How Daughters of St. Paul in Eastern Africa are Bouncing Back from COVID-19 Plunge

Daughters of St. Paul Superiors in Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, flanked by the Delegate Superior, Sr. Rosemary Mwaiwa (in white scuff). Credit: Daughters of St. Paul, Nairobi

Members of the Pious Society of the Daughters of St. Paul (FSP – Daughters of St. Paul) in Tanzania were journeying with five Aspirants when COVID-19 broke out in 2020, bringing vocations outreach activities of FSP members in the Eastern Africa region to a sudden halt.

While COVID-19 safety protocols were less stringent in Tanzania compared to her neighbors, the Daughters of St. Paul in Tanzania decided to limit physical meetings in their community. To avoid contagion, visits to the families of the Aspirants were stopped and the five young women were not permitted to attend physical meetings in the community.

This way, contact with the five, who were aspiring to join the Daughters of St. Paul was lost, and the community ended up losing the young women.

In a Wednesday, May 17 interview with ACI Africa, the Superior of the community of the Daughters of St. Paul in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania said that everything had been set for the five Aspirants to take part in the “Come and see” program in preparation for their Postulancy in Kampala, Uganda.

All the preparations, including retreats and family visits, had been made before COVID-19, Sr. Teresia Swai said.


“For two years of COVID-19, we couldn’t do any recruitment in schools and in parishes because we decided to limit our movement. We even ended up losing the five (Aspirants) we had along the way because we couldn’t stay in touch with them,” she added.

Sr Teresia Swai, FSP Superior in Tanzania. Credit: Daughters of St. Paul, Nairobi

“We couldn’t invite them for the retreats that they were used to and they couldn’t come to the community to spend time with us,” The FSP member continued, adding that the April and December 2021 retreats that the community had organized for the Aspirants had to be canceled for fear of transmitting the virus.

The Tanzanian Catholic Nun further said, “There was no COVID-19 lockdown in Tanzania even though we saw people catching the flu. Public spaces were allowed to run as usual but many private entities were locked down. As a community, we also thought that the best way to protect the young (Aspirants) was to allow them to stay at home. But we ended up losing them.”

Sr Teresia Swai, FSP Superior in Tanzania. Credit: Daughters of St. Paul, Nairobi

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COVID-19 dealt a huge blow to the Daughters of St. Paul in the entire Eastern African region that comprises Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and South Sudan.

The situation was worse in Uganda, which had the world’s longest COVID-19 shutdown, with schools losing nearly two academic years.

With Parishes and schools closed, the two key recruitment joints for the Daughters of St. Paul in Uganda were lost.

“COVID-19 was so abrupt. We had planned for retreats and other vocational activities but everything was paralyzed when the country went on a very long lockdown,” Sr. Bernadette Lutaya, the Superior of FSP community of St. Paul in Kampala, Uganda, told ACI Africa.

Sr Bernadette Lutaya, FSP Superior in Uganda. Credit: Daughters of St. Paul, Nairobi


Sr. Bernadette added, “We couldn’t invite anyone in the community. Our visits to schools and parishes in the rural areas where we get most of our vocations were cut short. Our (Aspirants) got tired of waiting for the ‘Come and see’ program in Nairobi and veered off along the way.”

The Delegate Superior of FSP members in Eastern Africa, including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, South Sudan and Zimbabwe told ACI Africa that the formation process for the years 2019, 2020, and 2021 was disrupted owing to the COVID-19 lockdown and that some countries in the region are still struggling to stabilize their numbers.

Sr. Rosemary Mwaiwa said, “The COVID-19 years were very critical for the Daughters of St. Paul. We couldn't share our charism in schools and in parishes and so, our recruitment was badly affected.”

Sr Rosemary Mwaiwa, Nairobi-based FSP Delegate Superior. Credit: Daughters of St. Paul, Nairobi

The 2020 and 2021 Aspirants in the Congregation could not proceed with their formation, Sr. Rosemary said, adding that the two groups had to be merged when COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed, allowing them to proceed with their pre-postulancy in Kampala.

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Today, Daughters of St. Paul only have seven pre-postulants in Kampala, including four Kenyans, two Tanzanians, and one Uganda. Also in the Kampala formation house, are five postulants, who include three Ugandans and two Kenyans.

Sr. Rosemary says that many FSP Aspirants who would now be in the pre-postulancy and postulancy groups in Kampala could not endure the long wait owing to the COVID-19 travel restrictions that made it impossible to cross the border to Uganda.

Apart from the huge blow to the recruitment of vocations to Religious Life, the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul who engage the communications media to spread the Gospel message that includes the promotion of the dignity of all people was also affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Our book displays were suspended for a very long time. We had to find new ways to cope and adapted to completing our activities online. This is how we birthed online book launches and we have never looked back,” Sr. Rosemary said.

“We grew all our digital platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Kenyan-born FSP Delegate Superior says, and adds, “We explored multiple creative ways to reach our audiences and started packaging our content in short video clips and other audiovisual tools. And we have continued to grow this opportunity in digital communication.”

Sr Rosemary Mwaiwa, Nairobi-based FSP Delegate Superior. Credit: Daughters of St. Paul, Nairobi

To boost recruitment, the international Religious Congregation that Blessed James Alberione founded in Italy in 1915 “is going where the young people are,” Sr. Rosemary told ACI Africa.

“We are finding new channels used by young people and following them there to make known our vocation. We are very active on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other places where the young people are and we get some expressing their interest to join us,” she said.

Because COVID-19 is no longer a threat, FSP members have also gone back to their traditional recruitment channels in schools and parishes, Sr. Rosemary said.

Sr Rosemary Mwaiwa, Nairobi-based FSP Delegate Superior. Credit: Daughters of St. Paul, Nairobi

“We are also using our witness of life to attract young people in our Congregation. There are those who step into our bookshops, see us, and ask to join us,” she said, echoing FSP members who have described their Catholic Bookshops as their “pulpit”. 

All over the region, Daughters of St. Paul are bouncing back from the COVID-19 devastation that threatened their numbers. 

Sr Bernadette Lutaya, FSP Superior in Uganda. Credit: Daughters of St. Paul, Nairobi

In Kampala, Uganda, Sr. Bernadette is accompanying 20 new FSP Aspirants through retreats, weekend programs and home visits, confident that the same number, or more, will one day proceed to Kenya and Uganda to start their Religious formation.

In Tanzania, FSP members have devised an ambitious plan to fully accompany the community’s four Aspirants who are looking forward to leaving for Nairobi in May next year to participate in their “Come and see” program.

“We keep them as close to us as possible. We send them random quizzes probing their general knowledge of our Congregation and invite them for get-togethers and talks on weekends. We have also been inviting them for a one-week stay with us during holidays,” Sr. Teresia told ACI Africa during the May 17 interview.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.