Inkamana Benedictine Abbey Celebrates its First African Abbot
By Sydney Duval – The blessing and installation of Fr John Paul Mwaniki as the first African abbot of the Benedictine Inkamana Abbey could be called “The Day of the Benedictine Abbots”.
Six abbots were present at the installation, alongside four bishops and VIP guests, including politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Bishop Thaddeus Kumalo of Eshowe officiated, with Bishops Siegfried Jwara of Ingwavuma, Pius Dlungwane of Mariannhill, and Graham Rose of Dundee.
Abbots who officiated were Archabbot Wolfgang Öxler of St Ottilien in Germany, motherhouse of the Inkamana Benedictines; Abbot Godfrey Sieber (Abbot Mwaniki’s predecessor, now in Namibia); Abbot Joel Macul of St Paul’s in New Jersey; Abbots Placidus Mtunguja of Ndanda, Octavian Masingo of Hanga, Pambo Mkorwe of Mvimwa, all Tanzanian; and Abbot Emeritus Thaddeus.
Bishop Kumalo described the celebration as a day of joy and thanksgiving to God for the first African to be elected abbot of the abbey, which has a special place in the life of Eshowe diocese.
“It is special for those who came to start this project of Benedictine monasticism and it is special for those who received and embraced it,” he said, adding that it was the maturation of all the efforts going back to the pioneering work of evangelisation by Bishop Thomas Spreiter OSB in the 1920s.
Addressing Abbot Mwaniki, Bishop Kumalo said: “Not only will you need our prayers so that you will be a wise shepherd, but also that you and your confreres in this abbey will have the wisdom to remain faithful to St Benedict’s rule and tradition while becoming Africanised.”
The challenges St Benedict faced and responded to centuries ago were no less than those facing the world and the Church today, he said.
“Many years ago St Benedict and his followers not only transformed people’s hearts, but with their hands changed forests into habitable fields. We pray that you will lead this community to a deep spiritual and prayer life which can also renew the world,” Bishop Kumalo said.
At the Mass, Abbot Mwaniki thanked God “for my journey and this day” and honoured his mother, Ann Susan Wangeci, who was present.
“She brought up seven of us as a single mother, a woman of faith who believes in the power of prayer,” he said, adding: “She also ran a police station.”
He noted that his family had played a big part in his overall formation: “They will not let me be big-headed or take myself too seriously. They have been doing that all my life and they will continue to do so.”
As the new abbot, he said he sees his first and primary job as assisting his brother monks on their lifelong journey towards God.
Chief Buthelezi lauded the Benedictine tradition of work, prayer and self-sufficiency — principles which, he said, resonate with him.
He valued the work of the pioneering Benedictines and their service through St Francis Hospital in Mahlabathini, Tswana Convent School in Nongoma, and St Victor High School in Twasana.