Maurice Michael Otunga

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Maurice Michael Otunga
Archbishop Emeritus of Nairobi
ChurchRoman Catholic Church
Appointed24 October 1971
Term ended14 May 1997
PredecessorJohn Joseph McCarthy
SuccessorRaphael S. Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki
Other post(s)Cardinal-Priest of San Gregorio Barbarigo alle Tre Fontane (1973-2003)
Ordination3 October 1950
by Pietro Fumasoni Biondi
Consecration25 February 1957
by James Robert Knox
Created cardinal5 March 1973
by Pope Paul VI
Personal details
Maurice Michael Otunga

January 1923
Chebukwa, Bungoma, Kenya
Died6 September 2003 (aged 80)
Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Nairobi, Kenya
Previous post(s)
Alma materPontifical Urban University
MottoPer ipsum et cum ipso et in ipso ("Through Him, with Him, and in Him")
Styles of
Maurice Otunga
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal
SeeNairobi (Emeritus)
Ordination history of
Maurice Michael Otunga
Priestly ordination
Ordained byPietro Fumasoni Biondi
Date3 October 1950
PlaceRome, Italy
Episcopal consecration
Principal consecratorJames Robert Knox
Co-consecratorsFrederick Hall + John Joseph McCarthy
Date25 February 1957
PlaceKakamega, Kenya
Elevated byPope Paul VI
Date5 March 1973
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by Maurice Michael Otunga as principal consecrator
Urbanus Joseph Kioko7 October 1973
Silas Silvius Njiru1 January 1976
Colin Cameron Davies, M.H.M.27 February 1977
John Christopher Mahon, S.P.S.25 April 1978
Zacchaeus Okoth30 April 1978
Nicodemus Kirima14 May 1978
Ambrogio Ravasi, I.M.C.18 October 1981
Erkolano Lodu Tombe28 November 1986
Joseph Mairura Okemwa21 July 1995
Alfred Kipkoech Arap Rotich3 July 1996

Maurice Michael Otunga (January 1923 – 6 September 2003) was a Kenyan Catholic prelate and cardinal who served as the Archbishop of Nairobi from 1971 until his resignation in 1997.[1][2] Pope Paul VI elevated him into the cardinalate in 1973 as the Cardinal-Priest of San Gregorio Barbarigo alle Tre Fontane. Otunga was the son of a tribal chief and denied taking his father's place so as to pursue a path to the priesthood after completing his studies at home and in Rome. He was made a bishop in the 1950s and then transferred to a new diocese at its head; he later was transferred to Nairobi and was a participant in the Second Vatican Council.[1][2][3]

Otunga was known for his vehement opposition to the use of condoms and twice in the 1990s burnt boxes of condoms before the faithful. He explained that contraception was in breach of Christian teaching and that it was in opposition to Humanae Vitae issued in 1968. He was also a vocal critic of abortion and was critical of priests who involved themselves in social and political controversies.[4]

His cause of canonization has commenced and he has been titled as a Servant of God.[1]


Childhood and conversion[edit]

Maurice Michael Otunga was born in 1923 to Wasike Lusweti Sudi (a pagan and chieftain of the Bakhome (or Bukusu) tribe) and Rosa Namisi.[1]

His father had about 70 wives and children with each and taught Otunga the basic tenets of their traditional religion.[3][2] He was given the name "Otunga" which meant a staff the old lean on for support. But his original name was "Odunga" but changed to "Otunga" since the Lubukusu language had no "D" sound to it. But this was his second name: his father had called him this because he felt it was better than the name his mother had chosen for him. Rosa named her infant son "Simiyu" upon his birth.[4] His brothers with whom they shared the same mother were John Kalibo and Christopher Nakitare. He had so many nephews and nieces since his father was polygamous. From his biological mother, he had 5 nephews and 7 nieces thus John Kalibo had 4 boys and one girl while Christopher Nakitare had 6 daughters and 1 boy. John Kalibo's eldest son is Simon Wanyonyi while Christopher Nakitare's son is Austin Khisa. He converted to Catholicism and was baptized in 1935 (from Fr. Leo Pulaert) where he was given the name "Maurice Michael". His father was later baptized in 1963 and his mother also later in 1965. Otunga received his Confirmation on 29 September 1939 from Bishop Joseph Shanahan.[3]

Education and priesthood[edit]

