Cardinal otunga

Servant of God



In the later-half of 1943, Otunga was in his father’s homestead for several months to undergo traditional initiation into manhood. During the actual ritual, Chief Sudi placed a special cloak of the finest gazelle skins on his son’s shoulders and placed his staff on his son’s hands. All gathered understood what it meant – the chief had chosen Otunga to succeed him after his death.

On returning back to Mang’u in October of that year, Otunga and his principal, Fr. John Joseph O’Meara, CSSp, began to make plans for him to read History and Education at Makarere College (now University) in Kampala (Uganda).  But something deep in his heart was growing intensely: “… that little thing in his heart told him to go to the seminary. He appreciated the opportunity to go to (Makarere), but in his heart of hearts he knew he was being called to the priesthood. Would going to (Makarere) interfere in some way with that call?...‘I had the vocation very strong,’ he says. ‘So strong that I felt, am I doing my own little will or God’s will?”

To clarify his conviction, he sought the counsel of two Mill Hill missionaries. He went first to Fr. Puylaert, the missionary who baptized him, who encouraged him to take the step. Otunga then sought the advice of Fr. (later Bishop) Jan de Reeper, MHM, rector of St. Peter’s Seminary in Mukumu (Shinyalu, Kakamega). “My son,” he told Otunga, “you are playing with your vocation, so come, otherwise you will lose that vocation.”

Firmly convinced that he was following the will of God, Otunga dropped his plans to go to Makarere. He returned home to reveal to his parents his desire to begin seminary studies. Chief Sudi remained silent for more than a day after hearing from his favored son.  As the hours went, relatives spoke more openly against Otunga’s decision. Chief Sudi then spoke, “Let him go and find out for himself. I’ve seen many go to… the minor seminary and later leave. Let him go.”

With his father’s permission – and in spite his father’s doubts – Otunga entered St. Peter’s Seminary in 1943. Two years later, he went to Uganda for philosophical studies at St. Mary’s National Major Seminary in Ggaba. During all this time, Chief Sudi was pressing him to end his seminary studies and take over his role of paramount chief. But Otunga did not give in.

In 1947, Otunga was sent to Rome to study theology at the Collegio Urbaniano. He came under the rectorship of Fr. (later Cardinal) James Knox who esteemed Otunga in a unique way and with whom he would later work in Kenya.

On 3 October 1950, Otunga was ordained a priest. In 1951 he was granted his Master’s Degree in Theology and returned home to Kenya.