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Catholic Missionary Priest in Kenya Pictured Carrying “two small bags” Had Humble Origins

Italian Missionary Priest, Fr. Adolf Poll, leaving St. Joseph Freinademetz Parish of Kenya's Malindi Diocese. He has served in the country for over 50 years./ Credit: Catholic Diocese of Malindi/Justice and Peace Commission

A Catholic Missionary Priest who was captured carrying two small bags as he left a Kenyan Diocese where he had been serving for more than 20 years is said to have nurtured his humility from a young age.

Fr. Adolf Pöll who bade farewell to Kenyans in the Dioceses of Malindi and Kisii after working in the East African nation for over 50 years shared his humble upbringing with Fr. Alex Kimbi who succeeded him as Parish Priest of St. Joseph Freinademetz Witu-Kipini Parish of Malindi Diocese

In the interview obtained by ACI Africa, Fr. Adolf, a member of the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) from Italy who is fondly referred to as Fr. Alleluia in both Kenyan Dioceses, says that he grew up tending to cows to make ends meet.

“I grew up in a poor family in South Tirol, the Northern part of Italy. Our parents were struggling to make ends meet, and I noticed that. We could spend months taking care of cows on the hills for the whole village,” the MHM member told Fr. Alex during his farewell party at the Parish on Monday, May 24.

Fr. Alex told ACI in reference to the Catholic missionary Priest’s humble origins, “This is perhaps what has made Fr. Adolf so sensitive to the needs of others.”

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He took a few minutes to pack a few belongings, including a clock that he was gifted at the farewell ceremony, Moses Mpuria, the Justice and Peace official of Malindi Diocese who took the photo that has gone viral in Kenya told ACI Africa Wednesday, May 26.

“Fr. Adolf invited me over for a chat shortly before he left Malindi yesterday, since we have been very close. We chatted for more than 90 minutes before Sr. Margaret Bradbury, a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph (FMSJ) with whom he was to travel to Nairobi, alerted him that they needed to leave,” Mr. Mpuria recalls.

According to the Executive Secretary of Malindi Diocese Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC), the FMSJ Sister told Fr. Adolf that he had only 15 minutes to pack his belongings and leave for Nairobi and, in the coming days, for Italy.

“I asked Sister Margaret whether 15 minutes would be enough for Fr. Adolf to get ready and she told me that the Priest didn’t need a lot of time to pack his belongings,” Mr. Mpuria told ACI Africa in the May 26 interview.

Sr. Margaret told the CJPC official that Fr. Adolf did not have many belongings to take back home to Italy.

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Mr. Mpuria’s photo left many applauding the selfless Catholic missionary Priest who never accumulated any material wealth while he served in the Kenyan Diocese.

He left behind most things, including the money he was given at his farewell ceremony, Fr. Alex tells ACI Africa, adding he was amazed when his predecessor at the Parish handed him all the money people gave him as gifts and told him, “use it to help the people.”

To many, the 81-year-old MHM Priest lived true to the spirit of his Religious Congregation, which embraces the life of apostolic poverty.

Sr. Norah Nyausi, a member of FMSJ currently working with children living with Disability in Malindi remembers an incident in 2017 during her formation when she experienced Fr. Adolf’s humility.

It is the time that the Priest had been involved in an accident and Sr. Norah together with another Religious Sister were asked to help with the Priest’s luggage so that he could travel to Kenya’s capital Nairobi for medication.

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“There wasn’t much packing to do since the Priest had very few personal items,” Sr. Norah shares with ACI Africa, and adds, “Fr. Adolf lives true to the Spirit of his Congregation. He embraces poverty and he is always willing to share with those who lack.”

The Kenyan Nun shares that the missionary Priest has been buying mobile phone credit for people who live in remote villages where they face difficulties accessing airtime for their mobile phones.

Fr. Alex describes Fr. Adolf as a “a living saint” who has a rich experience of missionary life especially through serving one of the poorest regions in Kenya, which is still experiencing primary evangelization.

“I have worked with Fr. Adolf for five years, and I can describe him in very few words as a living saint. I enjoyed listening to his stories and experiences of the mission,” Fr. Alex says, adding that he was once a student under the Italian Priest’s supervision for two years.

“He was different, and I was interested in things that motivated him in the mission,” Fr. Alex says.

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After being ordained a Priest in 1966 in his home Diocese of Bolzano-Brixen in Northern Italy, Fr. Adolf left his hometown of South Tyrol to serve as a missionary Priest in Kenya in the Catholic Diocese of Kisii from 1969 to 2000.

On Pentecost Sunday 2001, Fr. Adolf received his transfer to the Coast of Kenya to serve in the Catholic Diocese of Malindi, and 20 years later, on Pentecost Sunday, he celebrated his farewell Mass at Witu-Kipini Parish in the Northern Deanery of Malindi Diocese.

Fr. Alex shares with ACI Africa that when the Italian-born Priest arrived in the Witu and Kipini area, there were barely any structures to start the Catholic Parish.

“Fr. Adolf took over a small glass rental house near the mosque in Kipini and later moved to Witu to start a Parish from nothing,” Fr. Alex says.

He adds that in Witu and Kipini areas, Fr. Adolf identified the people's struggles with poverty and illiteracy and set about helping locals irrespective of their religious affiliations.

When he was in Witu and Kipini, the MHM Priest drilled over 95 water wells for people in the villages and extended to places out of the Catholic Parish, Fr. Alex narrates.

According to the current Parish Priest, one of the challenges in Witu and Kipini has been a lack of access to education, a gap that Fr. Adolf worked hard to fill.

“Fr. Adolf spent every coin he could acquire through gifts to help educate the youths,” Fr. Alex testifies in his interview with ACI Africa, and adds, “He has, over the years, taken hundreds of young people to boarding schools. A good number have been sent to universities.”

For the people who could only manage to take their children to the only day school in Witu, Fr. Adolf constructed a hostel within the church compound to give students a safe environment to stay and to go to school in Witu town.

“At the moment, we are hosting over 50 students in the Parish church compound,” Fr. Alex tells ACI Africa.

Sharing about the origin of the nickname Fr. Alleluia, Fr. Alex says, “When he first came to Kenya, Fr. Adolf had difficulty communicating with the locals the language they could understand. The only word he seemed to communicate well with the people was Alleluia and that’s all he said when people asked him anything. That’s also how people started calling him Alleluia.”

“Having lived with Fr. Alleluia for over five years now, I can confidently say that the Priest not only loves the name, he also lives it. Alleluia! The Risen Christ! He lives it every second of his life,” Fr. Alex testifies, and adds, “He is humble and straightforward, kind, merciful, loving and generous.”

“I take over the Parish from Fr. Adolf without fear,” Fr. Alex says.

The Cameroonian Priest adds in reference to Fr. Adolf, “He mentored me for two years when I was a Seminarian… He has taught me the love of Christ. I know the Holy Spirit will work with me… the People of God in Witu-Kipini Parish will surely miss their beloved Priest.”