A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE HANDMAIDS OF THE HOLY CHILD JESUS (HHCJ) KENYA REGION
The Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus (HHCJ) arrived in Kenya on 4th January, 1989, having been invited by the then bishop of Eldoret diocese, Rt. Rev. Bishop John Njenga. This new mission of the congregation was pioneered by four HHCJ sisters; namely: Srs. Mary Chokpa, Augustina Eke, Agnes Nnodi, and Christina Odoh.
With no HHCJ Convent yet, these four Handmaids were initially engaged in temporary assignments as nurses, teachers and catechists; putting up with the Immaculate Heart Sisters in Eldoret and Holy Rosary sisters in Ortum respectively until 13th September, 1989 when the first HHCJ Convent in Kenya was officially and canonically opened with Sr. Mary Rita Abang one of our then general assistant in attendance; that is, HHCJ Kaptagat Community, Eldoret Diocese.
Having been elevated to be an Archbishop, bishop John Njenga was later on transferred to Mombasa Archdiocese. In his new office, the Archbishop wrote a letter to our then Superior General, Mother Marie Therese Akwe HHCJ of happy memories, inviting Handmaids to the Archdiocese of Mombasa. Thus on 9th May, 1990, the second group of HHCJ missionaries were sent by the congregation to work in Kenya at St. Mary’s Teachers’ Training College, Bura in Taita. These were: Srs. Patricia Okwuo, Rosemary Chiemeke and Agnes Nnodu. The new Sisters then opened the second HHCJ convent in Kenya that is, HHCJ Bura Community in Taita.
Under the leadership of Sr. Patricia Okwuo as the first Mission Superior and then Sr. Louise Onyeanusi as her successor, the young struggling Handmaid’s mission, continued to make giant strides, therefore increasing our desire and determination to see many native communities scattered all over Kenya.
In answer to this ardent desire; and as divine providence would have it, in 1994, with the encouragement of the bishop of Eldoret diocese, Rt. Rev. Cornelius Korir, our mission in Kenya further expanded to Eldoret town, having been granted the permission to run an existing nursery school in Majengo parish. This led to the official opening and blessing of HHCJ Majengo Convent on 3rd March, 1995 , with Srs. Immaculata Chukwunyere and Gertrude Aham as the first community members.
With the establishment of Ancilla Vocational Training Institute, Our Lady of Assumption Academy, St. Brigitta’s Catholic Hospital, and other diocesan projects, more sisters were in 1998 posted to Majengo community to run the projects, namely: Sr. Rosemary Chiemeke (founding member and pioneer principal of Ancilla Vocational Institute), Sr. Juliana Mose (Pioneer Administrator of St. Brigitta’s Hospital) and Sr. Augustina Ngwu of Blessed memories as the Bishop’s Secretary.
With our presence in Eldoret diocese and Mombasa Archdiocese many young Kenyan girls began to nurse the desire of wanting to be Handmaids. And so in 1999 four young girls, Magdalene Jepkemei, Christine Kwamboka, Anne Mrizi and Agnes Chemtai were sent to Nigeria to begin their formation. From then on there was a vocation boom, with us sending at least two young girls every year to the Novitiate in Nigeria or Ghana. Today we can boast of many Kenyan professed sisters.
Our desire to continue serving God’s people in Kenya never wavered but rather became more passionate with every passing day. And so in the year 2000, HHCJ sisters. expressed their desire to work in Nairobi Archdiocese to the then Archbishop of Nairobi, the Rt. Rev. Ndingi Mwana ‘Nzeki who granted us the permission to take over a dispensary and a girls’ boarding facility from the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood; and on 4th February, 2001, a new HHCJ community was born in Nairobi archdiocese; as HHCJ Convent, Kalimoni, with Srs. Evangeline Gitonga and Theresa Barnie as the first community members. The projects continued to grow and thus more sisters continued to be sent to the community. Today the little dispensary in Kalimoni has been transformed into a fully fledged level four hospital and the private boarding produces some of the top pupils during KCPE in Thika District.
Bearing in mind that the work of God must be done at all cost no matter the inconvenience, just as our Mother foundress said it, we continued with the same zeal and passion to work in Kenya. Feeling the need for expansion of our apostolate and areas of work; on 23rd April, 2003, we obtained permission to develop a piece of land in Mombasa by building a convent and a vocational centre for the youth. This led to the establishment of HHCJ, Kiembeni Community in Mombasa with the official blessing and opening of the convent on 23rd April, 2005, this however led to the closing of our Handmaid’s community in Bura.
The presence of sisters HHCJ in Kenya over these years made a lot of impact on many Kenyans so that many young girls from all over Kenya were attracted to join our congregation thereby increasing our numbers. As a result, in the year 2008, during the 9th General Chapter of our Congregation, HHCJ Kenya Mission was elevated to the status of a Region. This great sign of maturity and growth in the congregation became real when on 25th June, 2008, in a colourful ceremony officiated by the Superior General, Sr. Leonie Martha O’karaga and the former Vicar General, Sr. Eugenia Atta Paidoo , Kenya Region was officially inaugurated and pronounced a Region, with Sr. Rosemary Chiemeke as the first Regional Superior.
Just as our Mother Foundress kept saying that her hope was to have many Convents of Native Sisters scattered throughout Nigeria, the HHCJ in Kenya kept this dream of having many convents scattered all over Kenya for their own mission. Thus on 29th December, 2008, a new convent was officially opened and blessed by Rt. Rev. Cornelius Korir, as a Formation House in Outspan, 10Km from Eldoret Town, off Eldoret – Nairobi Road; and later a boarding and day academy was erected and Sr. Louisa Onyeanusi posted from Kaptagat to manage this baby project.
To kick off the Celebration of our Silver Jubilee year, we officially opened a new convent in the heart of the metropolitan city of Nairobi, Lang’ata area, on 27th July, 2013, where we live in the midst of people in a big estate (Dam Estate), to evangelize not only by our words, but by the way we live out our vowed and community life as Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus.
As proved by our brief history, and as true daughters of Mother Charles Magdalene Walker, we the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus in Kenya have carried out our motto of Love and Service and have been true to our charism of “all embracing charity” in diverse ways for the past 25 years in Kenya; in the schools where we reach out to children and bring them to Christ, in the patients we nurse, in the orphans we care for, in our catechetical and social ministries, and in the empowerment of women and youths especially the school drop outs.
Despite the challenges encountered, having worked as a team and representatives of Christ in Kenya, we the HHCJ Kenya Region all join our hands together today to affirm that: “There is No Shorter cut to Holiness and success, than Doing the Will of God in all things. We have proved in our words and actions that:
- Mission is where the Lord sends us…
- Mission is where the Lord needs us…
- Mission is where the Lord sanctifies us…
- Mission is doing God’s will…
And so we re-affirm our fiat: “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word” Luke1:38.