Tomorrow will not only be a big day for the people of Nyeri in central Kenya but also for Kenya in general and indeed Africa when the first beatification ever in the African continent takes place at the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology grounds. Nothing has been left to chance to ensure this historical day goes according to plan.

Authorities have deployed over 1,000 police officers and various workers to ensure top-notch security in Nyeri County. Some of them are working on the roads, while others are pitching tents and setting up chairs. The subject of this historical beatification is Sister Irene Stefani ‘Nyaatha’.

Entrepreneurs flock to the town to profit from the influx of visitors. Travel agencies provide packages with airport transfers, hotel bookings, and transportation to and from Nyeri. Some offer tours of the Aberdare ranges before beatification.

Sister Stefani, who is at the centre of this buzz, arrived in Kenya in December 1914 from Turin, Italy, just as the First World War started to reveal its evil claws. On hand to receive her in Kenya on her arrival was the first Bishop of Nyeri who, by then, was stationed in Limuru. Sister Stefani later headed to the Tuthu mission in Muranga before settling in Nyeri. While in Nyeri, she oversaw workers at the first coffee plantation started by the mission.

During the First World War, Sister Stefani worked as a chaplain with Red Cross nurses for the Carrier Corps in Voi and Mombasa, witnessing human suffering and attending to the wounded. The British Red Cross awarded her a commemorative medal in 1919 upon her return to Kenya after the war.

She moved back to Nyeri, where she helped nurture the newly formed African Sisters congregation of the Mary Immaculate Sisters. In 1920, the boys’ school at Gikondi (present-day Mukurweini) mission appointed her as its principal. She also taught catechism and took care of the sick, winning the affection of the Kikuyu community with her gentle nature and eagerness to assist the vulnerable. They fondly called her ‘Nyina wa Tha’, Mother of Mercy. From this title, she acquired her new Kikuyu name, ‘Nyaatha’.

Between 1929 and 1930, the infamous bubonic plague that became known as the ‘Black Death’ in Europe hit the whole of the Gikondi area and Sister Stefani did a lot of work caring for those who fell sick with the disease, but as fate would have it, she ended up contracting the plague herself and on the 31st of October 1930, she passed on.

Tomorrow’s beatification of a dedicated woman in Kenya is a chance to honour Nyeri town’s history and its great residents.

Can you remember the names of leaders like Dedan Kimathi from the Mau Mau movement? Or Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell from the Scout movement? If you never had a reason to visit Nyeri town then here is your big excuse! Do not forget to visit the tallest waterfalls in Kenya and the spectacular Aberdare Ranges.