Book on the history of the Catholic Church in Kenya is unveiled

Beyond Century of Endeavour: A History of the Catholic Church in Kenya

In Beyond Century of Endeavour: A History of the Catholic Church in Kenya, Author Lawrence Njoroge delves into the growth of the church since its introduction in Kenya around 1498.

Photo credit: Pool

Title: Beyond Century of Endeavour: A History of the Catholic Church in Kenya

Author: Lawrence M. Njoroge

Publisher: Paulines Publications Africa

Pages: 528

Reviewer: Dorothy Kweyu

When Nairobi Archbishop Philip Anyolo presides over the launch of Beyond Century of Endeavour: A History of the Catholic Church in Kenya today, it will be a proud moment for author Lawrence M. Njoroge, who wears many hats.

However, the blurb of the 528-page book betrays the Catholic priest’s preference: “…Vice-Postulator of the Beatification of the Servant of God Maurice Cardinal Otunga”.

That he is Professor of Development Studies and Ethics at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology is secondary. I took the cue to scrutinise the section of the final chapter, which is largely dedicated to Kenya’s first indigenous Catholic bishop.

The reader will resonate with titbits like, “Kindly release my priest or lock me up in these cells”, which bespeak heroism — the hallmark of a shepherd, who puts his flock above himself.

In this episode, the cardinal considered the epitome of humility, demonstrated that to be humble doesn’t mean being a wimp. Otunga was on a rescue mission for a priest who had been locked up for preaching a sermon that rubbed the administration of the day the wrong way. Not only did he get the priest freed, but was also in court the following day when the prosecutor entered a nolle prosequi dismissing the case.


The book provides an update on the canonisation of the Cardinal, whose current title is Servant of God. This is of great interest to Kenya’s 9.7 million Catholics (2019 census) after the May 23, 2019 beatification of Consolata missionary Irene Stefani “Nyaatha” (Merciful Mother), who earned the sobriquet from the people of Nyeri before succumbing to the plague she contracted in their service, and who also features in the book.

Father Njoroge’s opus has several distinguishing features. The first is the weight the authors of the preface and foreword — Archbishop Anyolo and Prof Judith Mbula Bahemuka respectively — attach to it. For the cleric, it’s the first such book in 30 years. And for Prof Bahemuka, “What makes the book exciting and easy to read is the way the author tells the story of the different belief systems including Islam, African traditions, and Christianity.”

Easily bored by the stuffy academic lexicon, I found the don’s description of the book apt. This is no mean feat given that the first chapter covers the 700-1700 AD period and will have been modified many times.

The book’s title reflects the author’s publication, Century of Catholic Endeavour, a product of his PhD thesis over 20 years ago. But as the Archbishop observes, the author “has completely re-written his previous work… which had focused on the evangelisation efforts of the Holy Ghost and Consolata Missions.”

The sub-tile — “A History of the Catholic Church in Kenya” — belies its full scope with chapters including Christianity and Islam; Culture, Missionary Theories, Chiefs; Nationalism, Church and State; Land and Freedom; Christian Leadership Training; Some Thought on Catholic Education; and Beyond Century of Endeavour. 

Despite its Catholic authorship, the issues addressed concern not just Kenya but the global faith community. State intolerance to criticism features. Piqued by first President Jomo Kenyatta’s reference to Christian evangelists as wabeberu (read ‘colonial exploiters’), Fr Ted Colleton was deported within 48 hours of challenging the president’s use of the term to describe missionaries and refusing to apologise for the letter. This is ironic because, in 1976, Jomo told a Catholic bishops’ gathering, “If we do something wrong and you are silent, you may one day have to answer in our place…”

Up to date

Beyond Century of Endeavour is so up to date, it features Covid-19. CUEA professor John Lukwata responded to the different ways the pandemic had affected church worship. The don responds that Covid-19 “made us be more creative… sanitising and overall “liturgical hygiene”. This confirms what the Church has always done (Bishop/priest) washing hands during Mass.” The Church is having to revisit “the canonical requirements of general confession… in times of pandemic”.

Lukwata also tackles a raging debate among purist and liberal faithful in regard to those who would have nothing but communion placed on their tongue. It’s “difficult to achieve uniformity…” meaning exercising “mercy and compassion for those who in good faith prefer receiving the Eucharist on the tongue”.

Thirty-two interviews were conducted with various ‘practitioners’ (including a tiny bit on gender with Yours Truly although she never read the book before publication).

A book this big can hardly fit in an 800-word review. Prof Bahemuka describes the book as “a story that started with Vasco da Gama through a whole century of trials, tribulations, many misses, failures but also many successes”.

Some episodes of interfaith rivalry and betrayal are horrifying.

An observation: There is some amount of mixing of UK and US English. As editors, we uphold consistency. I also note some foreign words italicised, even where they have long been adopted by English, hence requiring no italics. These — including inconsistencies in when to put a full stop before or after closing quotation marks — need careful attention.