About us

Welcome to Holy Family Basilica

“As Old as the City”- the first stone building in Nairobi

Established: 1904

Establishing congregation: Holy Ghost Fathers

First Administrator: Brother Josaphat, C.S.S.P (Holy Ghost Missionary)

Location of the first stone church structure within the compound: near the corner next to City Hall Way-Parliament Road junction (built in 1904)

The Holy Family Minor Basilica Parish is the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Nairobi. The history of Holy Family Basilica dates back to 1899 when the city of Nairobi was first established. The city was established by the colonial authorities in British East Africa, as a rail depot on the Kenya-Uganda Railway. It is therefore believed that Catholic railway workers needed a place to worship necessitating the establishment of a church in the city-near the railway station. Consequently, in 1904, the Holy Family was built.

It was established by the Holy Ghost Missionaries (now also known as the Spiritan Fathers). This first church was built under the administration of Brother Josaphat, C.S.S.P (Holy Ghost Missionary) who had been entrusted with the building of the church.

First Church building; Appearance/Outlook of the First Holy Family Basilica Church built in 1904

It was first stone building in Nairobi. It had a sitting capacity of 300-400 people. At that time, it was a gigantic building compared to the shacks in the surrounding. It had a green corrugated iron roofing spire.

Construction of the Current Church

The idea to construct the current Church was driven by two main needs; first to build a church that could cater for the increasing number of worshipers. And second, to build a cathedral for the Archdiocese of Nairobi to serve as the Archbishop’s seat. Remember on 25 March 1953 the Archdiocese of Nairobi was promoted as Metropolitan Archdiocese of Nairobi.

The foundation stone for the current church as it stands was officially laid on 29 June 1960 by the First Archbishop of Archdiocese of Nairobi, John Joseph ‘J. J’.  McCarthy, during the Feast of Saints Peter & Paul. The construction was completed in 1963. The new church was blessed and officially opened on Saturday 6 July 1963. Construction of phase one, which comprised of the concrete shell and the roof commenced in July 1960 and cost £75,000. The initial phase one cost had been estimated to be £60,000 and was completed in October 1961.

It consisted of the skeleton, i.e. the building, walls, and roof. The structure of the current church was constructed by a British firm, Mowlem construction International while the architectural work was designed by Mrs. Dorothy Hughes of Hughes & Polkinghorne Architects. The aerial view shows that the Cathedral is designed in the shape of across.

However, before the laying of the foundation stone, plans to build it had started in 1943. A church document reports, ‘‘in 1943, the Parishioners formed the Holy Family Cathedral Building Committee’’ From 1943s to 1950s, the parishioners worked hard and rewardingly in collecting funds for the construction of the church. The same document reports that; ‘‘these people were driven by the following words, ‘people need a church here’’, it must be a big church’’ ‘‘let us build a Cathedral’’.

The funds mobilization was interrupted during the fight for independence. A church states ‘‘when the state of emergency was declared on 20th October, 1952 by Governor Evelyn Baring, poverty and other needs for money more immediate than the Cathedral arose, hence the idea of building a Cathedral was shelved. But when the state of emergency was ended in January 1960, it became clear that the Cathedral must be built and nothing else would be sacrificed in its building’’ The full momentum for the construction of the Cathedral picked up in 1959 and eventually bore fruits when the foundation stone was laid on 29 June 1960.

Other items in the church were donated by Christians and well-wishers from different parts of the world. In one of the newspaper cutting obtained the Parish archive, Archbishop Cardinal Maurice Otunga is appealed to the people living in Australia to donate funds that will be used in the purchase a set of the Way of the Cross Stations.

Why is it called ‘CATHEDRAL?’

  • The Holy Family Basilica Parish is the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Nairobi.

What is a Cathedral?

A cathedral is the chief church of a Diocese, in which the Bishop has his throne (Cathedra) and close to his residence. The Bishop is the Priest-in-Charge of a Cathedral. It is, properly speaking, the Bishop’s church, where he presides, teaches, and conducts worship for the whole Christian Community. The Basilica is the seat of the Archbishop.

What is a Basilica?

In the Catholic Church, a basilica is a large and important church building designated as a basilica by the Pope and thereby distinguished for ceremonial purposes from other churches. It does not need to be a basilica in the architectural sense (a rectangular building with a central nave flanked by two or more longitudinal aisles). Basilicas are either major basilicas – of which there are four, all in the Diocese of Rome – or minor basilicas, of which there were 1,810 worldwide as of 2019.

 When Holy Family Cathedral was officially blessed and opened?

  • July 6, 1963

When did Holy Family Cathedral become a Minor Basilica?

It was designated a Basilica on Monday 15 February 1982

Who formally raised the Cathedral to the status of a Minor Basilica?

His Eminence James Knox (born in Bayswater, Western Australia), Fifth Archbishop of Melbourne, serving from 1967 to 1974. At the time of consecrating Holy Family Basilica, His Eminence James Knox was the president of the Pontifical Commission.

Eminence James Knox raised it to the status of a Minor Basilica by virtue of a Papal Bull dated 15 February 1982 signed by His Eminence Augustine Cardinal Caseroli, secretary of state and given under the seal of Fishermen and accompanied by a letter from The Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and divine cult signed by H.E Joseph Casoria, Archbishop tit. of Foronovanus, Pro-Prefect and H.E Vergilius Noe, Archbishop tit. elect of Voncarius-Secretary.

