St Mary’s Mission Hospital is a multi-billion shillings health facility with two locations in Kenya; Lang’ata, Nairobi and Elementaita, Nakuru County. The hospital was co-founded by American missionary Dr William Charles Fryda.
The faith-based level 4 hospital offers affordable and accessible quality health care to the general public.
Dr. Fryda is embroiled in a legal battle with the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi Congregation (ASN) – a group of nuns who own and manage the hospital, over the ownership of the health facility.
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The legal tussle between the two over control of the hospital has lasted over 10 years since Fryda first sued ASN in 2010. WoK takes a look at his journey to Kenya, the establishment of St Mary’s Mission Hospital, and the battle for its ownership.
Background & Education
Dr. Fryda graduated from Baylor University in Houston, Texas with a degree in medicine. He specialised in internal medicine at Mayo Clinic, haematology in particular.
He was ordained as a catholic priest in 1988. As a member of the order of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, he did not take vows of poverty but took those of chastity and obedience to the religion.
“I came from cowboy land in the states. My dad was a cowboy and my mum was a standard six teacher. They were poor. I was in class six before I learnt that most people don’t take a bath in a cow tank.
“We didn’t have money, but I never felt poor,” Dr Fryda told The Standard.
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He worked as a missionary in Nigeria, and Haiti with Mother Teresa Sisters in Port Au Prince. He served in Guatemala, and also as a missionary in Bukoba, Tanzania as a lay mission volunteer.
Dr Fryda arrived in Kenya in 1991. He first worked for Nazareth Hospital in Limuru which was run by the Consolata sisters.
During his tenure at the hospital, he notes that he was displeased with how they ran the hospitals like boarding schools despite repeated complaints from professionally trained medical professionals who disliked the mode of management.
Establishing St Mary’s
Dr Fryda stepped down in 1997 and began looking for land in Nairobi to set up his dream hospital. He had pitched the idea of a hospital to investors for two years and managed to raise the finances.
With the help of Ramesh Shah, he acquired two parcels of land in Lang’ata for Ksh38 million according to court papers. Since he was not a Kenyan citizen, he registered the land under ASN.
The missionary was working on establishing a company that would be incorporated and later have ASN transfer the hospitals to the company.
“He needed a place where the land could be held before his company was incorporated and he thought that he could trust the Assumption Sisters
“He had trusted them with smaller things, such as a Ksh5million advance the sisters needed to buy some land, when the deal fell through they gave it back so he believed that he could trust them with bigger things,” the court papers read in part.
Dr. Fryda established St. Mary’s Hospital Lang’ata for Ksh553 million and St. Mary’s Hospital Elementaita for Ksh365 million. He also acquired another property in Sagana for Ksh4.8 million. He operated the properties with the hope that Assumption Sisters would tranfer the two hospitals to him as earlier agreed.
According to the missionary, he received money from donors to his personal mission accounts. The money would first be transferred to a mission account in New York after which it would then be moved to his personal mission account.
That is where he says he got the money to buy the hospital land.
Dr Fryda approached the Assumption Sisters because he was uncomfortable with the land being held by the Catholic Church. He first interacted with ASN when they moved to acquire Nazareth Hospital. Since he had worked there, he offered to donate his medical expertise and they gave him a residence.
ASN helped him shape his vision for St Mary’s hospital. The late Bishop Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki supported the idea and wrote Fryda a letter he would use to seek funds from the Vatican. This helped him fundraise for the hospital.
Dr Fryda in court papers states that all the money he used in acquiring the properties came from his donors and himself. He noted that the Assumption Sisters did not contribute a penny towards the project.
The missionary says he oversaw the design of the buildings and the layout himself. He contracted the architectural services of Andrew Gremley and Kilimanjaro Construction for the building. He is the one that paid them for the job done.
The hospital’s first account was opened in 1998 at Barclays Bank even before the company was formed. The account had three signatories but Dr Fryda was the custodian of all the cheque books and signed the cheques himself.
Cracks first emerged at St Mary’s Hospital when the Assumption Sisters changed leadership in 2009. He accused the leadership that came in of imposing rules at the hospital behind his back. He says ASN imposed workers at the hospitals and assigned them duties without running it by him.
Dr Fryda was angered by the nuns’ move to repeatedly do things behind his back. For instance, the construction of Regina Pacis University College, a constituent college of Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) on one of St Mary’s Hospital’s land in Lang’ata. The university was established by a trust deed on July 13, 2009 to carter for less privileged women.
According to the missionary, construction of the university denied St Mary’s Hospital the opportunity for future expansion. When he moved to court, he says that the Catholic Church pressured him to withdraw or face sanctions.
Dr Fryda changed his work permit from the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers to the medical mission charitable trust formed in 2010 to avoid being deported for lack of a work permit.
Joseph Boro Ngera who donated 58 acres towards the construction of the hospital in Elementaita testified that he donated the land to Dr Fryda and was not at any point in contact with the Assumption Sisters nor did he donate it to them. He stated that he had expected that they would transfer the land to St Mary’s Company or Dr. Fryda.
He had also donated 100 acres to ASN for the construction of a university which he threatened to reclaim should they fail to return the two hospitals to Dr. Fryda.
Mr Ramechandra Khetshi Shah who helped Fryda acquire the land in Lang’ata stated that his family donated towards the construction of the hospital. He also testified that the nuns were not involved in the process from the start.
These testimonies were however not enough to wrestle the two hospitals back from the nuns.
Sister Marie Theresa Gacambi, the superior general of the Assumption Sisters told the court that Dr Fryda was only to help the nuns establish the hospital and move on since he was a missionary, that is why the properties were registered in their name.
She says that the hospital was constructed after a meeting between ASN and the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers from New York USA who Dr Fryda was linked to. She argued that he had the option of registering the properties in his congregation’s name if he indeed owned the two hospitals.
The nuns argued that they helped Dr Fryda find donors who contributed to the construction of the hospitals. They further claimed that they contributed Ksh5.6 million towards the project while the rest of the money was obtained through donations thanks to a letter from late Bishop Mwana A’Nzeki.
They say that they had directed the missionary to solicit funds in their name but he failed to disclose how much he had collected or even the accounts.
In the judgement, the court ruled that despite his efforts in establishing the hospitals, Dr Fryda had relinquished control to the Assumption sisters. Evidence provided in court also revealed that he had at one time written to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) seeking tax exemptions for the hospitals on account that they were under the management of ASN.
The judge therefore handed the property to the nuns.
“I ask the parties to take more out of the judgment. They should sit back, reflect on all that they have gone through, asses what they have achieved together, forget the bitter fights in and outside court, embrace each other, and push forward with one mission, that of developing the best healthcare for the poor in the Kenyan society,” the judge pleaded.