His exemplary life inspired catechumens to desire to serve God as he did. Once baptized, they opted to remain in the Parish and learn to serve as he would teach them. As early as 1920s, the girls who had been baptized began to congregate in the Parish. They learned how to make hosts, serve as sacristans and teach catechism. The determination of these first girls to serve God in turn inspired in Fr. Philip Scheffer the dream of an African indigenous Sisterhood.
From his experience of having been a Franciscan Novice, Fr. Philip Scheffer began to train the girls, also called ‘Bawezi’, in a strict Franciscan way of life. He gave them a distinct blue uniform and a headscarf, instructed them to love God above all things, and taught them to live the Gospel message after the manner of St. Francis.
In order for these girls to ever become an Institute of Consecrated Women Religious in the Church, he took initiative, through Bishop Stam, the then Bishop of the Kavirondo Vicariate, to invite the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of St. Joseph from England to form them into an African Sisterhood. The Franciscan Missionary Sisters of St. Joseph (FMSJ) arrived in Asumbi on 6th January 1936 with faith and determination to fulfill the mission of forming an African Sisterhood. They found a vibrant group of aspirants waiting to be formed. At the same time, in Rangala Mission, there was another group of girls also aspiring to be religious, and who lived with the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of St. Joseph as early as 1929. In April of 1936, they travelled to Asumbi to join the already existing group of ‘Bawezi’. They then formed one group of aspirants, and on 2nd August 1936, they became postulants and officially began their formation under the direction of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of St. Joseph.
GROWTH AND CRISIS
After the coming of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of St. Joseph, Fr. Philip Scheffer continued strengthening the postulants through conferences and confession. The task of formation was now solely in the hands of the FMSJ. On 2nd February 1937, the first Clothing of eight Novices took place. On 19th March 1938, another Clothing of five Novices took place, and the following year another set of Novices were clothed. It was a time that also saw many aspirants become postulants. However, as years went by, what began with enthusiasm slowly began to experience signs of conflicts due to cultural differences and difficulties in adapting to the formation process offered by FMSJ. The darkest year of this conflict was in 1939 when majority of the novices and postulants left the novitiate. Some went back to their homes while some were taken to Kakamega to become Sisters of Mary of Kakamega.
1939 was a decisive year. A small group of six (five Novices and one postulant) was left behind when others left. The dream of an African Sisterhood was at its crossroads. Bishop Stam was informed about what had befallen the novitiate, and the prospects of an African Sisterhood became dim. He travelled to Asumbi to close the novitiate. Accompanied by Fr. Philip Scheffer, he walked to the novitiate in order to close it. He was pleasantly surprised and shocked to find a strong African novice standing at the door, holding its two posts. The novice told him, “My Lord why are you closing the Novitiate and we are here? Are we useless?” Behind her, another senior novice said, “If someone wants to stay, could she not remain?” There were two other senior novices, one junior novice and a postulant who stood behind the first two who spoke, and whose looks spoke to the Bishop of their determination to stay on. Their questions, determination and obvious single mindedness to stay on motivated the Bishop not to close the Novitiate. Their questions/statements echoed the answer Simon Peter gave to Jesus, when after many disciples left, Jesus turned around and asked the twelve whether they also wished to go: “Lord to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe…”
Bishop Stam and Fr. Philip Scheffer held a meeting with these five Novices and the Postulant, promised to let their formation continue, having been convinced by their perseverance that the dream of an African Sisterhood was God’s will.
PERSEVERANCE AND SPREAD
This persevering group of six novices and a postulant became the foundation stone upon which the future Institute of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph was formed. With the encouragement of the Bishop and the Fr. Philip Scheffer, the FMSJ were encouraged to continue the formation of the novices and postulants. They are fondly referred to as the ‘Pillars’ of the Institute. For this reason, they together with Fr. Philip Scheffer, are extolled as the founders of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph. Indeed we can say, that they were there from the beginning and stayed to the end. It is on this foundation that the Institute of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph is built.
The first profession of vows took place in 1940. The first Sisters were sent for their apostolic work in Kisumu Diocese. In subsequent years, more Sisters were professed and they began to spread out to other Dioceses as well. Now we are in most of the Dioceses in Kenya and also work in Tanzania, Uganda, USA and UK.