Kenya’s cradle of education that is St Peter Claver’s school

A teacher takes adult learners through a mathematics class at St Peter Claver’s Primary School in Nairobi. file photo | nmg
A teacher takes adult learners through a mathematics class at St Peter Claver’s Primary School in Nairobi. file photo | nmg 

Peter Claver was born at Verdu, Catalonia, Spain in 1580 to impoverished parents who were descendants of ancient and distinguished families. He studied at the Jesuit college of Barcelona entering the Jesuit novitiate at Tarragona in 1602, taking his final vows in 1604.

While studying philosophy at Majorca, the young Peter was influenced by St Alphonsus Rodriguez to go to the Indies and save millions of “perishing souls.”

In 1610, Peter landed in Cartagena (modern day Columbia), the principal slave market of the New World where a thousand slaves were landed every month. After his ordination in 1616 he dedicated himself by special vow to the service of the black slave.

He laboured unceasingly for the salvation of the slave and campaigned for abolition of the trade in human beings.

Boarding the slave ships as they entered the harbour, he would hurry to the revolting inferno of the hold and offer whatever poor refreshments he could afford, care for the sick and dying, and instruct the slaves through catechists before administering sacraments.

The love he lavished on them was something beyond the natural order. Through his efforts more than three hundred thousand souls entered the church. Furthermore, he did not lose sight of his converts when they left the ships but followed them to the plantations they were sent, encouraging them to live Christian lives and imploring their masters to treat them humanely.

After four years of sickness which forced him to remain inactive and largely neglected, Peter died on September 8, 1654.

The city magistrates, who had previously frowned at his solicitude towards the black outcasts, ordered that his funeral should be held at public expense and with great pomp.

Peter Claver was canonised in 1888 and Pope Leo X11 declared him the worldwide patron saint of black slaves.

Education was run along racial lines during the colonial period. Africans working in Nairobi were prohibited from bringing their families along as it was considered best for them to grow up in a rural setting.

The colonial government did not make any arrangements for education of African children in Nairobi since they were not supposed be there in the first place.

As the African workforce in Nairobi expanded to meet the demands of the European settlers, the presence of young people without an education or an occupation (officially known as “vagabonds”) became a serious social issue.

By the early 1920s, the railway authorities had built decent housing for their African employees and their families.

On 19 November 1922, Bishop Neville proceeded to the blessing of a new St Peter Claver’s chapel and school for Africans situated on Racecourse Road in the capital city Nairobi.

“At last my most ardent desires have been fulfilled; we have a church which can easily hold twelve hundred people and, in case of necessity, two thousand. It is not excessive for the capital of Kenya” (Jules Blais Cssp).

The Catholic Church had first approached the colonial government about this development for Africans in 1916 but was met with the usual subterfuge. It was not until early 1922 that the plot was allocated and the necessary approvals for construction were granted.

The school immediately admitted the first students in January 1923 drawn from many different tribes, which I believe was the first school to do so in Kenya.

This was a major achievement in the long and winding quest for African education. It was a great honour that it should have been achieved under the name of the patron saint of slaves.

Today, the school offers admission to students of any race or colour, national or ethnic origin and welcomes the handicapped. A fully registered adult literacy section welcomes those who may wish to improve their grades in a classroom environment.