Newsletter from Africa – January 2016

 Dear Friends of Africa,                                                                                            January, 2016

Our students have a penchant and an ability to go with it, to draft little memoranda and they leave them on my desk for my edification. When I find them particularly good I’ll read them during the meditation time at morning mass. A recent one goes like this. “The miracles of Jesus were unique. In biology he was born without a biological father. In chemistry he changed water into the sweetest of wines. In physics he walked on water. In medicine he cured without medications and in economics he fed 5000 people on just five loaves and two fish.” The author of this little prayer parodied the major science subjects we stress in the advanced level secondary school. i.e. junior college.

Yesterday I went to the Lushoto market to do a bit of shopping for my meager grocery needs at home. I was looking for some honey and brown bread. I was directed to a tiny shop and there found the desired items. The young sales girl was a tall attractive woman with an equally attractive manner. She provided me with my desired items and mentioned numerous things to boost the sales. To be honest it was not just the natural beauty of this lady that was attracting but it was the human nicety she had to point out other things that might fit my needs. Did she want to talk or was she that good of a sales person I don’t know but it was rather delightful being in her company and I was in no great a hurry to leave. As we all know there are people just like that nice to be with. At the close of our transaction I noticed reddish white scars on her hands. When I expressed concern about the scars she told me they were from being scalded with boiling water. There are also cases in my parish with similar signs and I gently asked. ”Was it from “falling down?” This is the expression for the condition of epilepsy.  And she replied with a side long look and lifted the  long garment generally worn here by women and revealed scared  tissue from her foot to above the knee like ropes of darkened contorted skin and knowing that I knew what it was all about she said ‘yes I fell down’. There are many cases of epilepsy here and most suffer scars of burns mostly from seizures in the African open fire kitchens. A young member of our church choir was missing for a couple of Sundays. Then during my visit to the village bringing Holy Communion I met the missing singer Christina. She came into the home where I was already engaged with some elderly people wanting the sacraments. She was limping with a homemade crutch.  Again a falling down case and her leg was charred black from foot to knee. I could tell from the looks and the odor that here there had been little or no treatment. My mind flashed back some 25 years ago when I had been doctoring for large wounds on my back due to melanoma surgery. The gifted surgeon Dr. Marshall of Elmira New York told me that the best treatment was water therapy just stand in the shower and let the tap water flow over the sores . It worked beautifully and we have introduced the procedure here in our villages especially for the frequent burn cases among epilepsy sufferers. It is now two weeks since our recent burnt leg started on the water cure, twice a day tepid water dripped from a tea kettle and in days new fresh skin seems to come alive. Christina, by name, now walks without a crutch and can even wear a slipper on her damaged foot. Long suffering is a unique African virtue. Even common place conversational expressions tie God to everyday life. Take a simple farewell like ‘See you soon”, would merit the reply, ‘If God wills it’. And meeting someone enduring a painful bereavement the expression, ‘With God there are no mistakes its’ all in His plan’, people will find it comforting. The following story I may have already written about but in the present context it can bear repeating.  It is about an elderly man named Alois who also has epilepsy. He had fallen into the kitchen fire and was left with a badly burned foot. He was totally neglected at the local public hospital so we brought him home for our own water therapy. After three months time he could limp around with a cane and an over sized soft leather shoe. Some years later as I returned from home leave l was informed that my friend Alois had fallen into the fire again. However the good news was that it was the bad foot again not the good foot that suffered the fire. The bad news however was that both hands were burned, the left one badly the right one less so. I had been gone for about three months so there was a big backlog of work to catch up on. I would daily promise myself that I would go to see my ailing friend. His patience shamed my procrastination and then he appeared in my doorway one mid morning. A bale of rags were bound around the damaged foot. His left hand was a charcoal black vestige of a human hand. His right hand was spotted with seeping sores. My first impulse was to rush him to the village dispensary. But he deterred me and said he wanted to go to confession first and to receive Holy Communion. He then made the painful climb up the stairway to the convent chapel and composed himself to receive the Sacraments.  It must have been weeks since he had a decent wash and was in a sorry state altogether. One of our Sisters belonging to his tribe later snapped off all the charred fingers like five burnt twigs leaving a paw like palm at the end of his fore arm. But in spite of his wretched physical state his devotion was impeccable. I wondered at the magnitude of the faith that found space to reside in the wreckage of that human body. The odor of festering and decay was so overpowering I was forced to open the chapel windows. He sat in the pew in a reverie of grace assured, his eyes closed and his shattered arms in his lap. As he opened his eyes he said softly. “I’m so very sorry to have troubled you so much but I really haven’t told about my real problem.”  As he said this he fumbled to open his shirt front with his few remaining fingers. This I did for him and he then pulled out a grimy plastic rosary. He held up the broken plastic cross of the rosary and said, ”Now this is my real problem and can you please help me with a new rosary?”

