Born at Anfo in the province of Brescia on August 22, 1891, Irene Stefani was the fifth in a family of eleven children. She remained in her family until she was twenty, helping in the upbringing of her siblings after the premature death of her mother, and actively working for the Christian education of the youth in her parish. Then she followed her missionary vocation and was one of the first young women to enter the congregation of the Consolata Missionary Sisters, recently founded by Joseph Allamano. She made her religious profession on January 29, 1914 and in the following year she was sent to Kenya. There she joined the other sisters and fathers who had been called to assist the wounded and the sick in the hospitals and in the camps in Kenya and Tanzania during World War I. After the war she did missionary work for ten years in the mission of Gikondi, where she so generously dedicated herself to people that the Kikuyu nicknamed her Nyaatha (contraction of Nyina wa tha, the merciful mother). On October 31, 1930 she died at Gikondi of bubonic plague she contracted while visiting and giving medicine to the people affected by the disease. Her biography was written by a Consolata sister, Gian Paola Mina, with the title Gli scarponi della Gloria, (Boots of glory). In Turin the Consolata Sisters, who are promoting the cause of her beatification, have established a Sr. Irene Study Centre, which is publishing books about her life.
This article, received in 2005, was reprinted with permission from Christianity among the Nomads: The Catholic Church in Northern Kenya, by Paul Tablino, © copyright 2004 by St. Paul Communications / Daughters of St. Paul, Nairobi, Kenya.