Archdiocese of Chicago

Catholic Chicago Blog

Monday, February 08, 2010

Healthy Church Leadership in the Diocese of Meru, Kenya

By Dr. Carol L. Fowler

Have you ever had such an onrush of new experiences that it seems impossible to sort out? I am in the midst of an explosion of new sights, sounds, people, prayer experiences, food, culture, and languages. I have been in the Diocese of Meru, Kenya since the middle of January, which has been both overwhelming and exhilarating. I am here with a small group of people who are part of an organization called the “Friends of Kenyan Orphans.”

St. Clare School for Girls in Meru, KenyaDuring recent weeks, 160 new students arrived at St. Clare School for Girls. There are now 360 girls living and attending classes at the school located in the Children’s Village in Meru, Kenya. The new building construction, shown above, is made possible because of fundraising efforts of Friends of Kenyan Orphans. Learn more about this effort at

Sue and Bud Ozar who spent two years here in Meru with the Los Angeles Lay Mission Helpers began this group. While here Bud worked for the Bishop of Meru developing the diocese’s stewardship and fundraising capabilities while Sue was a teacher and counselor at the Children’s Village which includes a boy’s school and residence for about 350 boys, St. Francis School, and a girl’s school, and residence, St. Clare, for 360 girls. Over 165 of these girls are new arrivals from Samburu, a northern region of Kenya, in which orphaned girls have little chance at a decent life.

All of these children are orphans, abandoned, abused, hungry and some are addicted to sniffing glue and other very problematic behaviors. The children are as young as four years of age up to the late teens. The Rev. Francis Limo Riwa, a diocesan priest, who began with eight boys and now has over 700, founded the Children’s Village. He will bring in more children as soon as he can build more space to house and school them. These children have had tragic lives and yet their resiliency and desire to learn are an inspiration. There is a joy here with laughter, singing and dancing everywhere that seems impossible to believe when you listen to their stories.

I have been engaged in two kinds of activities since I have been here. Dr. Glenda Pryce, President Emerita of Marygrove College in Detroit and I did three workshops for the priests of the diocese, school administrators and lay parish leaders on “Healthy Church Leadership.” I also assisted Sue Ozar in two workshops for the teachers at the Children’s Village in Classroom Management. The rest of my time has been with the girls at St. Clare in small groups tutoring English.

I can’t let this opportunity go by without commenting on my experience of Church and liturgy. The priests are focused on meeting the basic physical and spiritual needs of their parishioners. They work on bringing water to their people, providing schools and health care and giving everyone the opportunity for catechesis and sacraments. There are 65 parishes and each of those parishes has between five and 25 prayer houses or missions. Bishop Mugambi is committed to getting to each parish and each prayer house as much as possible. The roads are mostly unpaved and very rough. Many require a four-wheel drive vehicle for navigation to these missions. The liturgy and music are very prayerful and very culturally embedded. Most of the singing is in Swahili with incredible harmonies and vigor.

This has been a blessed time for me and helps me to reflect on my life as part of the Church of Chicago. I welcome your comments and questions.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010 12:21 PM

Thank you to all who took the time to read and respond to the blog about my experience in Meru, Kenya. I have just a few responses to those comments:

During my years in campus ministry, I could always recognize the students for whom a service experience was most meaningful. They were the young people who said something to the effect that they were more changed and moved by the experience than what they may have accomplished by their presence. I know that my experience with the girls at St. Clare, the teachers, the priests and sisters of the diocese of Meru, the parish leaders with whom I met, my fellow sojourners who came from the US, Bishop Mugambi and especially Fr. Riwa, the founder and director of the Children's Village, will remain with me for the rest of my life. Their commitment, energy and enthusiasm were contagious and inspiring.

One person raised the question as to why did I need to go so far away to be of service. I could have been of service on the south side of Chicago. Of course, that is true. Service for the people of God is important wherever we are and especially service to those who are poor. Such service is not mutually exclusive. Going to Kenya doesn't preclude being of service in my neighborhood, city or country. It adds to the call to be of service. It doesn't detract from it. However, there was one comment with which I would disagree. The poverty levels are not equal. There are almost no safety nets in 3rd world countries. These children, as young as 5 or 6, were rescued from the streets and struggling to survive without the care and concern of an adult or a government agency. Food, shelter and medical care are difficult and sometimes next to impossible to come by. Girls are especially vulnerable. The Church is working very hard to provide that safety net but it is an uphill struggle.

One person asked about sending books and other kinds of supplies to the school. The Friends of Kenyan Orphans has looked for ways to do that inexpensively, but it is very difficult. If a box of books is sent, not only is the shipping price very high, there is a duty charged on those books that can be prohibitive. We have found the best way to get things to the Children's Village is to send it with someone who is going, or mail it 2 books at a time in mailer envelopes. Sending money so the school can go to Nairobi and buy books are more efficient and effective. For more information on how to do this, you can contact

I enjoyed hearing from those who have friends or connections to Kenya and Kenyan priests. I also read the comment about the weather here in Chicago compared to Kenya. While we were there, the weather was about 80 degrees everyday and dry. It was perfect. It is on the equator but the elevation is high enough that it isn't tropical. During the rainy seasons, mud especially muddy roads can be a major obstacle.

Thank you again for your interest. Jet lag has subsided and I have returned to the routine of work, gray skies and snowy weather. Spring is on the way!

Dr. Carol L. Fowler

Thursday, February 11, 2010 8:33 PM

your safe return is certainly in all our prayers, God bless you for having the courage to live your faith

Kathy D.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 6:33 PM

Hi Carol,
Congratulations on your work and the blog. It's all very impressive.

Marianne S.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 4:35 PM

So interesting and enlightening and as always so proud of you-- loving prayers from cuz Carol

carol P.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 2:27 PM

Has anyone ever thought of doing a mission trip to the south suburbs? There is just as much poverty there as there is in any foreign country. Kids in Ford Heights and Harvey are equally as malnourished as kids in Mexico. Kids in Africa have more access to fresh produce than kids in Robbins. This is on the very southern end of the Chicago archdiocese.

Karen E.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 1:12 PM

Dear Carol,

It's good to learn of your adventures. I'm sure this is an enriching time for you and that Africa is capturing your heart.
May this mission experience strengthen your sense of mission.
Sr. madge

Sr. Madge K.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 10:59 AM

Greetings! Our Associate Pastor,Father George Omwando is from Kenya. He teaches us about dinosaurs. (!) I will let him know about this blog today. Hope the weather is good there; we expect 12" of snow by day's end.

Sandy K.

Monday, February 08, 2010 2:37 PM

Bravo! I am sure that you are learning a lot from Meru people. I was actually in kenya and come from the opposite side of Mt. Kenya in Nyeri Archdiocese but i think you remember me I am a priest of the Archdiocese of chicago. If i had known that you were there i would have come to say hi. So just want to congratulate and to thank you for sharing your leadership skills with the priests and the children in Meru diocese. it is a wonderful practical way of showing our catholicity. on side note make sure you go to safari in Samburu National park is not far from where you are! enjoy!

Rev. Maina W.

Monday, February 08, 2010 11:07 AM


Greetings! This must be such an amazing experience for you. I can imagine what you are learning from these small children who have been through so much yet still have so much strength and fortitude to keep going. My question to you is, we have items that have been sitting here that could come to good use in the building of the schools in Kenya such as books, desks, etc... However, we always encounter the same issue of transportation. Does this mission help with this?

Have a wonderful trip.

Claudia S.