In the year 1972 the writer Cothrai Gogan arrived in Kenya as a missionary for the Holy Ghost Mission. He came at a time that the Vatican called the Mission to withdraw from its work in Kenya and hand over more and more responsibility to the local clergy and the diocese of Nairobi.

In this book Gogan writes writes about the living legacy of the work of the Holy Ghost Mission in Kenya. His primary source are the ‘Community Journals’ (or ‘Diaries), that were kept (and at times not kept ) by the missionary workers. His second source are the ‘General Bulletin’, written by the Congregation. The next source is formed by the ‘Annual Summary Report’ sent to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

The history of the Mission dates back to the early days of Nairiobi. The first train arrived in Nairobi on May 31, 1899. In the month of August in the very same year the French bishop Emile Allgeyer arrived, in the company of two Holy Ghost Fathers: Blanchard and Hémery. So, right from the start there was a strong French presence in the Nairobi-area. A few times it is mentioned in the book that they worked in the midst of English protestants, who were in power.

The book relates the start of the church at the present site of the Basilica in Nairobi. At the beginning there was a strong Goan presence in the church. After one year the first baptism took place: a young Kikutyu woman was baptised.  We read about the expansion of the churches, the importance of education (especially noteworthy is the educational site at Kabaa and the work at Mangu), the work on the coffeeplantations of the church, the one at Nairobi area was on Sundays a touristy place with people from Nairobi going for a visit. By the way, this place was modelled on the Bagamoyo Christian Village at the coast, opposite Zanzibar.

In 1915 an apartheid-zoning was enforced in Nairobi. The African population was forced out of Nairobi proper. The Church accepted this situation and tried to cater for the needs of the local population, that came from as far as Lake Victoria. In the extensionwork the Church often got help from white farmmanagers and white farmowners.

Even though there was resistance to the colonial government by people like Harry Thuku, the Church workers did not protest against the wrongdoings of the colonial government, even though the workers themselves often came from places where they knew about injustices meted out upon people. The churchworkers mingled freely with the civil servants of the colonial government and settlers.

At first the Kamba were neglected because they were seen to belong to the Coastpeople. The Africa Inland Mission opposed the presence of the Roman Catholic Church in the kamba-area. In 1969 Ndingi was installed as the first local bishop in Machakos. The Kikuyu were a small and reclusive group and the work started in Kiambu.

When you wanted to get to Nairobi in the early days, you passed through the coastal city of Mombasa.  In 1889 the first Holy Ghost father arrived in this town. The start of the church was with a group of about 40 Goans. In 1900 there were about 500 members: mainly Goan, a few Europeans and 50 locals. The work at the coast slowly expanded. In 1954 the Pokomo asked for the work of the Roman Catholic Church, they were dissatisfied with the Methodist Church.

Some attention is payed to the days of the MauMau. It is mentioned that father Fullen assisted in over 800 hangings. It was not clear t0o me what his role was at the hanging. Saying a prayer? Cutting the rope? Supporting the colonial power?

Special attention is given to the prayerwork of Edel Quinn from Ireland, who spent her last years in Kenya. Next to that some pages are devfoted to the extension work in East Pokot, even though I wonder if the work at Marigat is situated in East Pokot. It looks like Baringo to me.

A few other comments by me:
* At times it is not clear if the writer is quoting from his sources and writing his own script.
* The year of publication is given as 2005. The Foreword (to the first edition) is given as November 1997, and in this Foreword a different title is given to the book. Has there been a previous publication, about the work of the Holy Ghost Mission, just in Nairobi-area?
* The book would have been improved if an editor had taken some time to scrutinse the text.
* On page 108 the reader will find a picture taken in a detentioncamp. Two Roman Catholic Fathers, a chief and mzee Kenyatta. But no picture in the book of e.g. bishop Ndingi.
* On page 133 we see a picture of a sportstadium with an athletics track. The caption says it is Uhuru park, Nairobi. But in the eighties I have never seen a track at Uhuru Park.
* The writer hopes that others will give a more indepth study of the work of the Holy Ghost Mission. This wish of the writer has been fulfilled.

Cothrai Gogan – History of the Holy Ghost Mission in Kenya – Nairobi 2005


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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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