The beatification of Irene Stefani, popularly known as Nyaatha, not only placed Nyeri on the global religious map, but also opened up the region’s rich, untapped spiritual history.
Until the beatification of Nyaatha four years ago, her story was of interest only to the Catholic faithful in Gikondi, in Mukurweini.
But her journey to sainthood has proved a boon to the people of Nyeri, opening up the county to hundreds of tourists on pilgrimage.
The resting places of her remains at the Mathari Church Cemetery and Our Lady of Divine Providence Catholic Parish in Gikondi, Mukurweini, where she served, are among the sites that have recorded the highest numbers of visitors in recent years.
Nyaatha’s connection with Nyeri began in 1915 when she started working at the Gikondi church.
She dedicated her life to serving the poor and the sick, and it is her compassion and mercy that earned her the name Nyaatha, which means “merciful” in Kikuyu.
The nun, who belonged to Consolata Sisters, was known for putting the needs of her patients before hers.
“She put the people first and the quote ‘All for Jesus and nothing for me’ was born out of her compassion. It is due to her compassion that she contracted the plague she was treating one of her patients for,” Father Peter Githinji, the postulator of the Archdiocese of Nyeri, told the Nation.
Nyaatha died from the plague in 1930 and was buried at the Mathari Catholic Cemetery. Her journey to sainthood began 1985, when the documentation of her life’s work was initiated in Rome.
In 1995, her remains were moved to Mathari Central Catholic Church. They were preserved in a brown marble sarcophagus and installed on the wall next to the exit of Mathari Central Chapel.
It contains a small coffin bearing Nyaatha’s remains and the Vatican ordered it sealed to ensure that nothing was added or removed until the day she was beatified.
In 2014, an unusual event involving her took place in Nipepe, Mozambique.
After studying the inexplicable event, the Vatican concluded that it was legitimate, so Pope Francis ordered her beatification.
After her beatification on May 23, 2015, some of Nyaatha’s remains were moved from Mathari to Our Lady of Divine Providence Catholic Parish in Gikondi and were placed in a shiny golden vessel.
Others were taken to Our Lady of Consolata Cathedral in Nyeri Town and the Vatican.
A Sh4 million shrine built in Gikondi in her memory has become one Nyeri’s top tourist sites. The church says it has received more than 1,000 pilgrims who want to learn about Nyaatha.
“People have come from as far as the US, Europe, Uganda and Rwanda. Even Indians have come to learn about Nyaatha, so we consider her very impactful in the tourism sector,” Fr Githinji said.
The Mathari Catholic Church has also been receiving tourists, mostly locals, seeking Nyaatha’s intercession.
The Catholic church is currently investigating and reviewing the presumed miracles with the aim of eventually making Nyaatha a saint.
Is there a site you want us to feature? Write an e-mail to [email protected]