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Remembering and Honoring Professor Sr. Anne Nasimiyu Wasike : A Concerned, Socially Engaged and (not so) Little Sr. of St Francis

Several weeks ago,  I received an email through the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians  network t to the effect that Sr Anne Nasimiyu, a Founder member of the Circle  had  passed on. I was profoundly shocked by the  announcement considering that there was no  prior news of her being sick. I wondered what could have caused the untimely and sudden death.  Could it have been an accident ? For a  moment I was in denial , thinking that the announcement was possibly a mistake .. may be it was  not even true.. ?

Initially  it was explained that she had died after a short illness, possibly malaria….

This explanation left me not only with a sense  of loss and grief  but also a sense of lament . If  indeed she died of malaria, she would have succumbed to one of  the diseases that are preventable and even curable with the appropriate medical care and facilities.  Pondering  the possibility that  she might not have had  access to the appropriate kind of care  when she needed it  left me also with a palpable  sense of  irony and paradox. This is because Sr Nasimiyu was a member of a Franciscan African Order of nuns called the “The Little Sisters of St Francis.” In my view,   while the word Little in their  title signals the spirit of humility that marks their service and ministry particularly to the marginalized and vulnerable, their works of mercy are anything  but little. In Kenya ,  for example, they have created St Francis Community  Hospital in Kasarani which is one of the better Faith -based  healthcare facilities  intended  to make quality healthcare more accessible  particularly for the vulnerable and impoverished.[1]  That  Sr  Nasimiyu could have died due to lack of access to quality care when she needed it struck me  as  as paradoxical and even ironic  given the commitment of this group of concerned and engaged(consecrated)  women to bring such care to those who need it but cannot access it or afford it.

While  Sr Nasimiyu’s sudden death was  described in the obituary simply as the outcome of  a short illness, her sudden  passing reminded me that the possibility of  fair , just , affordable and efficacious healthcare as a human right is still a pipe dream for  many in Kenya , Africa and indeed globally. This rather haunting thought  kept surfacing in my mind as I contemplated Sr Nasimiyu’s  untimely death . I was reminded of Paul Farmer, who  considers poverty ,   an outcome of what he calls “pathologies of power “ often inscribed in what he calls “structures of violence[2] . I was reminded also of  Paul Farmer’s profound insight that poverty is pathogenic i.e. that it generates disease ,  the kind often referred to in the literature as Diseases of Malaria. I  was reminded also of his insight that such diseases  often reach pandemic proportions and are disproportionately lethal among the impoverished .. The poor end up dying what Farmer calls “stupid deaths” because these deaths are  for the most part preventable .  Through their  healthcare services , the  Sister of St Francis are contributing to the reduction of such premature yet   preventable deaths.

Meanwhile ,, Jeffrey Sachs  in his book The End of Poverty  comes to a similar conclusion . He considers poverty and its  attendant lack of access to healthcare  an enduring ethical scandal . He considers a moral scandal that  in Africa , for example ,15000  people die each day for what he calls preventable causes of disease among the poor (e.g. lack of food, water and or sanitation   ) The  Little  Sisters of St Francis, of whom Sr Nasimiyu  was not just a member but a  superior  general for many  years, have recognized this ethical scandal and have done   something proactively about it through their works of mercy instantiated here by the health care services they offer to the vulnerable. As I remember Sr Nasimiyu today , I wish to put on record my appreciation and celebration  of the (not so little) Sisters of St Francis’  collective efforts to save lives , even as I  mourn and lament the passing of Sr Nasimiyu.

My sense of deep loss  was also occasioned by the fact that I have had the privilege of   interacting with Sr Nasimiyu in 2 major contexts.  Sr Nasimiyu was  for many years my colleague in the department of  Religious Studies at Kenyatta University, Nairobi , where we both taught in the 1980s and 1990s. In those years ,I got to know her as a scholar and teacher of African Theology and even  African Religions and Cultures. Much as she was a Catholic theologian  and a  leading one at that, Sr Nasimiyu also appreciated African cultures and religions and taught courses,    published and   facilitated research   meant to deepen  awareness of and respect for African spiritualities . She was commendably a champion of what  is known in Catholic circles “inculturation theology”. I now  look back with renewed appreciation  for her role in the collective efforts  by colleagues at KU and elsewhere in the east African region to bring African Christian Theology from the margins to the center of Christian theological discourse. For example, she  was an active participant in what we simply called “the Sagana group” that met yearly  for quite a few years  to discuss emerging issues in African Christian Theology and practice.  The outcomes of those consultations  were edited and Published by Prof Jesse N Mugambi , the convener of the Sagana group under what was  called the African (theology) Challenge series .  Sr . Ann Nasimiyu and J. N Mugambi in 1992 coedited  “Moral and Ethical Issues in African Christianity Exploratory Essays in Moral Theology, one of the several volumes in the African Challenge series . In Sr Nasimiyu’s untimely death then,  Africa has lost a   passionate champion who called the world to recognize and apply Afro-Christian theo ethics   as a viable way of seeking a livable and humane world.

I also had the privilege of knowing  Sr Nasimiyu through  the Circle of Concerned African  Women Theologians ,a  Panafrican organization of African Women  founded under the leadership of Mercy Amber Oduyoye in 1989 . She was a founder member  and I vividly remember her participation in the inaugural gathering of 70 women from across Africa in Accra Ghana September of 1989.  Recognizing that Religion is implicated in African women’s lives for good or ill,  one of the core goals of the Circle was /is   to conduct as systematic  and  critical study of  religions in Africa  with a view to naming to what extent  the practice of  these religions support or subvert  particularly (though not limited to the flourishing )  of women.

