Sister Ignazia: Curtain falls on Kenya’s Mother Theresa

Students at St. Lucy School For the Blind in Egoji. PHOTO | COURTESY
Students at St. Lucy School For the Blind in Egoji. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Mugoiri is located on the eastern slopes of the Aberdare Mountains. The landscape features steep hills and deep valleys covered in a rich variety of vegetation, red soils and brawling streams.

It is in this idyllic environment that Sister Ignazia Pia Wambui Murai (néé Teresia Wambui) was born on April, 1930, the first child of Senior Chief Ignazio Murai and Berarda Murugi.

The Consolata Fathers had established a mission at Mugoiri as early as 1904 and Ignazio Murai was one of the pioneer pupils at the mission school. Berarda Murugi was an orphan, adopted and educated by the missionaries at Mugoiri.

Wambui grew up in a family deeply entrenched in the Christian faith and was one of the few girls who attended the local mission school. Education for girls was regarded as taboo by the Kikuyu community as it invariably delayed or denied altogether the payment of brideprice to the girl’s father. However, because her parents were educated Wambui was able to continue with her education.

Her uncle, Father Thomas Kimangu was the first Kikuyu priest to be ordained in 1927. Wambui also had an aunt and a cousin who were Mary Immaculate Sisters. The Murai family was known by the monicker “mbari ya Ngai” (clan of God). It was as if Wambui’s destiny had already been sealed.

Her father was one of the pioneer students at Jeane’s School and returned to Mugoiri as a teacher rising to the position of assistant inspector of schools, the highest level an African could achieve in the day, before being promoted to Senior Chief in the early 1940s.

Wambui certainly came from a privileged background.

After completing her primary education Wambui proceeded to Limuru Girls High School run by the Loreto Sisters before continuing to Nkokonjeru Teacher Training College in Uganda.

Returning to Kenya in 1952 after completion of her teacher training, Wambui was posted to Mugoiri Intermediate School. Affectionately known by her students as Mwalimu Teresia, she was the first African teacher at the school and was adored by the local people.

Notwithstanding her popularity and privileged background, what Wambui truly desired in her heart was to give her life entirely to the service of God as a missionary for the evangelisation of those who did not yet know Jesus Christ.

When she confided her desire to her parents they were overjoyed believing this was a way of thanking God for the good they had received from the Consolata Sisters in their lives.

Unfortunately there was no Religious Formation established in Kenya at the time that Wambui could join. She would be the first Kenyan to train as a missionary and this could only be obtained abroad.

The challenge was immense given that she would have to deal with a totally different culture, language, lifestyle and climate, but Wambui’s strong faith, trust in God and her determination helped her put these fears aside.

On October 5, 1953, she arrived at Sanfré in Italy to the hearty welcome of the Sisters and Postulants among whom she was to start her Formation.

After six months of Postulancy Wambui joined the Novitiate at which point she assumed a new name as required: Sister Ignazia Pia, in honour of her father Ignazio whom she loved dearly.

She took her vows through the First Religious Profession which took place on May 22, 1956, remaining in Italy for a further three years to complete her missionary formation.

Returning to Kenya in 1959, Sister Ignazia was assigned to Egoji Mission in Meru, where she made her Final Religious Commitment in 1961.

While teaching and doing Parish work at Egoji, Sister Ignazia was touched by the plight of the blind and partially blind children from poor families who were unable to attend normal classes. With support from the local community she was able to start St. Lucy’s School for the Blind. Soon blind children started coming from all over Kenya and they were able to read and write.

Sister Ignazia was so committed to this cause that she attended a special course in England to learn braille. The school continued to grow and today incorporates a high school and is one of the largest schools for the visually impaired in Kenya.

In the 1980s she was involved in leadership within the MC Kenya Region of missionary institutions carrying out educational, medical, pastoral and evangelical work.

Her people

Her term of office ended in 1990 and she travelled to Italy to attend the Beatification of Founding Father Joseph Allamano.

Later she travelled to England for a period of rest, returning to Italy to assist immigrant ladies coming from Africa until 1996 when she was posted to the United States where she served as a missionary in Alabama amongst African-Americans.

Sister Ignazia returned to Kenya in 2002 where she was again to serve children and the poor. She particularly loved to work in hardship areas like Wamba and her last posting in Loiyangalani near Lake Turkana where she would walk for miles to reach the needy.

Even when she was taken ill early this year, she was still talking about going back to her people in Loiyangalani.

The life of Sister Ignazia was one of total dedication and submission to God for the benefit of the less fortunate in society. She sacrificed the spoils of a very privileged and comfortable upbringing for the sake of the poor and disadvantaged: our very own Mother Teresa.