He studied at Mill High School in Kibabii from 1931 to 1933 and later at another school in Sijei from 1933 to 1934. He finished his studies at Mang'u High School in Kabaa from 1934 to 1935 before obtaining a licentiate in his theological studies in September 1951.[1] He began his ecclesial studies in Kakamega where he began both his philosophical and theological studies which he finished at the Gaba ecclesial school in Kampala in Uganda. He refused to become his tribe's chieftain after his father resigned from the position in 1947.[2]

He transferred to Rome and was a student at the Pontifical Urban from 1947 until 1950.[2] It was there in Rome that he was ordained to the priesthood on 3 October 1950. He also obtained his theological doctorate in Rome after finishing his further studies which spanned from 1950 to 1951.[1] He travelled in Europe for several months in 1951 and visited northern Italian cities before going to Paris and Lourdes in France and then to England and Ireland.

Upon his return to his homeland he served in the theological department as a professor from 1951 until 1954 at the ecclesial school in Kisumu while he also served as the vice-chancellor of the diocesan curia. He served also as the private aide to James Robert Knox from 1954 until his appointment to the episcopate in 1956. In 1956 he was assigned to serve as a pastor at the Makupa parish in Nairobi.[2]


The decisive moment in his priesthood came after Pope Pius XII nominated him to the episcopate; he was made the Titular Bishop of Tacape and received his episcopal consecration from Knox a couple of months later in Kakamega.[2] Pope John XXIII later transferred Otunga to the new Diocese of Kisii. Otunga attended the four sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and was promoted as the Titular Archbishop of Bomarza in 1969. Later on 15 November 1969 another decisive moment came when Pope Paul VI nominated him as the Coadjutor Bishop of Nairobi. This meant that he would succeed the current archbishop as its head upon his resignation. He succeeded as the Archbishop of Nairobi on 24 October 1971.

He served as the vice-president of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) and a member of the permanent committee of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). He also participated in various episcopal assemblies that the pope convoked in Rome.


On 5 March 1973 he was created and proclaimed a cardinal as the Cardinal-Priest of San Gregorio Barbarigo alle Tre Fontane. He attended the two episcopal assembles the pope called in Rome both in 1974 and 1977. He also participated in the papal conclave of August 1978 and the conclave of October 1978 that saw the elections of Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II. Otunga also participated in other episcopal assembles in Rome both in 1980 and 1994.

In 1994 in Rome he stated to the world's bishops:

"Peoples on the move cannot be ignored. The displaced persons in Kenya are those citizens rendered homeless on account of tribal violence. Urbanization is another major cause. The victims of discrimination, I think, are particularly those citizens who have to move from place to place in search of employment and this may be due to nepotism, religious discrimination or corruption in the administration of the country. For these people it is difficult to establish stable contacts. For those who already believe, many are in great danger of losing their faith. It becomes more difficult when the situation is politically originated and perpetuated as is the case in Kenya now. Here the bishops have exercised their prophetic role and have spoken out to the government. It is not easy".[5]

Otunga lived in modest conditions and eschewed much of the trappings that came with the episcopal office; he even drove in his own Peugeot 304. He often visited President Daniel Arap Moi to urge him to implement democratic reforms and disapproved of priests becoming involved in social or political controversies.[1] He sought to promote and encourage diocesan vocations and he invited religious congregations to settle and work in Nairobi.[3]

He served on various departments in the Roman Curia as is the norm for a cardinal. Those appointments were:

Resignation and death[edit]

In 1991 he fell ill and failed to secure his resignation from Pope John Paul II. The pope instead decided to appoint a coadjutor bishop who would have the right of succession in case Otunga either died or otherwise.[3] In 1992 he suffered a stroke and sent a second resignation letter which was accepted in 1997; after he retired he moved into an aged care home and lost his power to vote in papal conclaves after he had turned 80.

