Kenya: Ndingi Makes History as First Catholic Bishop in Kenya to Mark 50 Years

This year, Most Rev Raphael Ndingi Mwana ‘a Nzeki, Emeritus Archbishop of Nairobi, celebrates 50 years since his ordination as bishop by Pope Paul VI in Uganda during the pontiff’s historic visit to Africa.

Records show that no Catholic bishop has celebrated their episcopal golden jubilee in Kenya. This is a first, a record for the Church in the country.

Since his appointment as Bishop of Machakos in 1969, the prelate remains one of the best known Church leaders in the nation.

His very appearance in a distinctive skullcap, given to him by Ethiopian friends, makes him immediately recognisable.

Outspoken and a household name in his heyday, Archbishop Mwana ‘a Nzeki is the quintessence of a fearless leader.

He has served in many roles and places: assistant priest at Makadara, Nairobi; Education Secretary-General of Catholic Bishops; student at Rochester College, New York; Bishop of Machakos, later of Nakuru and finally the Archbishop of Nairobi.

He entered the national limelight when he opposed the Kanu government’s directive that forced voters to queue or line up behind their candidate.


This bold image was reinforced in 1992 when Mwana ‘a Nzeki risked his life by supporting the victims of tribal clashes in the Rift Valley.

There was a repeat of ethnic animosity in the country five years later. During these struggles, he became closely associated with the fight for justice, especially in the form of multiparty democracy.

Soon after priestly ordination, Fr. Ndingi was appointed Education Secretary for the Archdiocese of Nairobi. His sterling performance in that post caught the eye of the Catholic bishops in the country.

They therefore requested Archbishop J.J. McCarthy to release him for the national post of Education Secretary General, a plea that was granted.

Sr. Colombiere Kelly, who served a record 25 years as Principal of Loreto High School Limuru, narrates how Msgr. Ndingi, Sr. Scholastica Mongey, Provincial Leader of the Loreto Sisters in Kenya and herself made a case for Forms Five and Six or A Level classes at the Ministry of Education headquarters in the 60s.

In those days, this was a prerequisite for admission to university. “For reasons not clear to us, the authorities were reluctant to grant us A Levels. But Fr Ndingi stoutly stood his ground, pointing out our excellent performance at O Level,” recalls Sr. Colombiere. Finally, the classes were authorised in 1970.


According to the late Prof Raphael J. Njoroge (no relation to this writer), the first indigenous Principal of Mang’u High School, Msgr. Ndingi, played a pivotal role for the national institution to acquire the A Level classes.

In a very true sense, Archbishop Ndingi is a self-made man through personal efforts in education.

He sat for the Cambridge School Certificate privately and returned excellent results before admission to university to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History.

The prelate narrates that he began schooling because his father was threatened with the fine of a cow by the local chief should the parent fail to send one of his children to school. The lot fell on Ndingi to attend the learning institution.

Archbishop Mwana ‘a Nzeki believes in lifelong learning for himself and others.


During his tenure as Bishop of Machakos, at Nakuru and as Archbishop of Nairobi, he invested heavily in education, not only of his priests but he sought resources and opportunities for many people to further their training in various professions.

During his tenure as Chairperson of the Catholic Bishops, he championed for cooperation with other Christian churches inspired by Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one” (Jn. 17: 21).

One enduring image is of Bishop Mwana ‘a Nzeki preaching in All Saints Cathedral at the invitation of his Anglican friend, Dr David Gitari, Archbishop of Kenya.

Having thanked his host for the invite, the Catholic bishop proceeded to state that all Christians are called to preach and work for unity.

He asserted that he had no apologies to make for responding to that vocation. At that point, he received a standing ovation.

Some aspects of his ministry are not conventional. He ordained to priesthood Fr. Joseph Mlengera, an experienced catechist who had little formal education.


He ordained Fr. Patrick Lang’at, a person living with disabilities, to the consternation of many who thought the prelate was in breach of both Canon Law and convention.

While Mwana ‘a Nzeki is unconventional in several areas, he remains prayerful and uncompromising in matters of faith and morals.

He was once a star swimmer, specialising in backstroke, and a believer in the Latin adage Mens sana in corpore sano ( a healthy mind in a healthy body).

The prelate has a passion for matters cultural. Little wonder that Pope John Paul II appointed him member of the Pontifical Council for Culture in 1999.

His motto as bishop declares in Kiswahili: Mwamini Mungu si Mtovu (One who believes in God lacks nothing). It probably captures best his fundamental option in life.

A happy golden jubilee, Baba Askofu Mkuu Mwana ‘a Nzeki!

Fr. Lawrence Njoroge, JKUAT Catholic Chaplain, was Administrative Secretary of Archbishop Ndingi Mwana ‘a Nzeki at the Holy Family Basilica between 1998-2001. [email protected]


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Publish date : 2019-08-05 07:31:43

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