Miracle That Set Italian-born Catholic Missionary Nun in Kenya on Path to Sainthood

Venerable Servant of God Maria Carola Cecchin. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The beatification of Venerable Servant of God Maria Carola Cecchin, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo (Cottolengo Sisters), was the climax of years of investigation into the miracle of bringing a stillborn child back to life.

Joyce Muriungi had gone to labor on the morning of 14 April 2013, and after hours of labor, she gave birth while on her way to St. Orsola Mission Hospital, Matiri assisted by Sr. Catherine Gathoni, a Cottolengo Nun, and a nurse. The baby, however, did not have a heartbeat.

It was at this point of desperation that Sr. Gathoni started praying through the intercession of Sr. Maria Carola, and the baby, Hilary Kiama Msafiri, came to life.

In an interview with ACI Africa on the sidelines of the beatification of the Italian-born Nun who served in Kenya as a missionary for two decades from 1905, Sr. Gathoni narrated events of the night of the birth of baby Msafiri.

“The mother had visited our facility on 12th April with a forced labor but since she was not progressing, we sent her back home for rest on 13th April. But she came back on the same day at around 7 p.m. and said that the pain was getting worse. We tried what we could but there was no progress, so at around 1 a.m., we decided to take her to St. Orsola Matiri because the roads leading to other hospitals were in bad condition.” Sr. Gathoni said during the November 5 interview.


An hour into the drive to St. Orsola hospital, Sr. Gathoni recalls the mother of Msafiri informing her and the nurse who were accompanying her that the child was coming.

“The driver stopped the vehicle and we helped her to deliver, but the child was lifeless. The nurse tried to resuscitate the baby but she told me that it was a stillbirth. She gave me the child and I just put him aside without covering him as it was still raining,” the Kenyan-born Nun narrated, adding that she instructed the nurse to focus on Mrs. Muriungi who was bleeding heavily.

At this point of desperation, Sr. Gathoni recalls invoking divine intervention for the stillborn baby to come to life.

“I took a short breath and that is when I said, Maria Carola, do a miracle. I just then sat there looking at the child when all of a sudden, I noticed a movement on the child’s chest and then he opened his hands. That is when I shouted to the nurse and said, ‘he is alive!’” she recalled the events of April 2013.

Sr. Carola was born on 3 April 1877 in Cittadella (Padua, Italy) and died on 13 November 1925 aboard a ship on the Red Sea as she traveled from Kenya back to her native country for treatment.

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She was declared venerable on 23 November 2020 by Pope Francis and beatified during the November 5 celebration that was presided over by the Papal delegate to the event, Antoine Cardinal Kambanda.

In an interview with interview with ACI Africa on the sidelines of the beatification ceremony, Mrs. Muriungi recalled the events of April 2013, saying that although she was too weak to witness events after her son's birth, she remembers holding her lifeless child before she passed out.

She said, “When we were on our way, the child was born, but he did not cry.”

“I was having complications and so the doctor attended to me and I was given the child as we headed back to the hospital. When I returned to the hospital, I could not figure out what was going on because my health situation was getting worse,” she said.

In a separate interview with ACI Africa, Joseph Muriungi who had taken his wife to hospital while in labor pain said he concentrated on his wife since he was told that the unborn child had no signs of life.


“The nurse told me that the child did not have any signs of life when he was born and so they did not bother so much about him but concentrated on my wife," he said.

Mr. Muriungi added, “The doctor told me that there was a Nun in their company who knew so much about Sr. Maria Carola and she started praying. After 30 minutes of prayer, they looked at the child and noticed a pulse and so they took the child and handed him over to his mother."

Mr. Muriungi, a convert to Catholicism from the Methodist Church, said the miracle touched his Christian faith, adding that he would not object in case his “miracle” son chooses to embrace the call to Religious Life.

The  Vatican recognized the April 2013 miracle, and the leadership of the Cottolengo Sisters announced the beatification of the Venerable Servant of God Carola on 11 March 2022.

In a statement obtained by ACI Africa, the Superior General of the Sisters of Cottolengo, Mother Elda Pezzuto, said the Congregation had learnt with great joy the news of the beatification of their member.

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“The Superiors of the Cottolengo Family, on behalf of the Little House spread throughout the world, and in particular on African soil, express gratitude to the Holy Father for having granted to celebrate the Beatification of Sister Maria Carola in the land that she loved so much,” Mother Pezzuto said in the statement dated March 11.

In the same statement, the Father General of the Little House of Divine Providence, which St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo founded, described the Holy Father’s granting of the beatification as “an extraordinary grace”.

“It is an extraordinary grace that Divine Providence grants to the whole Cottolengo Family present in Africa and in the world as a renewed call to the path of holiness,” Fr. Carmine Arice, the Father General of the Catholic entity that includes members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and the Laity, with the mission of taking care of many poor, sick and needy people who were welcomed in was quoted as saying.

Silas Mwale Isenjia is a Kenyan journalist with a great zeal and interest for Catholic Church related communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communication from Moi University in Kenya. Silas has vast experience in the Media production industry. He currently works as a Journalist for ACI Africa.