PRIESTLY JOURNEY

Kenyan-US Catholic priest looks back on his 40-year journey of serving God

Born from a humble family in Narok, the priest grew up just like any other boy in the Maasai community.

In Summary

• Father Ntaiyia highlighted that apart from the priestly ministry on the Good News he undertook to give and availing possibilities of education, especially to the Maasai community.

• Before becoming a catechist, Father Ntaiyia who holds a Master of Science Degree from the prestigious University of Rochester New York says he worked as a casual labourer for a Missionary brother.

Kenyan US priest Father Symon Ntaiyia with the pupils of Father Ntaiyia Jubilee school in Narok town.
KENYA US PRIEST MARKS 40 YEARS OF SERVICE Kenyan US priest Father Symon Ntaiyia with the pupils of Father Ntaiyia Jubilee school in Narok town.
Image: KIPLANG'AT KIRUI

Every Christian is called by God to a specific purpose.

The call to vocational ministry has unique demands, and it should not be pursued without prayer, counsel and spiritual examination.

One could fail to understand the challenge it presents in reaching out people to come to God and service to all, especially those most in need and the connections with everyone.

As he marks 40 years in the priesthood, Catholic Priest Father Symon Peter Ntaiyia looks at the journey of serving God and people in Kenya and across the border.

 
 
 

“My class of 1980 at St Thomas Aquinas Seminary Langata is celebrating 40 years of priesthood. I know some of my classmates have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and those of us whom the Lord continues to hold worthy in His presence as we keep ministering to Him in this journey. The journey has many challenges but requires hands of God, dedication to overcome the challenges and bring people to know God” said Ntaiyia.

Kenyan US Priest Father Symon Ntaiyia with one of converts at Loitoktok in 1983.
KENYAN US PRIEST MARKS 40 YEARS OF SERVICE Kenyan US Priest Father Symon Ntaiyia with one of converts at Loitoktok in 1983.
Image: KIPLANG'AT KIRUI

He adds: “As I celebrate this journey, I give thanks to God for his grace, without which we can do nothing. I thank God for the four decade’s years journey and the hundreds of thousands of people I have connected with and walked alongside in serving God.”

In his spanning career, Father Ntaiyia highlighted that apart from the priestly ministry on the Good News he undertook to give and availing possibilities of education especially to the Maasai community as a vital part of his life and how to give hope in the promises of changes in life.

Born from a humble family in Narok, the priest underwent life just like any other boy in the surrounding of Maasai community, their family lived in the rural areas and as per the nomadic community norms, he shepherds his father's, sheep, goats and herded cows.

Kenyan US priest Father Symon Ntaiyia at Father Ntaiyia Jubilee school in Narok Town.
Kenyan US priest Father Symon Ntaiyia at Father Ntaiyia Jubilee school in Narok Town.
Image: KIPLANG'AT KIRUI.

That time it was hard for many children especially boys to be taken to school as their fathers would opt for them to look after the cattle rather than going to school.

His father had two wives and being the only boy in his mother’s house, he was expected to grow up and marry and have children and him going to school was a mere dream.

Despite the culture challenges, and even not knowing about school an opportunity for him to join school came when he was 10 years.

This happened when education was still part of a Colonial Government Act that local leaders had to encourage parents to take children to attend school.

Because of nomadism, there were Boarding schools built in various part of Maasai land so that children could remain in school while the rest of the community moved in animals in search of pastures.

 
 
 

Father Ntaiyia started his schooling in 1958 in the then PBS (Primary Boarding School) which is now part of Maasai Girls Secondary School in Narok opposite and across the road from Narok Boys High School.

He remembers his first Headteacher Mr Philiph Lemein who became the first Senator of  Narok, other teachers were Mr Kefa Sankan, Mr Moses Sankei, Mr Simon Kasii among others.

PBS was from class one to four in which there was a public examination. Those who made in this exam went to Intermediate school and in Father Ntaiyia case and his classmates this was just going across a field to a then-famous GMS (Government Maasai School), now known as Ole Sankale Primary School in Narok.

It is in the Primary School that he found his catholic faith because teachers who were Catholics were teaching catholic faith even though there was very little of Catholicism in Narok in those years.

Father Ntaiyia was Baptized in 1964 in the present St. Joseph Church in Narok by Fr. Tony Fr. Hernnegger. After his elementary school and (KAPE) he became a catechist from 1966-68, teaching in four different parishes.

This, he recalled, was the period when he first heard a call to the priestly vocation.

Kenyan US priest Father Symon Ntaiyia at Father Ntaiyia Jubilee school in Narok Town.
Kenyan US priest Father Symon Ntaiyia at Father Ntaiyia Jubilee school in Narok Town.
Image: KIPLANG'AT KIRUI

Before becoming a catechist, Father Ntaiyia who holds a Master of Science Degree from the prestigious University of Rochester New York says he worked as a casual labourer for a Missionary brother.

He dug the foundations' trench of extension of St. Joseph Church in Narok and foundations trench of classrooms at St. Mary’s primary school in Narok and was being paid (Sh.2.50) a day two shillings and fifty cents a day.

