At the occasion of the 150 years Jubilee of the Mill Hill Missionary Society a musical featuring the life and violent death of Fr John Kaiser mhm was staged at Kisumu, Kenya. Fr Hans Burgman mhm is the initiator and the author of the libretto. A local musician composed the music and the students of the Kisumu Art Academy gave a star performance.
A professionally made DVD is expected in due time and will be posted on this website.
Fr. John Kaiser MHM
John Anthony Kaiser, a Mill Hill missionary born in the USA, was ordained in 1964 and subsequently appointed to Kenya.
John spent his first 20 years in Western Kenya in the diocese of Kisii. In 1993, he was assigned to the Maela refugee camp in the diocese of Ngong. At the time refugees fled to the camp as a result of tribal violence, armed gangs driving them from their homes, and then torching the buildings. Fr Kaiser and others thought the government was fomenting the violence as part of a land grab. Due to international attention the camp was closed and the refugees were forcibly resettled around Christmas 1994. John protested the closing, but he was arrested, mistreated and then released. Following these events, he was reassigned to the remote Maasai parish of Lolgorien.
In 1998, at great personal risk, Fr. Kaiser testified before the Akiwumi Commission, investigating the causes of the violence and the closing of the camp. In public, sworn testimony, he named prominent members of the government, including President arap Moi, accusing them of giving inflammatory speeches and in some cases, financing persons responsible for the violence. His testimony was quashed.
He had also helped two schoolgirls in the summer of 1999. The girls claimed they had been raped by a cabinet minister. Fr. Kaiser put the girls in touch with the Kenyan Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA-Kenya and vigorously took their defence.
In November, 1999, the Kenyan government tried to deport Fr. Kaiser, claiming that his work permit had expired. He briefly went into hiding in Kisii before he was granted a new work permit, but only after the intervention by the US Ambassador Johnnie Carson and Bishop Colin Davies of the diocese of Ngong.
Fr. Kaiser knew of the dangers of speaking out in Kenya, and of the fate which had befallen many others. In a book about his experiences at the Maela camp, he wrote a warning.
“I want all to know that if I disappear from the scene, because the bush is vast and hyenas many, that I am not planning any accident, nor, God forbid, any self destruction. Instead, I trust in a good guardian angel and in the action of grace.”
On August 23, 2000, Fr. Kaiser was shot in the back of the head with a shotgun at close range. His body was found at 6 am the next day beneath two acacia trees at Morendat junction on the Nakuru – Naivasha road in western Kenya.
Kenya's chief government pathologist and a pathologist from an independent human rights organization present at the autopsy thought Father Kaiser was shot from a distance of about 3 feet, thus excluding suicide. However, an FBI expert from Texas called in to investigate, who did not examine Fr. Kaiser but only saw photographs, concluded that Kaiser had committed suicide. The Moi government readily agreed.
The papal nuncio, Giovanni Tonucci, said at Father Kaiser’s funeral in the basilica in Nairobi,
"The church, through pitiless violence, has once more been deprived of one of her ministers. Let no one have any doubts about it: we are celebrating a religious occasion; we are reflecting on a religious assassination, not a political one. Fr. Kaiser has been murdered because he was, and in the eternity of God still is, a Catholic priest who preached the Gospel. Those who killed him, those who planned his killing, wanted to silence the voice of the Gospel…. Only two days before his death, I met Fr. Kaiser for a long conversation. At the end, he asked my blessing, which I reluctantly gave him. At that moment, I thought it would have been better if he, an old and worthy missionary, had blessed me. How much more I am convinced of that now that we look at him as a martyr of the faith?”.
The Kenyan government reopened the inquest into Fr. Kaiser’s death at the request of the Kenyan Episcopal Conference. The inquest ended on June 12, 2007, after hearing 111 witnesses. The presiding magistrate, Maureen Odero, said on August 1, 2007 that Kaiser was murdered, and ruled that the "Suicide Theory" was based on a pre-conceived notion, but stated that "she could not — on the basis of evidence tabled before her in the inquest — point out with certainty who the priest’s killers were".
The Rugged Priest is a 2011 film based on the life of Fr John Kaiser which won the 2011 Golden Dhow award at the 14th Zanzibar International Film Festival and the Verona Jury award for the Best African Feature Film.
John A Kaiser: If I die. Cana Publishing Nairobi, 2003
Christopher Goffard: You will see fire. The life and death of an American priest in Kenya. Collins, 2012