When was Holy Family Basilica dedicated/consecrated?

  • Sunday 26 December 1982

Who dedicated/consecrated Holy Family Basilica?

His Eminence James Knox (born in Bayswater, Western Australia), Fifth Archbishop of Melbourne, serving from 1967 to 1974. At the time of consecrating Holy Family Basilica, His Eminence James Knox was the president of the Pontifical Commission.

 Who is the Patron Saint of Holy Family Basilica?

  • Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Main features of Holy Family Basilica

  • Overall length from the Eastern wall to the Balcony at the West end is 235ft (approximately 71.628 meters)

Overall length across transepts is 132 ft. (approximately 40.2336 meters)

  • Cruciform shape (shape of a cross)

NOTE: (in a cross-shaped church) either of the two parts forming the arms of the cross shape, projecting at right angles from the nave.

  • The Nave is 60 ft. wide (approximately 18.288 meters)
  • The floor of the nave slopes gradually from inside the western down to the altar.

NOTE: The middle or body of a church, extending from the transepts to the principal entrances.

  • Side walls are 60 ft. high (approximately 18.288 meters)
  • Campanile (installed with carillon of bells) – popularly known the bell tower: 200 ft. (approximately 60.96 meters)

The Campanile is located at the Northern end of the Colonnade in front of the church.

NOTE: a colonnade is a long sequence of columns joined by their entablature, often free-standing, or part of a building.

  • Sitting capacity: 3000-4000 people
  • Pillars- 10 and each protrudes from either nave
  • Altars: 1 Main Altar with a large Crucifix behind it
    • 2 Side Altars
    • 1 large sanctuary (indicate floor size)
    • Chapels:8
  • Built in 1982 (4 northern chapels)
  • 4 Confessional Boxes
  • Sacristy
  • Baptistery
  • Marian Grotto (built in 2018-2019)-we had an older grotto
  • Tower with a bell
  • Crypt (built in 2018-19)
  • Adoration Chapel (built in 2018-2019)-We had older adoration chapel
  • Old Priests House
  • First Priests’ house was built in 1899. It had wooden floor.
  • 2nd Priests house (it is existing to date) constructed in 1975 at an approximated cost of USD 72,000 (According to the todays valuation this translates to over kshs. 8,287,200)
  • NOTE: There is a letter written by His Eminence Cardinal Maurice Otunga, Archbishop of Nairobi dated 8th January 1975. He addressed it to the Trustees of the North Row Trust, London, seeking for financial help to build a new priests house because the old one was in a bad condition.
  • New Priests House (2021-2022)
  • Ground breaking 21st December 2020 by His Eminence John Cardinal Njue. His Lordship Bishop David Kamau was also present. Peter Kamomoe (Parish Administrator), Fr. Simon Kinyanjui Ng’ang’a (Archdiocesan Procurator) and other priests were also present on that occasion.
  • Officially blessed and opened on 29th June 2022 by His Grace Bishop Philip Anyolo together with His Eminence John cardinal Njue and His Lordship Bishop David Kamau.
  • Office Block

Cardinal Otunga Annex, 8 Story Building built between 2013-2015. It was co-built between the Archdiocese of Nairobi and Holy Family Basilica

Mass attendance

In 1960, there were seven masses every Sunday


  • Monday to Saturday: 2000 -3500
  • Sunday: 4000-10,000

When was it designated a Basilica

The Church was designated a Basilica on 15 February 1982.

List of Popes who visited and prayed at Holy Family Basilica

  • Pope John Paul II
  • Date: Tuesday, 6 May 1980, 1985, 1995

NOTE: In 2015, Pope Francis visited Kenya but didn’t come to the Cathedral

Speech: Tuesday, 6 May 1980 speech – You can access the Pope’s speech on that day through the link below


Established: 1904

Establishing congregation: Holy Ghost Fathers

First Administrator: Brother Josaphat, C.S.S.P (Holy Ghost Missionary)

Location of the first stone church structure within the compound: near the corner next to City Hall Way-Parliament Road junction (built in 1904)

First PPC chairman-Gatimu, father to Rev. Fr. Kinuthia who was the first black/African Priest to be posted to Basilica

Institutions under Holy Family Basilica

Catholic Parochial School-year established: 1925 by the Loreto Sisters Congregation. Permanent building as the school stands today was constructed in 1960.

Registered Parishioners: 2879 (as at 30th August 2022)

Development in the Holy Family Basilica Administration

Order of Bishops

Auxiliary Bishops

Cathedral Administrators

1904-1991: Holy Ghost Fathers Congregation

  • First Administrator: Brother Josaphat, C.S.S.P (Holy Ghost Missionary)

1991-1996: Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

  • Fr. Fr. Francis Rodriques
  • Fr. Tony Wendy D’Souza
  • Fr. Dan Kenny

1996-to date: Diocesan Priests

Rev. Fr. Joseph Mukui

Rev. Fr. David Kamau

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ngugi

Rev. Fr. Peter Kamau Kamomoe:  2008-to date

Landmark Sacraments

  • The first baptism took place on Sunday 13 January 1907 (Janvalio Pinto Cyrillo)
  • The first marriage on Monday 1 June 1908 (Joannis Mattery and Margarittam Cheresary)
  • First confirmation in 1923