Kenya: Curtains Fall On Loreto High Principal

13 January 2021

Sr Colombiere Kelly of the Loreto Sisters taught in several institutions for over 40 years and served as principal of Loreto High School Limuru for a record 25 years.

Her impact is felt not only in the impressive number of students she taught but also in the character of the persons she formed.

She definitely belongs in the list of education greats such as E. Carey Francis of the Alliance, Dr Geoffrey Griffin of Starehe, Sr Teresa Joseph of Loreto Limuru, Sr Maria Vogel Pacis of Precious Blood Riruta, Rev J. J. Willis of Maseno, Fr Michael Witte of Kabaa-Mang'u and Sr Nazarena Zonta of Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls' School. Most pioneers of formal education in Kenya were expatriate missionaries.

Sr Colombiere taught and formed thousands of girls from all corners of the country and other alumni spread across the seven continents and various islands. Her students have played a critical role in the public and private sectors of Kenya and they continue to do so.

She was the last of six children born to Mary Kelly (nee Quinn) and Matthew Kelly. A native of County Kilkenny, Ireland, the young girl entered religious life at Rathfarnham Abbey in 1937 where she made her first religious vows three years later.

She studied at the University College Dublin (UCD), the great academic rival of Trinity College Dublin (TCD). Sr Colombiere graduated First Class Honours, earning the rare Education degree that combined English and Mathematics as teaching subjects. She made her final profession in the Congregation of Loreto Sisters, also known as the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) in 1946.

Once vowed to religious life and equipped academically, she set sail for Kenya and arrived in Mombasa in 1948.

Effective leadership

Sr Colombiere, Colomb to her fellow religious and many friends, served in several convents and schools including Eldoret, Msongari, Valley Road and Riara (Kiambu). From this last posting, she founded Red House in Kiambu Town which trained secretaries much sought after by the public sector and the firms.

Colomb is best known for her leadership and service at Loreto Convent School Limuru. The alumnae of that iconic institution include Sr Dr Marie-Therese Gacambi, first African Superior of the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi; Mrs Annette Kemoli, nurse and entrepreneur, Sr Rosalia Khamuli, founder of the Carmelite Convent in Kisii and Prof Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate.

Colomb created a deep and lasting influence on both members of staff and students. She carried herself with dignity and inspired her students to aspire for the same. Her authority was felt, without being authoritarian.

On account of her strong personality and effective leadership, the students nicknamed her "the Chief", often pronounced "chifu" or "cibu" by the Loreto Limuru alumnae or "old girls" who call themselves Kotetians.

Though a strict disciplinarian, Colomb was glad to teach her students traditional Irish dance for enjoyment. During her 100th birthday celebrations, the Kotetians, delighted guests with a performance of the Irish step dance led by Sr Edel Bahati.

Young Loreto novices and nuns who live in Msongari Convent as Colomb affirm her gift of bridging the generation gap.

Colomb slipped back to God peacefully in the arms of Sr Caitriona Kelly, lifelong friend and colleague, and in the presence of community members led by Sr Maria Goretti Oriambo.

Aged 101 years, the veteran educationist transited into the eternal embrace of the Maker she loved and served so many years here on earth.

Fr Lawrence Njoroge, Vice Postulator of the Cause of the Servant of God Maurice Cardinal Otunga, and Chair of Council (Designate) Tangaza University College, has known Colombiere since he was a little boy. Lnjoroge@ihrd.jkuat.ac.ke

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