Loreto Sister in Kenya Shares “biggest, absolute joy” Ahead of Institute’s Centennial Fete

Sr. Caitriona Kelly, IBVM, Irish-born Loreto Sister who has served in Kenya since November 1964. Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM

Members of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (I.B.V.M), commonly known as the Loreto Sisters, are “celebrating 100 years of God’s faithfulness” in their service among the people of God in the Eastern Africa Province.

A member of the Institute who has served in Kenya for close to six decades has shared with ACI Africa what she calls their “biggest and absolute joy” ahead of the Centennial Celebration scheduled for Saturday, January 29 at Loreto Convent Msongari in Nairobi.

Sr. Caitriona Kelly, a native of Ireland, looks back at the 100 years of service of the Loreto Sisters in Eastern Africa Province with appreciation and highlights major contributions of the members of the 200-year-old Institute in their apostolate in Kenya.

“There are four Irish missionaries left in this Province, ranging from (the age of) 93 to 75; and I’m 80 myself now. Our biggest and absolute joy,” Sr. Kelly told ACI Africa, is to have seen “Loreto past pupils really having an impact on society in terms of values and of morals.”

Sr. Caitriona Kelly. Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM



She cited the late Kenyan Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai, the alumna of Loreto School Limuru in Kenya who, in 2004, was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize; the award recognized “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

The founder of the Green Belt Movement (GBM), “an environmental organization that empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods”, died in September 2011 at the age of 71.

Recalling Prof. Maathai’s grass-roots initiatives aimed at countering deforestation by encouraging women to engage in tree planting in their respective local environments, Sr. Kelly said, “Pope Francis would have loved to have met Wangari Maathai. She was ahead of them in Laudato Si’.”

Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM

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“The other biggest joy above all else,” the Nairobi-based Nun said during the Friday, January 28 interview in reference to the founder of her Institute, is the fact that the Institute has “beautiful African women, now Loreto Sisters, who are carrying on the dream, the vision of God for Mary Ward’s charism.” 

She went on to acknowledge with appreciation Kenyans, Tanzanians, Ugandans, Ghanaians, Zambians, and an Ethiopian who are I.B.V.M members saying, “The biggest joy is that we have these beautiful young women coming up from different countries and tribes … We have these women from different nationalities with rich gifts ready to give up everything for God and continue the dream to promote the reign of God through our charism.”

Guided by the charism of their founder, Mary Ward, Loreto Sisters have, as their mission, “to bring the gospel to life by our own witness and by supporting the spiritual development of individuals and communities.”

The Sisters also “promote a freedom of referring all to God through spiritual ministries, education, and any other works which meet the needs of our times.”

Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM


In the booklet prepared for Holy Mass during the January 29 Centennial Celebration, “the story of Loreto Eastern Africa began in 1921, when Mary Ward’s charism was brought to Kenya.”

Mary Ward, the organizers of Centennial Celebration say in the booklet, “founded the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1609, following her dream of beginning the new kind of community of women religious, an independent, self-governing congregation patterned after the model of the Society of Jesus, free of the confines of the cloister and responding to the urgent needs of the time.”

“Teresa Ball brought Mary Ward’s charism to Ireland in 1841. She called the first convent “Loreto” as Mary Ward made pilgrimages to the Shrine of Loreto in Italy to seek Our Lady’s guidance,” the booklet further indicates, and that “All convents found after that were called Loreto and thus we became known as “Loreto Sisters”.

“One hundred years after Loreto’s first foundation, six courageous Irish women arrived in (Kenya’s) Kilindini harbour (on October 18th, 1921). They were welcomed warmly by two Spiritan (Holy Ghost) Fathers before they continued the long train journey to Nairobi to begin the new mission,” the organizers of the January 29 have indicated in the booklet shared with ACI Africa.

Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM

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“Around the world you will find us serving in schools, social service centers, shelters for the abused, trafficked and homeless, retreat and spiritual life centers, rural and urban parishes, as development workers, as prison chaplains, as home visitors, as spiritual caregivers for persons with HIV/AIDS, in advocacy and lobbying at the local/national levels and the United Nations, and wherever contemporary needs arise,” the Loreto Sisters describe what they do.

