John Anthony Kaiser

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John Anthony Kaiser
Born(1932-11-29)November 29, 1932
Perham, Minnesota, USA
DiedAugust 23, 2000(2000-08-23) (aged 67)
Morendat, Kenya

John Anthony Kaiser (November 29, 1932 – August 23, 2000) was a Roman Catholic priest and Mill Hill father from Perham, Minnesota, US, who was assassinated near his mission at Morendat, in western Kenya.

Early life[edit]

John Anthony Kaiser was born in Perham, Minnesota, USA.[1] John attended Saint John's Preparatory School and St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, for two years[2] before he joined the army in 1954.[3] He was a paratrooper,[4] and advanced to the rank of Sergeant.[5] He graduated from Saint Louis University in 1960,[3] with a BA in English Literature.[6] While in St. Louis, he joined the Knights of Columbus. From here, he went to St. Joseph Seminary in Mill Hill, England, where he studied from 1960 to 1964.[7] Kaiser was ordained in St. Louis for the Mill Hill Fathers in 1964, and was sent to their missions in Kenya.[5][7]

Maela refugee camp[edit]

Kaiser spent 20 years in the missions in the Kisii Diocese.[8] Over that time the Catholic population had doubled, so that 48 priests were ministering to more than half a million Catholics in the diocese,[9] many living in grinding poverty. In 1993, he was reassigned to the Maela refugee camp in the Ngong Diocese.[7][10] Refugees fled to the camp as a result of tribal violence, armed gangs driving them from their homes and then torching the buildings.[4] Kaiser and others thought the government was fomenting the violence as part of a land grab.[11] Amid international attention, on Christmas Eve, 1994, the camp was closed and the refugees were forcibly resettled.[12] Kaiser protested the closing, but he was arrested,[12][13] beaten,[14] and released into the bush.[7][15] Following these events, Kaiser was reassigned to preach to the more distant Maasai at Lolgorian Parish.[5][10][16]

In 1998, at great personal risk, Kaiser testified before the Akiwumi Commission,[17] investigating the causes of the violence and the closing of the camp.[18] In public, sworn testimony, Kaiser fingered prominent cabinet ministers in the incumbent government,[5] as well as the then-President, Daniel arap Moi.[19] His testimony was quashed.[7] The report of the commission was released on October 18, 2002. It confirmed the charges made by Fr. Kaiser, "indicted ... senior officials", and "accused senior officials of giving inflammatory speeches and in some cases financing persons responsible for the violence."[20]

Kaiser had also helped two schoolgirls in summer 1999. The girls claimed they had been raped by Julius Sunkuli, a cabinet minister in the Moi government.[5][21] Sunkuli is alleged to have offered money for an abortion, but the girl, a fourteen-year-old named Florence, decided to keep her baby.[4] Kaiser put the girls in touch with the Kenyan Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA-Kenya.[15] The attorneys submitted the evidence to the government,[22] but Sunkuli was never charged.[23] Instead, police stormed the building where the girls were hiding.[4]

Troubles with the Kenyan government[edit]

In November, 1999, the Kenyan government tried to deport Kaiser, claiming that his work permit had expired.[5] Kaiser briefly went into hiding in Kisii[24] before he was granted a new work permit, but only after intervention by the US Ambassador Johnnie Carson[5] and Bishop Colin Davis of Ngong.[25]

In March, 2000, the independent Law Society of Kenya presented Kaiser with its annual Human Rights Award, for his public testimony before the Akiwumi Commission and his support of the two girls. They called him "a study in courage, determination and sacrifice on behalf of the weak, oppressed and downtrodden."[10]

Kaiser knew of the dangers of speaking out in Kenya, and of a fate which had befallen many others. In a book about his experiences at the Maela camp, he wrote a warning.

I want all to know that if I disappear from the scene, because the bush is vast and hyenas many, that I am not planning any accident, nor, God forbid, any self destruction. Instead, I trust in a good guardian angel and in the action of grace.

— "If I Die," John Kaiser, [13]

Death and aftermath[edit]

On August 23, 2000, Kaiser was shot in the back of the head with a shotgun, at close range.[26] His body was found at 6 am[5] the next day beneath two acacia trees[27] by a butcher named George,[28] at Morendat junction on the Nakuru-Naivasha road in western Kenya.[29] He was carrying documents he intended to present to the Akiwumi Commission.[30] He was also to testify against the Moi government before the International Criminal Court in the Hague in three weeks.[31] The first police officers on the scene thought he had been murdered.[32][33]

Less than a week after Kaiser's death, Florence Mpayei dropped her rape case against Julius Sunkuli.[34]

