Italian Priest who left footprints in Gusii land, Kenya retires

Fr Adolf Poll, a Catholic priest who helped start a number of churches and schools in the Gusii from 1969. PHOTO/The Scholar Correspondent.

In May, a Catholic priest who came to Gusiiland in 1969 and helped develop churches in Nyabururu, Gekano, Nyamagwa, Etago among other areas retired and returned to his home country,  Italy.

Fr Adolf Poll, popularly known as Fr Alleluia, helped convert many people in today’s Kisii and Nyamira counties to Christianity. 

Because most of these centres were tied to schools that the Mill Hill missionaries ran, he also by extension helped develop the education system in Gusii.

The priest came to Kenya as a Mill Hill missionary, a group that was out to build churches in places where Christianity was not very well established. Schools were also top of their agenda.

As many celebrated Fr Alleluia for his five decades of ministry in Kenya, spoke with him candidly.

This provided a chance to revisit the origins of Nyabururu, Cardinal Otunga, St Mary’s Mosocho and other Catholic-affiliated institutions.

Our interview with Fr Alleluia and Sister Margaret Bradbury, also a Mill Hill Missionary who came to Kenya in 1968 forms the basis of this story. 

Sr Bradbury was hosting Fr Alleluia at the Mill Hill Missionaries headquarters in Nairobi when a chance for the interview came up.

Below are some of the facts we got from our conversation with Fr Alleluia and Sr Bradbury.

Nyabururu started as a girls’ primary school

Sr Bradbury said that when she came in 1968, the secondary school side of Nyabururu was just starting up.

“When I came to Kenya, I was appointed to Nyabururu. Secondary education was just starting. So, I was appointed to the secondary school there. We had very few students. You know, it started as a primary school when the sisters first came in 1936,” she said.

The nun taught sciences at the new Nyabururu secondary institution. 

She became its headmistress in 1969, employed by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC). 

As is the tradition of the Mill Hill Missionaries, her salary was channeled to a common kitty to be shared among the other nuns.

She said there were about 40 sisters in Kenya that time.

Upon retirement as a teacher, Sr Bradbury became the head of St Paul’s Teachers and Training College in Nyabururu, another institution nurtured by the missionaries. She was there up to 2000.

The institution has since changed its name to St. Paul’s Training College Nyabururu, expanding its niche to accommodate Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) programmes.

Today, she is in charge of the Mill Hill sisters’ finances at the group’s headquarters along Nairobi’s Ngong Road.

Nyabururu and St Mary’s Mosocho were sister institutions

As the Catholic missionaries made Nyabururu a hub for girl’s education, St Mary’s Mosocho was designed to be the educational centre for boys. It was tied to Cardinal Otunga Mosocho.

In essence, the Nyabururu and the Mosocho institutions were joined at the hip, though it may not seem so today.

Respect for the church helped the schools to grow

Sr Bradbury says the faith among locals that she witnessed in her early days in Nyabururu is among the strongest she has ever seen.

“There were always great numbers of people doing catechumens; the celebrations at Easter when receiving the sacraments, always a big celebration there. And I think the people’s faith was very strong,” the sister said.

She went on: “People were always really revered Fr Adolf (Alleluia). I think he built a very strong foundation among the Kisii people. It is because he would not accept half a couple to be baptised. A wife had to bring her husband and a man had to bring his wife. So, they had nice, strong Christian families. That was a good foundation of the church in Kisii.”

Sister Margaret Bradbury, one of the founding teachers of Nyabururu Girls High School. PHOTO/The Scholar Correspondent.

She said people would walk long distances to come to church. 

“Nowadays they wouldn’t walk that far.”

Fr Alleluia said he helped develop both churches and schools. For instance, when he was taken to Nyamagwa, he recalled: “I was taken to Nyamagwa Mission. Same again: Evangelising there, building many churches, helping with building schools also. I stayed there for like three years.”

Other places where the Mill Hill missionaries built a church and a school include Kipini in Lamu County.

Fr Allelua gave an example of Witu in Lamu County: “When I was in Witu, besides helping people in education I also managed to acquire two tractors to help people to plough the land and also to transport their produce.”

The founding teacher feels bittersweet that Nyabururu Girls is nowadays a national school.

The secondary school at Nyabururu was started to serve people from the area, Sr Bradbury noted.

As such, she is conflicted on the move to make Nyabururu a national school.

“I feel great that it became a national school but I fear for the local community because they will not get many slots there,” Sr Bradbury said.

Fr Alleluia got his nickname because of language barrier.

“Alleluia” is the answer the priest born in Italy 81 years ago often gave when someone in Gusii asked him something and he didn’t know how to respond.

People would often ask him, “Ng’aki okorokwa (what is your name)?” and he would answer, “Alleluia.” 

And that became his nickname.

Previous articleNewsrooms should re-evaluate reporting formula to counter fake news
Next articleHEALTH: Meet the ‘skull surgeons’ of Marakwet
The Scholar Media Digital presents you with up-to-date news, educational reporting, and special features, county, national, continental, and global news which are exclusive, factual, timely, and insightful.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.