In Africa, besides Kenya, which serves as the headquarters of Eastern Africa Province, the Loreto Sisters serve in Ghana, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Mauritius, and Morocco.

In the January 28 interview with ACI Africa, Sr. Kelly highlighted the major impact of the Loreto Sisters among the people of God in Africa and globally. 

“I think the biggest thing that Loreto brought to this country (Kenya) and to the world with her Christian education is Mary Ward's vision of women; that we are made by God, but with love from God; we go back to God; and we are entrusted with gifts that we must develop for the good of others in a way that will give God glory,” she said.

Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM

Women, Sr. Kelly emphasized, “are not an inferior species. As our Catholic theology tells us, we are equal in all things to men in terms of intellectual giftedness and capacity to serve the Church in the way God sees best.”

Looking back at 100 years of Loreto Sisters’ services in Eastern Africa Province, the Catholic Nun said, “I think that we transformed culture by challenging the perception of women, which needs to continue in our Church.”

She went on to reflect on how she, alongside other Loreto Sisters, contributed to the transformation of culture in their apostolate in Kenya saying the enthusiasm among Kenyans after gaining their country’s independence facilitated the transformation process.  

“I was very privileged to arrive in Kenya with independence. I came here on the 1st of November 1964. Kenya was alive with new energy, and new hope, and new life at every level; and I suppose it was the joy of seeing young women, coming in for education,” Sr. Kelly recalled. 

Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM

She added that Loreto Sisters in Kenya identified and “sponsored yearly a number of gifted African young women to do A-levels; and that generation of A-level students, many of them, got scholarships overseas, especially to America, and a few to England.”

“To me, the most wonderful thing was that the formation they got, the identity got, their understanding of God’s love for them, and their level of self-worth, were so strong that they were able to cope … under a very different environment,” Sr. Kelly shared, and continued, “I’m confident if statistics were done, one would see that 99% of them achieved their academic goals.”

She went on to recall her passion for extracurricular activities with the youth in Kenya and Young Catholic Students (YCS) in schools saying, “From 1982 – 1987 I was released to do youth ministry across the country. In those days YCS was very active, so, I went to every Diocese except Garissa … forming the youth to encourage them to live by Christian values.”

Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM

“I had a great passion for youth ministry since the early 1970's,” Sr. Kelly told ACI Africa, adding, “Up until COVID-19 closed us down, I used to facilitate Christian leadership training programs for 3rd level materially disadvantaged youth per year.”

The leadership training programs, she further said, “were held in our Mary Ward Centre in Karen (Nairobi). It really helped many of them to grow into responsible young people who are very active in their Parish Churches.”

Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM

“I did my work with great love and currently I think the last gift God is asking of me to give to the Kenyan Church is to help Religious women especially have a better understanding of their calling, empower them to improve their governance and all their structures, and to be able to look more realistically at the changing signs of our times so that we'll be able to see what God wants of us now,” Sr. Kelly shared, adding that the Encyclical Letters of Pope Francis such as Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti offer guidance to areas of “sensitivity and commitment” in the mission of women Religious.

She encouraged participation in the Synod on Synodality and urged women Religious to “open up our eyes to greater collaboration.”

Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM

“We need to have women and men Religious more involved with those on the margins, those living in informal settlements, which we call the slums, that we have to find new ways of being there,” the Loreto Sister emphasized.  

Focusing on the planned Centennial Celebration, Sr. Kelly said the January 29 event that is to begin with Holy Mass is guided by the theme, “Gratitude to God for faithfulness.”

To mark 100 years of service among the people of God in the Eastern Africa Province, she added, Loreto Sisters have identified a “neglected” area in Kenya’s Archdiocese of Mombasa where they plan to empower the girlchild. 

Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM

“The area we feel still neglected is the area around the Mijikenda people in Kilifi. The Giriama girls are still very deprived of basic education,” Sr. Kelly said. 

She explained, “Our memory for the centenary is that we develop a holistic school in Kilifi district. The land is already there, and the vision is that through that school and other ways, we impact on the region and gives the people of the area, particularly the women, a sense of their human dignity, and help them develop more fully as human persons.”

Credit: Sr. Santrina Tumusiime, IBVM

“We do not want to leave out the boychild; we have programs there” for the boychild who, she added, “is being neglected morally.”

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