A missionary nun serving in Oregon traveled to her native Kenya recently to celebrate the silver jubilee of her entry into the Congregation of the Sisters of Mary of Kakamega.
Sister Dorothy Radoli was reminded of the deep hospitality and faith in her homeland and the generous energy of Catholics in Oregon, whom she calls her “extended family.” She’s grateful for both.
Sister Dorothy, pastoral associate at St. John Fisher Parish in Southwest Portland, grew up in a large and loving staunch Catholic family in far western Kenya, near Lake Victoria. Led by her father, Peter, and mother, Sophia, the children prayed the rosary after dinner every evening. After Mass each week, the Radoli children were asked to share their favorite part of the homily.
“Our parents were our role models in matters of faith; they walked the walk and talked the talk,” she says.
As a girl, she was not inspired by school, which concerned her father, who was principal. He eventually took her to a boarding school run by the Sisters of Mary of Kakamega. She loved it there. Not only did her grades improve; she found her vocation.
As part of the jubilee celebration in western Kenya, Sister Dorothy was to go on an eight-day silent retreat. Many St. John Fisher parishioners wondered if the extroverted nun could handle that.
“I told them that although I’m so outgoing I make time for the Lord so that he can fill my heart for his service,” she says. “I loved this experience because it enabled me to be nourished and inspired by the word of God and treasure all the Lord had done in my life.”
After the silence came days of Masses and parties for Sister Dorothy and other jubilarians, some of them marking 50 years. The women renewed their vows with bishops, priests, family and hundreds of friends participating. Dancing and ululation — a joyful repetitive kind of yodeling — are part of African liturgy.
“In Africa, a child belongs to the entire community. In this context the whole community was involved in my silver jubilee celebrations,” says Sister Dorothy, whose mother died in 2015. Women from her village made sure the jubilee was a success. The family slaughtered a huge cow to make sure there was enough food.
“Dancing crowds, thundering drums and blaring horns greeted me in each ceremony,” she says.
Father Richard Thompson, pastor of St. John Fisher, made the trip with her and enjoyed days of long liturgies, parties and dancing. The priest said he was touched by the joy and hospitality offered by Kenyans, from poorest to richest. One elderly lady brought the priest the only chicken she had and asked him to feast on it. She was full of joy when he accepted as he was urged to do.
People showered gifts on Sister Dorothy. Those who had nothing offered her their blessing or some chores, which touched her deeply.
“They gave me the gift of all they had left,” she says.
The Sisters of Mary of Kakamega count more than 400 nuns ministering in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan and, now, the United States.
There is a saying at St. John Fisher: No one says no to Sister Dorothy. She laughs, but says it’s true that many people volunteer when she invites them.
Before becoming a missionary to the United States, Sister Dorothy taught at St. Peter Minor Seminary in Mukumu. One of her students, Father Franklin Mang’eni, preached at her homecoming Mass in her home village of Kisoko. The priest urged the jubilarians to be models of mercy and forgiveness.