BISHOP OF KISII
In June 1960, the Holy See created the Diocese of Kisii and entrusted to the local clergy, under the leadership of Otunga as its first Bishop. He set himself immediately to delegating responsibilities in the diocese to the local clergy and laity. Bishop Otunga implemented staff changes in the Catholic schools of the diocese and prepared native priests to become headmasters. He laid a strong foundation for the diocese and developed it through a number of social and developmental programs, with the help of various religious congregations of brothers, sisters and lay people. Bishop Otunga ensured that each parish established self-help projects to cater for the needs of its poor members.
In 1969, Pope Paul VI appointed Bishop Otunga as Coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Nairobi. At the retirement of Archbishop John Joseph McCarthy, CSSp, in 1971, Bishop Otunga was installed as Ordinary of Nairobi. Archbishop Otunga faced many challenges on taking office. The city of Nairobi was growing in size and, as the capital of Kenya, it occupied a special place in the nation. Worse, he found himself heading an archdiocese with only six diocesan priests and eight Holy Ghost Missionaries. He immediately began promoting and encouraging vocations to the diocesan priesthood. On the same time, he invited many religious congregations – for both women and men – to come to the Archdiocese and help him build the local church. The vast experiences of Archbishop Otunga, and the strength of his personal prayer life, kept the better of him. While being strong and firm, he remained warm and willing to take sacrifices for the Church. To the priests, laity, and religious in his fold, he exhibited an unforgettable and touching solicitude for their well-being and growth in faith. He aimed at evangelizing his people, teaching everyone that they should make the Church their own.
On 5 March 1973, two years after taking over the see of Nairobi, Archbishop Otunga was made a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. Regarding that occasion, Cardinal Otunga would later reminisce: “The Holy Father placed the biretta on my head saying: ‘This biretta is to give you testimony that you must be ready to defend the Catholic Tradition even to the shedding of your blood.’ I will never forget that. When I stood up, I felt a different man.”
As the years passed, Cardinal Otunga found himself dealing not only with the religious affairs of the Church (the number of parishes doubled during his ministry in Nairobi), but also with the civil, political, economic and justice situations of the coun- try. Although known for his humility, he never hesitated to come at the defense of the country’s poor and marginalized. In all trying circumstan- ces, he responded under the inspiration of the Gospels and the teachings of the Church. He never allowed himself to be muddled in tribal politics, always reminding everyone that he was the bishop for all the members of his flock.
Cardinal Otunga never tired in showing his fatherly care for the priests of his archdiocese. He always found time to write to them in a very personal way, manifesting his concern that they should be models of Christian discipleship to the faithful in their parishes. He always practiced what he recommended to his priests: “You must be very good, very holy. Because you are at the pinnacle, anybody can throw anything at you, anytime. You must get good advisers who can give you a good advice without bias. You have to pray, remember always that you are doing God’s work. Never be vengeful, remember you are a father. You can weep, but remain close to God.”