Otunga died on 6 September 2003 at 6:45am of cardiac arrest in the intensive care unit of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Nairobi. Otunga had been hospitalized there for about two months.[4] The funeral was celebrated on 19 September in Nairobi.[3] His remains were interred in Nairobi at Saint Austin's in Msongari which was a traditional burial ground for priests or deacons.[2] He was the highest in rank to be interred there.[1] His remains were later transferred to the Karen's Resurrection Gardens on 24 August 2005 at 1:00pm. His remains were relocated in secret after his old Bukusu tribe argued the move would bring about a curse.[6]


In late 2016 the government named a street in Nairobi in his honor: "Cardinal Otunga Road".[7]

Beatification process[edit]

In 2005 plans were announced to consider and launch the cause for the late cardinal's beatification; national bishops made their "ad limina apostolorum" visit to Rome in November 2007 and sought advice on the matter from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The formal petition to the cause was made to Cardinal John Njue on 30 October 2009 and Njue wrote on 6 November to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints requesting their approval to initiate the cause.[3] The latter voiced their assent declaring "nihil obstat" (no objections) on 1 March 2010 and titled Otunga as a Servant of God. Njue announced the cause would open on 6 August 2010 but did not set the date for its opening at that point.

The diocesan process opened in Nairobi on 11 November 2011 and spoke to 171 witnesses in total while collecting 23, 995 pages of documentation regarding the cardinal's life and works.[8][9] This diocesan investigation closed on 28 September 2013. The documents were sealed in boxes and handed over to the papal nuncio Charles Daniel Balvo for transferral to the C.C.S. in Rome.[8] The C.C.S. validated this process on 9 May 2014.[10]

The first postulator for this cause died on 12 August 2012. The current postulator is Dr. Waldery Hilgeman (since 1 September 2012).



On 31 August 1996 (before 250 faithful) he burned condoms in Uhuru Park as part of his campaigning against the use of condoms. He deemed them to be against the teachings of the Catholic Church and more so an affront to Humanae Vitae which Pope Paul VI had issued in 1968.[11] Otunga urged people to exercise abstinence instead and affirmed that contraception did not solve the HIV/AIDS crisis. He also met with local Islamic leaders for ceremonial bonfires to burn condoms in public.[1] One such public bonfire was on 19 August 1995 in which he joined the Imam of Nairobi's Jamia Mosque Sheikh Ali Shee in burning condoms and sex education literature.

Family planning[edit]

Otunga criticized family planning activists and sought to have them desist from interfering with family life. He criticized them in the following words:

"The gospel of family planning and birth control has come into Africa in a big way so that couples who can afford to take care of ten children now prefer adding the latest Mercedes Benz model to their stock of cars to having an additional child!"[12]


Otunga was a strong critic of abortion and said that human life remained sacred from the moment of conception until natural death.


Otunga supported President Moi's reforms in ending the sexual education curriculum in schools.[1]


Amin al-Hinawi (on 14 January 1993) issued a sharp criticism that Otunga made regarding warnings against the expansion of Islam in Africa. The church clarified that the cardinal was misinterpreted and had been speaking out against "Islamic fundamentalism" which he perceived to be on the rise rather than the Islamic religion itself. Otunga had once made an assertion that Muhammad as the last prophet was based on a lie since Jesus Christ was the last prophet. These remarks caused considerable debate and incense among Muslims.[13]

The assistant minister Sharif Nassir on 7 January 1987 requested Otunga to read and understand the Quran to better work for interreligious dialogue.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Cardinal Maurice Michael Otunga". Saints SQPN. 22 September 2016. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Salvador Miranda. "Consistory of March 5, 1973 (IV)". The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Archived from the original on 2 February 2020. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Biography". Cardinal Otunga. Archived from the original on 16 November 2017. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "The Servant of God, Maurice Cardinal Otunga". Opus Dei. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  5. ^ "Otunga, Michael Maurice". Dictionary of African Christian Biography. 2005. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
  6. ^ Nick Carraway (10 February 2005). "Row erupts over Cardinal Otunga reburial". Free Republic. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  7. ^ "Nairobi Street named after Cardinal Otunga". Vatican Radio. 24 November 2017. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  8. ^ a b Martin Mutua (5 October 2013). "Key team about to end probe that could see Cardinal Maurice Otunga declared saint". Standard Digital. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  9. ^ "Inquiry into beatification of Cardinal Otunga begins in Nairobi". Catholic News Agency. 13 September 2009. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Cardinal Otunga on course to be first Kenyan-born saint". Daily Nation. 23 May 2015. Retrieved 16 November 2017.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Catholics not about to allow use of the condom". The Standard. 25 October 2006.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ The Right to Know: Human Rights and Access to Reproductive Health and Information. University of Pennsylvania Press. 1994.
  13. ^ Oded, Arye (2000). Islam and Politics in Kenya. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.

External links[edit]