Cecchin could be the second nun to be canonised after Sister Irene Stefani (Nyaatha) was beatified in Nyeri in 2015.

Sister Carola, who was a member of the Sisters of St Joseph Benedict Cottolengo was born in Italy in 1877 but came to Kenya to work in 1905.

As part of the process of her recognition, Carola was among the five blessed and venerable people announced by Pope Francis in Rome last week, said Meru Catholic Bishop Salesius Mugambi.

According to what has been documented in the church, Carola made sacrifices and withstood difficulties as she served in Meru.

The literature on her life in the service of the church revealed she served the poor and sickly in Central Kenya and Meru until 1925.

Despite the challenges of language and climate, Carola made sacrifices as she attended to the sickly and worked for the salvation of souls.

“Supported by prayer, she accepts the sacrifices, anxieties, difficulties of language, climate and different cultural contexts,” the history reads in part.

She served in Central region before being sent to Igoji and lastly to Tigania in Meru, where she fell seriously sick. Carola and a sister left Kenya on October 11, 1925, on a risky journey back to Italy, across the Red Sea.

The literature says Carola was torn between the thirst for souls and the moral and physical collapse of other sisters eager to see the Little House in Italy again.

“By her own free choice, she was the last to leave Kenya,” it revealed.

Her condition worsened and she died on November 13, 1925, while crossing the sea.

“Her body was buried at sea. Back then there was no means for the preservation of bodies, so she was buried at sea,” said Bishop Mugambi.

“She nursed sick people and spread the gospel,” he said.

Father Peter Githinji, who was heavily involved in the beatification process for Sister Nyaatha, said the process for possible beatification for Carola was underway.

He told The Standard that Carola was now a “venerable” after the Congregation reported the matter to the Pope in Rome.

The Congregation studied evidence of Carola’s work and forwarded their findings to the Pope, who conferred her the title “Venerable” on November 24.

“Her case started many years ago. People who knew her gave witness,” the priest added.

Githinji said the first stage in the process of gaining sainthood is “venerable”, followed by “blessed” and then sainthood.

Extraordinary things

He said immediately a miracle is reported, the postulator who acts as the advocate will report to the Congregation, after which the Vatican will study the case.

He said the Pope had given a ‘Nihil Obstat’, meaning now there was nothing that obstructs Carola’s case (to sainthood) to proceed.

“That means that now people can pray through her. She did extraordinary things in an ordinary way. The research on her now continues. Stakeholders have been allowed to pray for miracles through her,” he added.

Verification of any miracles attributed to praying through Carola will then be done for her to be deemed a saint, he said.

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