FROM KAKAMEGA TO KISUMU
As a young priest, Otunga had wanted to involve himself in the evangelization and pastoral care of the people. “Fr. Otunga saw himself as nothing more than a pastoral man. He had no greater ambition than to be in the thick of with God’s people. He lived what he believed. He believed that his life was a total donation to God and his people, and it was this that he dedicated all his energies.”
However, his superiors felt that it would be best for him to be assigned as a teacher at St. Peter’s Seminary in Kakamega. “Obedience prevented him from the fulfillment of his personal vision.” In 1953, he was sent to Mombasa to serve as the private secretary of Archbishop Knox, his former rector in Rome who had been appointed as Apostolic Delegate of the British East and West Africa, a zone that included 72 national jurisdictions. Archbishop Know used to send Fr. Otunga to many places, which gave him a wider insight into the condition of the faithful in East Africa.
On 17 November, 1956, Pope Pius XII appointed Fr. Otunga as Auxiliary Bishop of Kisumu. With his consecration, Otunga became the first Kenyan to be elevated to the episcopacy. He served in this office for about four years and encountered some difficulties in the process. Archbishop Philip Sulumeti of Kakamega reflected on that period: “Our church is human and the acceptance of him as a black bishop was difficult in some quarters… Kenya was (then) a colony and the settlers had the mentality that they were going to stay. There were a few missionaries with that mentality so they didn’t like the idea of an African bishop… I think what led him to succeed was that humility in him. He was a very humble person and very difficult to fight with and that I think has carried him along. He is humble in the real sense of the word. That doesn’t mean you can take him for granted. No, he can be very strong when he has to.”