Kenya's chief government pathologist and a pathologist from an independent human rights organization present at the autopsy thought Kaiser was killed from a muzzle distance of about 3 feet (0.91 m), from which suicide would be impossible.[35] However, an FBI expert from Texas, who did not examine Kaiser but only saw photographs, concluded that Kaiser had committed suicide.[36] The Moi government readily agreed.[37]

Both houses of the United States Congress passed a joint resolution calling Kaiser's death "an assassination", and calling for the US State Department to investigate.[30]

The papal nuncio, Giovanni Tonucci, said at Kaiser's funeral in the Nairobi basilica, "The church, through pitiless violence, has once more been deprived of one of her ministers. Let no one have any doubts about it: we are celebrating a religious occasion; we are reflecting on a religious assassination, not a political one. Fr. Kaiser has been murdered because he was, and in the eternity of God still is, a Catholic priest who preached the Gospel. Those who killed him, those who planned his killing, wanted to silence the voice of the Gospel."[38]..."Only two days before his death, I met Fr. Kaiser for a long conversation. At the end, he asked my blessing, which I reluctantly gave him. At that moment, I thought it would have been better if he, an old and worthy missionary, had blessed me. How much more I am convinced of that now that we look at him as a martyr of the faith?"[15] Also present at the altar was Maurice Cardinal Otunga, Archbishop Emeritus of Nairobi.[15]

The Law Society of Kenya renamed its annual award the Fr. Kaiser Human Rights Award.[39] A new Kenyan government was elected in 2002. Since then, the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission posthumously honored Kaiser with its 2006 Milele (Lifetime) Achievement Award.[40] Kaiser also posthumously received the Twin Cities International Citizen Award from the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul in 2000,[41] and the Lumen Gentium Award from St. John's Preparatory School in 2004.[42]

Correspondent Carol Marin and producer Peter W. Klein of the American news program 60 Minutes conducted an investigation into the death of Kaiser, which put pressure on the international community to solve the mystery of how he died. The Kenyan government reopened the inquest into Kaiser's death at the request of the Kenyan Episcopal Conference.[43] The inquest ended on June 12, 2007, after hearing from 111 witnesses.[44] The presiding magistrate, Maureen Odero, said on August 1, 2007, that Kaiser was murdered, ruled that the "Suicide Theory" was based on a preconceived notion, but stated that "she could not – on the basis of evidence tabled before her in the inquest – point out with certainty who the priest's killers were".[45]

The Rugged Priest[edit]

The Rugged Priest[46] is a 2011 film which won the 2011 Golden Dhow award at the 14th Zanzibar International Film Festival and the Verona Jury award for the Best African Feature Film.[47]

You Will See Fire[edit]

In 2011, W. W. Norton & Company published the book You Will See Fire: A Search for Justice in Kenya, an account of Father Kaiser's life and death by investigative journalist Christopher Goffard.[48][49]