He started his priestly training with High School studies in St. Johns Minor Seminary Rakwaro in 1969 and was among the pioneer class for two years Philosophy studies at St. Augustine in Mabanga after which he went for four years Theology in St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Langata.

Even after strong opposition from family members to pursue the Catholic priesthood and its disciplines, he became the first priest to be ordained among the Maasai community in Narok in1980.

Fr Ntaiyia, 72, began his ministry in the Diocese of Ngong with his first appointment in Loitoktok near Mt. Kilimanjaro.

He spent his first six years there ministering in the first two years among mixed tribes before he was later asked to extend his priestly service to the Maasai community in that parish. The four years, he worked with his people gave him a much deeper way and understanding of the lives of the Maasai.

Like any leader, he was among people who had a sizeable population that faced with poverty, curable diseases and needed more people educated, for him the only way to eradicate most problems in future would be through education.

“I came to realize what a valuable opportunity I got when I was taken to school in 1958 to get an education. And I focused mainly on starting a secondary school for Maasai boys because many of them did not have the opportunity to join government schools as a result of poor grades in public examination," said Father Ntaiyia.

He came to realize that the students from the community were intelligent but only lacked a conducive learning environment which affected their performances.

“We already had a very successful High School for Girls St. Mary’s in Narok and I wanted the boys to have a similar opportunity.  My hope was to have as many Maasai boys and girls go to Secondary Schools,” said Father Ntaiyia.

When his Bishop accepted the idea of having a good catholic secondary school for boys, it was generally thought by some priest that Father Symon was too young to start and head it, but a missionary priest who was proposed happens to be 10 years younger than Fr. Ntaiyia. 

Construction of the School started in 1986 under a religious Brother while Fr. Ntaiyia was still in Loitoktok and visiting the sight in Lemek every three months to see the progress as well as visiting Education Offices in Narok for the necessary paperwork.

The people of Lemek in Narok South welcomed the idea of having a Secondary School for Maasai boys and allocated 75 acres of land to start the boys' school and were happy to hear the name of the School was to be Olchekut Supat Apostolic School -OSAS (meaning Good shepherd).

“During the third term of the school year, I travelled to all Parishes in the Diocese recruiting boys who would be pioneers in 1987. One day, I visited Olmesutie area at Loita plains near Kenya-Tanzania border where they had two teachers and more than 80 students," said Father Ntaiyia.

"Not unusual in some of our School in remote places but one wonders how such children are ranked for the same examinations with children in the big towns and cities. I had to make sure that most of the students from Loita schools joined our new secondary school because they lacked the necessary facilities required in getting a formal education.

"I am now happy because most of these students who I mentored and passed through this school are successful in life. We have them working in all disciplines in Kenya as engineers, doctors, teachers and others are tourism industry.” 

Kenyan US Priest Father Symon Ntaiyia welcomes initiatives and encourages them to go back to school so that they cannot fall into temptation by dropping out of school in 1984.
KENYAN US PRIEST MARKS 40 YEARS OF SERVICE Kenyan US Priest Father Symon Ntaiyia welcomes initiatives and encourages them to go back to school so that they cannot fall into temptation by dropping out of school in 1984.
Image: KIPLANG'AT KIRUI

In 2002 his Bishop allowed him to go to the USA for sabbatical which extended to several years.

Early in the year 2004, he realized that the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood was coming on December 7, 2005.

He decided to mark this event in a way that it will be memorable and helpful to his community in Kenya now and in the future.

After reflecting on how education has transformed his life from a humble shepherd boy, his experience of positive returns in a Diocesan high school (OSAS) and recalling an African saying “I am because we are.”

He thought the best fashion to celebrate his silver jubilee would be to build a primary (elementary) boarding school that would give opportunity especially to Maa children.

“A good elementary education is vital to gaining admission to high schools. A student must successfully pass the Standardized National Examination (KCPE) and in order to do so a strong foundation must be provided in elementary school,” said Father Ntaiyia

“Inspiration to establish a school to mark my jubilee stems from my lowly background that cannot be more emphasized than visiting my home village and meeting my people in their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle, men and women of my age who never had a chance to go to school and contrast the fact that from such a lowly background, because of going to school, my life was transformed in many ways even to becoming a priest and educator,” he said.

Father Ntaiyia states that, as much as they may want their people to be educated, the problems the Maasai face in trying to get an education have become the concern of many.

Poverty is manifested in many places and is likely to increase as many problems related to lack of education touch every family.

Many children, however, are unable to gain admission to high schools, not because they are unintelligent but because of a poor foundation at the elementary level which renders them unable to make the grade at the standardized National examination.

There are many well-wishers who have undertaken the same mission of establishing school all over Maasai land to help educate the people and they share in the same goal of addressing this issue and prepare our children to successfully continue their education.

Father Ntaiyia Jubilee school for boys and girls is situated at Oleleshwa area about two kilometres from Narok town and sits on a five-acre land.

“It is a way of being with the people at home having been away from them for a long time.”

Father Ntaiyia is thankful to many people who have walked with him the 40 years of his priesthood.each

Benefactors and well-wishers from USA and Europe without whom the school project would have taken many years to accomplish. He visits Kenya each year and spends practically every day of his breach with the children in His school.