As sad as the funeral was there was a time of mirth when the body was to be laid to rest. It was not just an ordinary dug grave but an actual vault with bricked up walls and a laid floor. It is only the second time in my life when I have seen such an arrangement.  With all due ceremony, the coffin was taken from the home and carried to the burial place with hymns and lamentations. But when it came time to place the coffin into the vault it was discovered that the discrepancy between the width of the vault and the width of the coffin was about six inches. There were some heated recriminations between the pallbearers and the masons who built the vault and at one point it became rather unseemly considering the mother and the wife of the deceased and the other mourners standing helplessly by. Many of these then departed in a reverent silence, while the arguments continued over the coffin on how to rectify the impasse.I recently attended a funeral in Moshi some four hours drive from our home here in Lushoto. The people from the Moshi area are quite affluent compared with our people here in the Usambara Mountains. When I enquired from one of the local clergy who was also going to the funeral whether we would wear Roman collars, he replied,  ”Oh heavens never, they’ll take us all for Lutheran pastors.” And truly they were there in force all impeccably done up in smart black suits and Roman collars.

Later that afternoon one of our parents from the Moshi area came to greet me and lamented the row at the burial ceremony. She also related to me the recent burial of her own grandfather also of the Chagga tribe of the Moshi people. The grandfather was a rather wealthy man with a fine herd of cattle. On his deathbed he insisted that the relatives pick out the finest of all his cows and at his death that cow should be slaughtered and prepared for the funeral feast. To this they are readily agreed. But then he stipulated that his body should then be wrapped up in that same skin and that would be his burial shroud. He was delighted with this idea wrapped up in one of his own cows and being an unforgettable part of the feast on the day of the burial. As the days past, his departure became imminent and the cow was selected, one to his satisfaction. However with the old man now gone the offspring began debating the propriety of wrapping grandfather up in the cow skin. The real issue being, what would the neighbors say. So they got the fancy coffin and all of the frills and flowers that go with it. On the day of the burial as they were carrying the coffin to the family plot and lowered grandfather into the grave the heavens opened with a cloudburst orchestrated with thunder and lightning that dispersed everybody and the coffin left alone in the newly dug grave. On their return to the site the coffin was gently floating above ground in the grave full of water. The brother of the grandfather reproached the family for disregarding the expressed wishes of the deceased and told them all to go and find rocks which he piled on top of the coffin and to the horror of the family members he poked a hole in the side of the coffin with pickax and down it went with copious gurgling and bubbling. His final word to the family was that this is what they deserved for disregarding the expressed wishes of the deceased. The grand old man had never worn a suit or a tie in his life and instead of being wrapped up in the watertight skin of one of his beloved animals which sustained him and his clan for generations, his final resting was in a soggy black suit and tie which he had never worn in his lifetime. But for sure that funeral was never forgotten in that community and they now listen very carefully to their elders.

Last week was truly one of mourning for many in our diocesan communities. Our own Sisters lost one of their Community very unexpectedly. The last foreign missionary of the Rossminian Congregation, and a not so old one at that, lost their Father Tony Mitchel an ever cheerful Irishman who was only found because he did not show up for Mass in the morning and there he was asleep in the Lord in his favorite chair in the mission sitting room.

Our new President of Tanzania, Mr. John Mugufuli is making a lot of waves very early in his administration. On his first day in office he walked down from the State House to the Ministry of Finance and found just six higher officials at their desks. There was a lot of scurrying around after that visit. The following day he visited the Main City Hospital and found dozens of patients lying on the floors, many of them having been there for weeks without medical attention of any kind. The top hospital officials were banished on the spot. Today the heads of the Internal Revenue got the ax for allowing tax evaders to get off scot free with hundreds of cargo containers getting into the country without any Duty being paid. The saga carries on with daily revelations in the news. The most recent is the cancelation of the usual gala Garden Party for the official opening of Parliament costing millions of shillings being replaced with a tea and cookie party in the afternoon and the money saved being diverted to buy 300 beds and bedding to go with them for the Dar es Salaam city hospital. For the men and woman Tanzanian in the streets these are dramatic changes. The cartoon artists for the daily papers are having a heyday.  One delightful one was the depiction of a computer screen with a note stuck to it declaring. ”Your Honor President  Mr. Magufuli, I’ve just made a quick dash to the toilet, but I’ll be right back, I promise”. His latest as of today is the cancelation for all public celebrations for the National holiday for Independence on Dec.9th and for the local communities to spend the day in cleaning up their town and city streets. Foreign travel and junkets for Government officials are also out. The curtailment of the opulent lifestyle of the government officials is certainly justified when we consider the abject living conditions of so many Tanzanians, scratching away on tiny plots to eke out the basics for survival. All of these presidential efforts sound good to these people who live in the countryside in dire poverty for generations not knowing literally where the next meal is coming from. No doubt Mr. John Magufuli will incur the ire of the former elite and that will make his life difficult. But that is the lot of Prophets and Reformers and let us hope he is a man up to his job, better styled, his “Mission”.

