Biography of Servant of God Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga

Born: January 1923  –  Died: 6 September 2003

Early life

Cardinal Maurice Michael Otunga was the first Kenyan to become an archbishop and a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church.

Maurice Michael Otunga was the son of a traditional tribal chief of the Bakhone named Wasike Lusweti Sudi Namachanja and of a diviner named Rosa Namisi. He was born on January 31, 1923 in Chebukwa (Bungoma District), Kakamega Diocese in Western Kenya.
From a profoundly traditional family, Cardinal Maurice Michael Otunga embraced Catholicism and was baptized in 1935, and accorded the name, “Maurice Michael”. He pursued the priesthood; much to the dismay of his kinfolk; Otunga was baptized in 1935. He entered the seminary in Kakamega after graduating from Mangu High School. He finished his major seminary training in Rome where he was ordained a priest on October 3, 1950 at age of twenty-seven. After ordination he completed his studies at the College of Propaganda Fide before returning to Kenya. He taught theology at Kisumu Major Seminary for three years and was nominated chancellor of the Curia. He also worked with the Apostolic Delegation in Kenya.

On November 17, 1956, Pope Pius XII named him titular bishop of Tacape and auxiliary bishop of Kisumu, where he was installed on February 25, 1957. Three years later, on May 21, 1960, Pope John XXIII appointed him bishop of Kisii where he remained until November 15, 1969 when Pope Paul VI made him titular archbishop of Bomarzo and coadjutor archbishop of Nairobi with right of succession. On October 24, 1971, after serving for two years under the archbishop of Nairobi, Most Rev. John Joseph McCarthy CSSp, Otunga was made archbishop of Nairobi. As archbishop, he served as president of the National Episcopate and as a member of the Permanent Commission of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). He was also the vice president of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA),

On March 5, 1973, Pope Paul VI elevated him to the office of cardinal. As cardinal, Otunga received the titular Church of St. Gregory Barbarigo. He attended the third ordinary assembly of the World Synod of Bishops in the Vatican in 1974, the fourth assembly in 1977, and the fifth assembly in 1980. He was a member of the General Secretariat between 1977 and 1983, and participated in the conclaves of August and October 1978. Cardinal Otunga also attended the Plenary Assembly of the Sacred College of Cardinals in the Vatican in November 1979, and was a member of the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Economic Problems of the Holy See in 1981. At the synod Cardinal Otunga made several recommendations, one of them urging SECAM, to “come up with a guideline to work and to feel and follow up ever more in solidarity to obstacles, particularly political ones, against evangelization as justice and peace.”

When Cardinal Otunga retired as archbishop of Nairobi in 1997, he chose as his retirement home a house for the poor, the Nyumba ya Wazee (house of elderly) run by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Nairobi. This was true to his lifestyle as archbishop for he never chose to live in luxury and always implored his priests to beware of materialism as an obstacle to the gospel witness.
Cardinal Maurice Michael Otunga died on September 6, 2003, at the age of eighty, after serving the church for fifty-three years as a priest, a bishop, and a cardinal. Kenyans remember him as a great minister and a devoted pastor in the history of their land.

Creating a Society Cardinal Otunga would have Loved

Cardinal Maurice Michael Otunga is remembered in Kenyan history as a great apostle and a father of African Christianity.
Otunga is remembered most for his distinguished and humble leadership which fostered phenomenal church growth, making the Roman Catholic Church the largest and fast growing church in the country. The church grew not just in its evangelization efforts but also in the areas of education, health, and social welfare. He encouraged holistic development: this vision for people’s physical, spiritual, social, and economic development enabled the Roman Catholic Church to reach the community by establishing the best schools, hospitals, and colleges among many other community development projects. His leadership also brought a liturgical renewal, making the form and style of worship in the church more African, something that has attracted a large following.

Pilgrims continue to resonate the devotional message, “A Disciple of Jesus Christ, he served His people with deep faith and love for all, as a humble priest, a compassionate shepherd,” inscribed on the exterior wall of Cardinal Otunga’s Memorial Hall, which archives his personal belongings including religious vestments, pictures, furniture, and epithets.
It is Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga’s dedication to serving all God’s people that led the Catholic Church to commence the process of his canonisation. I want to join the Catholic faithful in celebrating the declaration of Otunga as the ‘Servant of God’, which is the first critical stage in the process of beatification. I am confident that the second stage, which involves looking at his life, including writings by and about him, will be successful too.

Commemorating The Servant Of God .