Our Order

Vicariate History

A Reflection on the foundations of the Vicariate by Fr. Thomas Jordan Ertle, Provincial of the Province of St. Joseph, 1 988-93.

At the Oakland [General] Chapter of Provincials in July 1989, at which Tom was present, the Master of the Order, Father Damian Byrne, asked the four American provincials to take responsibility to establish the Friars in Kenya and to engage in the work of evangelization. [1]

In the first months of 1990, the Master of the Order, Damian Byrne, visited Nairobi [with a brief side trip to Kisumu] to evaluate the possibilities of re-establishing the Order there.   [Already several years earlier he had asked Fr. Bert Ebben, long-term missionary in Nigeria, after finishing his term as first Provincial of the newly-created St. Martin de Porres Province in the southern USA, to go to Kenya to scout out the possibilities for a renewed presence of Dominican Friars in the country.  (Friars from St. Joseph Province had staffed and administered the new national seminary in Nairobi during most of the 1960’s.)    Fr. Bert was in the Kenya most of the years 1984-90, and surely his experience and judgment (favorable to the foundation of a vicariate) was the basis for Fr. Damian’s visit in 1990.]

In early May 1990, Fr. Bert Ebben and the Dominican nuns in Nairobi welcomed two U.S. provincials Paul Philibert (S) and Tom Ertle (E), Ed von Merrienboer (socius to the Master of the Order for the apostolate), Kevin Robb (socius, E) and Yvon Pommerleau (Vicar Prov., Rwanda-Burundi) and perhaps a Portuguese friar to a sort of “summit meeting.”  They were to consider a response to the Master’s call to re-establish the Friars Preachers in Kenya.   Bert Ebben and Tom Heath [up from S. Africa for just a few days] also accompanied them to a meeting with Cardinal Otunga, who had earnestly requested of the Master of the Order (and wholeheartedly supported) the project of the Dominicans’ return to Kenya.   

Paul Philibert, the Provincial of the southern province in the US, told Tom Ertle in the plane on the way from Nairobi to Rome (to report to Damian Byrne, the Master of the Order,                   concerning the meeting) that he considered “impossible” the southern province’s participation in the project.  So the eventual outcome of the meeting in Nairobi was that the Prov. of St. Joseph should have the responsibility for the Dominican presence in Kenya, since they had more personnel and more financial resources to foster the venture.

June 20, 1990:  Fr. Ertle wrote to the brethren of St. Joseph Province, announcing the province’s response (by vote of the Provincial Council)  to the Master’s request to assume the new Vicariate of Kenya, to sponsor and juridically accept the mission in East Africa.  In it, we see his perception of the response of the province as a graced moment in the growth and trajectory of the province, and (he prognosticates, at just 2 years onto his term of office) the most transcendental moment of his own provincialate and arguably, of his very life as well:   a “sacred and proud moment.”

[1]   The quotations and data in this and some of the next paragraphs are taken from the report of Fr. Bill Sinkele OP, approaching the end of his 2nd term as Vicar Provincial (April-May 2000).

East African Commissioning Vespers Service

Meanwhile, on Jan 9, 1991 there was held at the Dominican House of Studies (DHS) chapel an Evening Prayer liturgy of commissioning, commending and sending off the first group of four East African missionaries.   The Vespers celebration was enriched by many symbolic gestures and African artistic motifs.  Those thus commended to the Lord’s grace were   Frs. Bill Sinkele and Frank Sutman from St. Joseph’s Province (E), Fr. John Pius O’Brien of St Martin de Porres Province (S) and Fr. Lawrence Keating, of St. Albert the Great Province (C). 

Tom Heath  arrived to stay in Kenya on April 2, 1991.  He explained to his friends in a newsletter:    “At the request of our provincial superior in New York I left my work in South Africa and came here [Nairobi, Kenya] to assist our brethren make a new foundation.”[1]  (He had been named the first vicar provincial in a letter of the Provincial Thomas Jordan Ertle dated March 19th, 1991,[2]  and formally took up his work on May 4, 1991)[3]

According to Fr. Tom Heath’s newsletter of 5 Nov 1991, he had had an aneurysm of his left temporal artery, and he was to journey to S. Africa on Nov. 26th 1991, for an operation in early Dec. 1991.

Frs. Frank Sutman, Maury Schepers and Bill Sinkele attended language school in Musoma (Makoko) TZ during the first months of 1992 while Tom Heath remained in Nairobi.  Tom found a nice 5 acre plot of land in Karen at 45 Masai Lane, and began the negotiations for its purchase with the approval of the community.   [Info. from Vinnie Wiseman –and the above mentioned “Oral history…” of Fr. Tom Ertle].   In early / mid Feb 1992, according to the minutes of a community meeting of Feb 11th [for which Tom Heath invited the three brothers to come from language school, although Maury was impeded by not getting space on the plane] and a letter of Feb 12th from  Tom Heath to the provincial, Tom Ertle,–  the brethren enthusi-astically and unanimously approved the purchase of the Carr property (45 Masai Lane) instead of continuing to rent the MacDonald house on Kasuku Close (in the vicinity of Magadi Rd.), where life was an interminable litany of problems.     [Maury has confirmed this information]

In 1963-1969, the Dominican Friars from the Eastern Province of the USA opened and managed St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Nairobi, Kenya.  They came back to Kenya in 1985 for the purpose of preaching and establishing the Order in Eastern Africa. We are dedicated to Serving God as preachers, teachers, and pastors, domestic and foreign missionaries.


[1]   TH, personal newsletter of Nov.  5, 1991

[2]   Provincial Archives, personnel file of Tom Heath, # 68

[3]   St. Joseph’s Province, update to 1991 catalogus.

The Dominican Family in Eastern Africa Today

The Dominican family is composed of Dominican Friars, Nuns, Sisters, Laity and Youths. We share a common heritage in the spirit and charism of St. Dominic. In Kenya, we are present in Nairobi and Kisumu Archdiocese and Ngong diocese. In Uganda, we are present at Kakumiro-Kibaale and Namugongo-Kampala

In Nairobi, Dominican Cloistered Contemplative Nuns preach through their prayers in their monastery located in Karen; Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus work in Thika and Juja as teachers, nurses and outreach to the poor among others. The Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic work in peace-building, outreach to the poor and education among others; Dominican Friars are engaged in formation, teaching, counselling, University Chaplaincy, justice and Peace and Parish ministries.

In Ngong-Loitoktok, Dominican Sisters of the Holy Rosary work with the disadvantaged children. In Uganda, Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, at Kakumiro-Kibaale and Namugongo-Kampala run and teach in schools. Dominican Laity and Youths are present in both Uganda and Kenya. They are groups of Roman Catholic Christians, youths, married or single, who following the spirit and charism of St. Dominic, are formed to preach the gospel, in their various daily lives.


—Fr. Kevin Kraft, OP and Br. Steve Sese OP, The Dominican Friars of Eastern Africa: A Brief History