It is a big blow to the Catholic Church globally after another credible witness of beatified Sister Irene Stephani (Nyaatha) died at the Huruma Mission hospital in Nanyuki town on Sunday after a short illness.
Centenarian Emma Wangechi or Wagachomba as she was popularly known in her home in Kiirungi sub location, Gikondi division, Mukurwe-ini sub county, closely interacted with and was a student of beatified Catholic nun Sister Irene ‘Nyaatha’ Stefani.
Wagachomba who celebrated her 100th birthday on January 3rd this year started showing signs of body weakness and also suffered a lack of appetite a fortnight ago forcing the family to take her to the hospital where she has been receiving treatment until Sunday when she breathed her last.
“My grandmother has all along been a strong woman not just physically but also spiritually, however, for the last two weeks, her health has been on a downward trend leaving her frail until she went to be with the Lord yesterday (Sunday),” the younger Wangechi said on phone.
Father Peter Githinji of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri termed the centenarian’s death as “shocking news to the postulation department of the church” but added that it would not affect the canonization process of Sister Irene Nyaatha.
It would have been our wish for Emma (Wangechi) to witness this milestone of our faith when Sister (Irene) Nyaatha is finally made a saint,” Fr. Githinji told Kenya News Agency on phone.
Fr. Githinji, who is a member of the postulation team of the Catholic Church in Kenya and Rome working on the canonization process of Blessed Sister Irene ‘Nyaatha’ Stefani added that the centenarian had given all the necessary information on the nun’s life needed for her final step to sainthood.
“Her death cannot slow down the ongoing canonical process. We are not gathering witness information since they have given us a lot, we are now waiting for divine intervention through a miracle,” the priest added.
“She was one of the beneficiaries who were taught catechism by Blessed Sister Irene Nyaatha and has been instrumental in assisting the postulation department of the Catholic Church in Kenya and Rome (Italy) as a living witness for the process of beatification and eventual canonization,” Fr. Githinji said.
He noted with sadness that the church was losing the main key witnesses who met Sister Nyaatha personally terming it as a “ an inevitable biological process due to old age since most of them are 100 years and over”
“It would have been our joy and that of the entire church for the witnesses to celebrate the sainthood of Sister Nyaatha as it would intensify today’s practical evangelization,” Fr. Githinji said.
The centenarian is expected to be interred at her rural home in Gikondi village in Mukurweini, Nyeri County.
Wangechi, who was born on January 3, 1920, celebrated her 100th birthday on January 3 this year at her daughter’s home in Ichuga village on the outskirts of Nanyuki town surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
On this occasion, she recited prayers in Latin, read the Bible and also wrote a goodwill message to President Uhuru Kenyatta before cutting a cake to mark the day.
In her written message in Gikuyu language and in legible handwriting, the centenarian urged the head of state to unite the nation for all people to live harmoniously so that the nation can thrive.
“To (President) Uhuru Kenyatta, much greetings, please ask Kenyans to unite so that the country can live in peace,” read part of the message that was one paragraph long.
Wangechi, a mother of five daughters looked strong for her age then, only saying that one of her shoulders was in pain and therefore preferred to sit down throughout the birthday ceremony.
She said she met Sister Irene ‘Nyaatha’ Stephani in her early years at her home in Gikondi in Mukurweini, Nyeri County when the nun visited her home in the 1920s following an invitation by her father who had asked her to teach her children to pray.
“She used to come to our home often riding on a horse and would immediately start teaching the children and other villagers how to recite catholic prayers in Latin and that’s how we became Catholics,” Wangechi said during her birthday in January this year.
She narrated that the nun also taught local children how to read and write and added that’s how she learnt to read and write in kikuyu.
She added that her whole village was saddened to learn of the death of the nun who also doubled up as a nurse while treating patients suffering from bubonic plague.
Anne Wahito 72, who is Wangechi’s second-born daughter said then that they attributed her mother’s long life to the love they showed her and good feeding.
Sister Irene Stephani who was popularly known as Nyaatha by locals in Gikondi arrived in Kenya in 1915 and died 15 years later after contracting bubonic plague while treating locals. She was only 39 years then. Her Kikuyu name “Nyaatha” loosely translates to mother of sympathy.
Sister Irene was beatified on May 23, 2015, in Nyeri following Pope Francis’ approval of a decree on June 12, 2014, that recognized a miracle attributed to her intercession
The extraordinary miracle that was attributed to her intervention happened at a local church in Napepe, Mozambique where catechists from different parishes who were isolated together with other people who had sought refuge in the church during civil war in 1989 prayed through Sister Irene and baptismal water was increased, allowing them to use it for three-and-a-half days for drinking.
A second miracle attributed to prayers made to her as ‘the Blessed’ will be required before she can be declared a saint.
Blessed Sister Irene Nyaatha memorial is expected to be conducted on the 31st of this month in adherence to Covid-19 protocols.
By Martin Munyi