Before breathing his last at the dawn of March 30 2013, he was the oldest Malawian Catholic priest, but that was not the only milestone for Monsignor Stephen Saulos Nkata who was laid to rest on Tuesday afternoon at the Limbe Cathedral cemetery in Blantyre.
Dying at the age of 91, the late Nkata had served as a priest for over 56 years, a record for Blantyre Archdiocese, and only beaten in the country by the late Fr Joseph Masande of Dedza Diocese who died in 2009 aged 107.
In the early 70s, Monsignor Nkata became the first Malawian priest to head Limbe Cathedral, the seat of Blantyre Archdiocese, and while there he introduced the Catholic Women Organisation to the archdiocese, becoming in the process its longest serving chaplain.
In his homily during the requiem mass that was led by Archbishop Tarcisius Ziyaye and concelebrated by six other bishops, auxiliary bishop for Blantyre Montfort Stima hailed Nkata as a fountain of wisdom for the archdiocese who served the Lord selflessly and with dedication.
“We should learn something from Monsignor Nkata because, through his conduct, he always reminded us that we should not lose trust even when we are in pain. Even as he battled with cancer, he never looked concerned and he was always jovial. No wonder he died very peacefully,” he said.
These words were echoed by Ziyaye in his eulogy later.
“Monsignor Nkata was very hard-working and we have lost a pillar who was a role model for our young priests. That was why in 2009 we in the administration asked the Holy Father Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to bestow on him the title of monsignor,” said the archbishop.
Usually given to a vicar general [principal deputy of a bishop in the exercise of diocesan administrative authority], the title of the monsignor is also an official address for some Catholic clergy holding certain honorific titles in the church granted by the pope, often at the request of a bishop.
Ordained on August 15, 1956, Nkata had three stints at Limbe Cathedral where death found him, but also served at other parishes including Chikhwawa, Phalombe, Mwanza, Mzedi and his home parish of Neno.
He also spent some time at the Maryview Generalate in Nguludi, Chiradzulu where he was chaplain for sisters from the Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary congregation.
During his long time as priest, he also served as vocational director, educational manager, advisor for the archdiocesan events and celebrations committee.