A granny who interacted with and was a student of the beatified sister Irene Stefani ‘Nyaatha’ celebrated her 100 years birthday in a colourful ceremony on Friday.
Emma Wangechi who was born on January 3, 1920 recited catholic prayers in Latin, read the bible and also wrote a goodwill message to President Uhuru Kenyatta before cutting a cake to mark the day.
The event was held at her daughter’s home in Ichuga village on the outskirts of Nanyuki town and in attendance were her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Wagachomba as she is popularly known in her Gikondi home urged the head of state to unite the nation for all people to live harmoniously for the nation to thrive. She wrote the message in Kikuyu language and in legible handwriting.
“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 a paragraph long.
Wangechi, a mother of five daughters looked strong for her age only saying that one of her shoulders was in pain and therefore preferred to sit down throughout the colourful occasion.
“My shoulder is aching and my legs are weak, I can’t stand for long,” she said before cutting the cake to mark her birthday.
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 on how to recite catholic prayers in Latin language and that’s how we became Catholics,” Wangechi said.
She adds that the nun also taught local children how to read and write and that’s when she learnt to read and write in Kikuyu.
“I became very fond of the Catholic religion and that’s why even today I am a very staunch follower of the church even after sister Nyaatha died,” She adds amid applause from her kin present.
She adds 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 plague.
The ceremony was also attended by two catholic priests Father Peter Githinji and Martin Ndegwa who had earlier led a mass for the granny at the Equator Catholic Church in the area.
Father Githinji said that it was a great moment that the granny was celebrating her centenary birthday and was not just strong physically but also religiously.
“She is one of the beneficiaries who were taught religion 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.
Father Ndegwa who is in charge of the Nanyuki parish said that Wangechi was a person to emulate because of her deep faith and urged other Christians to emulate her.
“You have seen that even after we prayed before the ceremony she had to say her own personal prayers because she is very much devoted and how I wish we can emulate her as a model because she is one Christian who is very dedicated in this parish,” Fr. Ndegwa said.
Anne Wahito 72, who is Wangechi’s second-born daughter said they attributed her mother’s long life to the love they showed her and good feeding.
“She has a good appetite and prefers to eat traditional food such as boiled arrowroots, bananas, sweet potatoes, vegetables and fruits,” Wahito said.
She said that she took in her mother in November 2018 to care for her after her 75-year-old sister passed on with whom the mother stayed with.
Wahito said that they have been taking care of their mother since the death of their father Benson Kariuki in 1993.
Sister Irene Stefani who was baptized Nyaatha by Gikondi residents arrived in Kenya in 1915 and died 15 years later after contracting plague while treating a resident. She was only 39 years then. In Kikuyu, Nyaatha 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 in 1989 prayed through Sister Irene and baptismal water was increased, allowing them to use it for three-and-a-half days for drinking and bathing.
A second miracle attributed to prayers made to her as ‘the Blessed’ are required before she can be declared a saint.
By Martin Munyi