In the last  3 decades, members of the Circle individually or collectively have written and published  the results of their systematic and socially engaged  critical study of religion in Africa and indeed globally. Theirs has been a prophetic voice as they name and shame  sexism in Church and society and  they struggle particularly to end gender based violence and exploitation of women . In her capacity as a founder member of the Circle of Concerned African women theologians, Sr Ann has been part of this prophetic theological voice of African women.  Though not quite acknowledged and at times censored, this  prophetic voice has been  bold and enduring and has had an impact that is also yet to be quantified or acknowledged in any substantive manner neither in  church or society.

In recalling Sr  Nasimiyu as a member of the circle, I conclude that  Sr Nasimiyu’s is one of those untold “Her-Stories “ that The Circle of Concerned African Women theologians consider an imperative to tell as part of their   theological , scholarly and prophetic agenda. Such Herstories were the subject matter of a volume edited by Isabel Phiri (also a  founder  member of the Circle [3]  Perhaps Sr Nasimiyu’s Herstory will (sooner than later ) be told  in more detail and nuance than I have  neither time nor space to do  in this short tribute.

As I conclude this short essay in honor and memory of Sr Nasimiyu, I recall that the day I received the email from coordinator of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians Kenyan Chapter ,  I looked around for more information about her. In my search , I found a tribute to her in the Daily nation of 26th February 2018 .  I was , at least for a while encouraged  by the warm thoughts and memories of her shared in that tribute[4]

On March  3rd 2018 however, as I browsed through the same paper I came across  a story about the plight of Nuns, mainly from Africa and Asia and their being “shortchanged (to put it mildly ) in terms of their rights as workers specifically[5] workers in churches and  residences of clergy in Rome   . I was perplexed by this story as I considered the scale and magnitude of the violation of  the rights of domestic workers globally.  I was perplexed as I realized that nuns have been at the frontline fighting for justice for women’s rights including their rights as workers . It struck me as ironic and painful to  read this story of how nuns themselves are facing  a similar plight as they work in and for the church

I imagined Sr Nasimiyu reading this story with the eyes of a Little Sr of St Francis.. I imagined that she would bee perplexed too, even outraged by this story .

I imagined her reading the story with the eyes of a “Concerned African Theologian, and  thought she would be concerned and possibly outraged enough to call for  recognition of that  nuns have rights, human rights including  rights as workers including when they work in and for the church .

I imagined that in calling for recognition of nuns’ rights as human rights she would not be alone. (Another) Sr Ann (Carr) BVM,RIP) in her essay , Women Work and Poverty lamented the denigration of  women’s labor not only in  society but also sadly (her word) in the church. Ann Carr would probably join Sr Nasimiyu in her call to attend to the injustices and violations of women’s rights including nuns rights. In Ann Carr’s words : ‘’

“to attend to the facts and figures of women’s work and poverty , to give voice to poor women everywhere  but especially in the third world .. to analyze the structures and systems within which most women  live and work, and to envision s transformed social order where there is free and freeing work , bread and roses for everyone  these are the urgent tasks of a critical , Christin feminist theology .. For the credibility and the very reality of the of the church as bearer of the message of Jesus , as the living signs of salvation in the world in its service to the poor depends on the transformative knowledge and practice of Christians everywhere in the dynamism, of concrete history.[6].

The plight of the impoverished lacking health care and dying “stupid deaths” and the plight of nuns workers rights being violated in what appears to be domestic servitude even within the church would in my humble view be a major concern of Ann Nasimiyu.

I imagine her  even from the other side , urging us to attend to this plight as a matter Christian , moral duty. I imagine her humbly yet strongly recommending that responding urgently proactively and prophylactically to such ethical scandals would be  the best way to remember and honor her legacy ..

Commitment to  continue fighting  for justice  particularly justice for women (including nuns ) ,, would  in my humble  view  add a ring of  authenticity and profundity  to our hope and  wish that Sr Nasimiyu, RIP …

As I conclude this reflection .I concur with the  lyrics of a song composed by her fellow (not so ) Little Sisters of St Francis, which eulogize Sr Nasimiyu for her prophetic moral courage , compassion and commitment to justice. Attached is the link to this song and its uplifting tribute. May she indeed RIP or in the Swahili lyrics of the song,  Twaomba  Mwenyezi Mungu ampokee , Twaomba Apumzike Salama, Mama Sr Nasimiyu Wasike  ( ie we pray that God receives Her. Warmly ; We pray that she rests in peace, Our Mother Sr Anne Nasimiyu

Here is the link to the song:








[2] Farmer reminds us that pathologies of power revolve around multiple axis of structural violence of which he names 3:  the axis of gender, the axis of race , and colonialism . His book Pathologies of power is his passionate plea for universal health care as a human right  that is subverted  by “market based “ medicine and care. (from Farmer, Pathologies  of  Power )


[3] For details see Phiri Isabel et all. Herstories: Hidden Histories of Women of Faith in Africa: Cluster Publishers. Pietemarisburg ,2002

[4]       For details see article entitled :Church Looses Dedicated Nun :



[6] Ann Carr (BVM)  Women work and Poverty: In Fiorenza ES. The Power of Naming: A Concilium Reader in Feminist Liberation Theology, Reprint Wipf and Stock, Eugene Oregon  2006:86-87