The Spiritan presence in Maasai country began with Fr. Gene Hillman in 1952. Gene traveled with the cattle markets thought Maasai land to meet and get to know the people. Maasai cattle markets are held in the far flung trading centers of Maasai country. There is an opportunity to buy and sell cattle and just about anything else, from toga like cloth people wear to sewing needles and cooking pots. These travels enabled him to become knows throughout Maasailand and to make many friends. Many of Gene’s friends, now retired elders, formed the foundation of the Maasai church.
As time went on, Gene established mission stations in many places and opened clinics and primary schools. Spiritan efforts in Maasai country owe much to Gene Hillman. Not only did he establish all of our initial projects in health care and education, but he set the tone for our work for all of the years that followed.
His approach was characterized by a deep respect for the traditions of the Maasai people. He did not judge their ways, but rather was quick to see the basis of customs in the cattle culture of the Maasai, seeing that their ways of doing things served and strengthened their pastoral way of life.
...after Vatican II. He energized and renewed our commitment to Maasai work. His brought a whole new way of understanding our work. His criticism of the past was basically that we had built the church on school children. Vince pointed out that we had effectively told the people: "To become Christian you must give up your culture and take on the "European" culture of the mission compound. Vince was afire with the conviction that the Maasai people must keep their unique culture and become church as Maasai allowing the gospel to infuse new meaning into their traditional values and way of life. He went to Maasai cattle camps and preached the gospel to the Maasai as village and family, elders, women and children all together. And, when the time for baptism came, made a Maasai village to be a traditional Maasai Christian village infused with the leaven of gospel values and the person of Jesus. Spiritan Missionaries to the Maasai were electrified by Vince’s vision and went out to implement his way of doing evangelization.
... a much muted and watered down approach has taken hold. The Maasai missions have become much like other parishes, with little more than lip service given to enfleshing the gospel in the Maasai culture. The general movement has been rather in the opposite direction. The feeling among many is that the church in Maasai country should be like it is elsewhere in Tanzania in language and in every other way.
In recent decades, education has become an increasingly important component of the Spiritan Maasai project. There is ever more intense pressure on the Maasai by farming peoples wanting to take over rich Maasai dry season grazing for cultivation. Also, much of their permanent water such as springs and dams have been appropriated again by outsiders. Education is the key to getting a voice in natural resource management. Spiritans are playing an ever more important role in helping the Maasai acquire that voice.