  1. ^ Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota (August 2000). "Minnesota priest, Father John Kaiser, Murdered in Kenya". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-03-04.
  2. ^ St. John's University Peace Studies Department. "Peace Studies Conference Fall 2001". Archived from the original on 2006-09-12. Retrieved 2007-03-04.
  3. ^ a b Mbitiru, Chigi (August 25, 2000). "American priest's death shocks Kenya". Associated Press. Archived from the original on February 11, 2005. Retrieved 2007-03-04.
  4. ^ a b c d Harding, Andrew (February 23, 2001). "Death of a Priest". BBC News. Retrieved 2006-07-02.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Final FBI Report on the Death of Father John Kaiser". The East African. May 7, 2001. Archived from the original on April 24, 2005. Retrieved 2006-09-08.
  6. ^ Some sources say theology.
  7. ^ a b c d e Wellstone, Hon. Paul (October 6, 2000). "Speech on the floor of the United States Senate introducing S Con Res 146". Congressional Record. pp. S10093. Retrieved 2006-07-02.
  8. ^ Zenit News Agency (August 27, 2000). "World Features". Archived from the original on January 8, 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-11.
  9. ^ "Diocese of Kisii". The Hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Retrieved 2007-02-04.
  10. ^ a b c Law Society of Kenya (March 11, 2000). "Statement in Support of the Award for Distinguished Service in the Promotion of Human Rights to Father John Anthony Kaiser for the Year 2000". Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved 2006-07-02.
  11. ^ "News Briefs". America, The National Catholic Weekly. September 9, 2002. Archived from the original on May 25, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-28.
  12. ^ a b Human Rights Watch (June 1997). Failing the Internally Displaced: The UNDP Displaced Persons Program in Kenya. Retrieved 2007-01-21.
  13. ^ a b Kaiser, John Anthony (2003). If I Die. Nairobi, Kenya: WordAlive Publishers.
  14. ^ England, Andrew. "Minnesotan sought social justice". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-01-14.
  15. ^ a b c d Mahoney, Carolita (September 10, 2000). "Letter to friends". Retrieved 2006-08-11.[dead link]
  16. ^ Society of St. Joseph (Mill Hill) (Autumn 2001). "Mission Today: Mill Hill Newsround". Archived from the original on June 22, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-07.
  17. ^ Norwegian Refugee Council (November 30, 2004). "Profile of Internal Displacement: Kenya" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-11-23. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
  18. ^ "Playing with Fire: Weapons Proliferation, Political Violence, and Human Rights in Kenya" (PDF). Human Rights Watch. May 2002. Retrieved 2006-12-29.
  19. ^ "Fr Kaiser: A defender of clash victims". The Nation (Kenya). November 1, 1999.
  20. ^ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (March 31, 2003). "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kenya, 2002". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2006-12-29.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ "Sunkuli defended by wife". The Nation (Kenya). September 18, 2000.
  22. ^ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (February 23, 2001). "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Kenya, 2000". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2006-11-19.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  23. ^ Thuku, Wahome (September 19, 2000). "Sunkuli Case Goes to CJ". The Nation (Kenya).
  24. ^ Sekoh-Ochieng, Jacinta (November 3, 1999). "Fr Kaiser took refuge in Kisii – bishop". The Nation (Kenya).
  25. ^ "US Priest Allowed To Stay in Kenya". Catholic World News. November 3, 1999. Retrieved 2006-10-27.
  26. ^ Mwangi, George (August 24, 2000). "American Priest Found Dead in Kenya". Associated Press. Archived from the original on February 4, 2005. Retrieved 2006-07-02.
  27. ^ "Sleuths at Kaiser murder scene". The Nation (Kenya). November 2, 2000. Archived from the original on May 4, 2005. Retrieved 2006-09-23.
  28. ^ Harding, Andrew (February 23, 2001). "Death of a Priest". BBC News Online. Retrieved 2006-09-16.
  29. ^ Kazungu, Nyabonyi (August 28, 2006). "Kenya: Bring Kaiser's Killers to Book, Clerics Demand". The Nation (Kenya). Retrieved 2006-09-23.
  30. ^ a b "S. Con. Res. 146". 106th United States Congress, 2nd session. October 24, 2000.
  31. ^ Stahl, Brandon (March 1, 2006). "Kaiser honored by Kenyan government". Daily Journal, Fergus Falls, MN.
  32. ^ Muiruri, Stephen; Michael Njuguna (August 25, 2000). "A last prayer, then Fr Kaiser is killed". The Nation (Kenya).
  33. ^ Tomlinson, Chris (September 10, 2000). "American priest's killing incites Kenyan opposition". Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved 2006-09-03.
  34. ^ "Kenyan girl withdraws minister rape case". BBC News. August 31, 2000. Retrieved 2006-10-28.
  35. ^ "Was It Accidental, Homicide, Or a Case of Suicide?". The East African. May 14, 2001. Archived from the original on April 28, 2005. Retrieved 2006-08-26.
  36. ^ "FBI Releases Report on Death of US Missionary in Kenya". Catholic World News. April 19, 2001. Retrieved 2006-08-20.
  37. ^ Nzia, Daniel (May 7, 2001). "Madoka supports FBI report on Kaiser death,". The Financial Standard (Kenya).
  38. ^ Quinn, Frederick. "John Kaiser". Dictionary of African Christian Biography. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2006-07-02.
  39. ^ "Missionary priest receives award from Law Society of Kenya". Christian Today. March 26, 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-02.
  40. ^ "Citation for 2006 Milele (Lifetime Achievement) Award to Fr. John Anthony Kaiser" (Press release). Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. February 18, 2006.
  41. ^ "List of Recipients of the International Citizen Award". Retrieved 2006-08-01.
  42. ^ Tavis, Fr. Gordon, OSB (November 11, 2004). "Speech at the Legacy Dinner". Retrieved 2006-07-18.[dead link]
  43. ^ "Bishops to pursue Kaiser case". The Nation (Kenya). August 24, 2003. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  44. ^ Njuguna, Francis (June 12, 2007). "Kenya: Fr Kaiser inquest winds up". Independent Catholic News. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-05-14.
  45. ^ Agutu, Mark (August 2, 2007). "It was murder, Kaiser probe rules". The Nation (Kenya). Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
  46. ^ "Rugged Priest". Cinematic Africa Films. Archived from the original on 2011-03-27.
  47. ^ Kerongo, Grace (29 June 2011). "Kenya: Controversial Priest Movie Scoops Two ZIFF Awards". Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  48. ^ "You Will See Fire | W. W. Norton & Company". Retrieved 2019-03-02.
  49. ^ "The Rumpus Interview With Christopher Goffard - The". Retrieved 2019-03-02.

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