And very close to home here at Mazinde Juu we lost one of our top teachers, Joseph Macha at the age of 42, succumbing to liver cancer after four months of great pain and discomfort. His devotion to his vocation as a teacher left all of us in awe and admiration. Time after time I would see him trudging up to school with his corrected home works under his arm. He was preparing the fourth year students for their big national exam last month. I’d tell him  ”Joseph, take it easy we have lots of help for the students and you don’t need to be doing all of this.” To which he always replied, ”These are my students from their first year and I am going to see them through to the last and I’ll finish the syllabus with them even if it kills me” And it did, but he died on the job doing it. God love him. Joseph’s wife Catherine kept us in touch with his progress till the last day and in fact the last hour. In his last message to Sister Evetha the Headmistress of our school here at Mazinde Juu, he asked Sister to forgive him for not having collected all the Mathematics books from the students before he left. To me his message was to forgive him if he had not really done his best in giving them what he should have as a teacher. His life example was a lifetime lesson for each and every one of us I can tell you. My gratitude to all of you who are so generous and selfless in reaching across the continents to make sure that our children have the classrooms to go into and the dedicated teachers like Joseph to inspire them. The Peace and Joy of Christmas be with you.

cozy house

Fr. Damian

Newsletter from Africa – April 2016

Dear Friends of Africa,                                                                                                  April 2016

The events I would like to relate now came from an encounter I had 55 years ago and the descriptions of events related to me at that time took place some 55 years previous to that. In other words, what I’m now describing are the observations of a young man who saw firsthand the havoc and the destruction of missions and villages during the Maji Maji rebellion of 1905 in Tanganyika. Very briefly the Maji Maji rebellion was the uprising of the people of Tanganyika against the German Colonial rule which extended from 1895 to 1916 when German occupation in East Africa came to an end with the defeat of the German forces by combined British forces from Europe, India and South Africa. The causes of the uprising were the usual complaints of any subjected people; forced labor, taxes and in general, unwelcome foreigners ruling over them.

The MajiMaji, came from the Swahili word “maji” meaning water. The medicine men who were key figures in recruiting fighters for the cause would sprinkle the fighters with “maji” water, which they were told would turn German bullets into harmless water.  Needless to say it did not work as prescribed by the medicine men and hundreds died in the conflict. The Maji Maji were strong in Central Tanganyika and spread south to Lake Nyasa and then East to the coast along the Mozambique border. It was the arrival of the Maji Maji at the mission of Nyangao where my story begins. Nyangao was a mission just 5 miles from where I was stationed at Namupa, my first appointment in Africa. That was in 1960.

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon and the boys at the seminary where I was stationed were busily occupied with sports and games during their Sunday free day. An elderly man came to my office where I was dutifully correcting English and Latin homework. This man was accompanied by an elderly woman seemingly of about the same age as her husband which I was later informed was in the mid-seventies. They were not at all enfeebled but quite vigorous, having walked the five miles from Nyangao to Namupa in little over an hour.

After the usual formalities of greeting the gentleman as I truly recall him from the impression he made on me at the time, made me a proposal. He needed money to buy a piece of property and needed 100 shillings to meet the price that was being asked. At that time 1 US dollar was worth 7 East African shillings.  He said that he had no collateral but would leave his wife with me until he returned the loan which he promised to do within ten days. I told him that I trusted him and after giving him the 100 shillings I said farewell and told him his wife would be better off with him than with us at the Mission. On the 10th calendar day he appeared again and with the wife as well. He thanked me profusely for the loan and brought a big bunch of bananas as a token of thanks and the 100 shillings wrapped into a dried banana leaf. I offered them tea and cashew nuts and we talked at length about local affairs, the coming of Independence in December of that year 1961, the rains and the nuisance of wildlife in our area, namely elephants who found the village cornfields handier for good lunches than foraging for hours in the forest for grass and tree bark. And the lions, leopards as well as hyenas thought the mission cows, goats, sheep as well as chickens were better for nighttime snacks than chasing wild pigs and fleet footed bush bucks through the woods.

I asked about his background and here came a story one of the most compelling I have ever heard and I believe this is the first time I have ever put this story on paper. He was born and raised a Muslem and was given the name Ramadhani. At the age of twelve he was given the job at the Nyangao mission as a cook’s helper, keeping the wood fire stoked and the pots and kettles scoured and gleaming.

It was the time of the Maji Maji and missions were vulnerable being the centers unfairly associated with the German government authority, but the most visible manifestation of foreign rule, big buildings, schools, hospitals all quite un-African in spite of being primarily for the benefit of the Africans. Even baptized Christians were targeted by the Maji Maji perhaps being seen as collaborators with the foreign rule.

Anyway to get on with the story, my friend Ramadhani told of the terror and fear of the approaching Maji Maji fighters. The Priests, Brothers and Sisters made preparations to flee to the nearest military outpost in Lindi some 65 miles away. The small mission band had weapons and as events unraveled according to Ramadhani they knew how to use them. As he was later to relate in his story that Sister Walburga was a crackshot and the best in the party. He himself was risking his life by fleeing with the missionaries but he was true and loyal throughout and never left his devotion to his benefactors in those hard and desperate times. He could have easily stayed at home in safety and let the Maji Maji ransack and burn the mission but he never left his Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in their desperation. I watched Ramadhani closely as he narrated his story of the flight to Lindi as he relived the harrowing events of that fateful night some fifty-five years ago. They left the mission in flames but were now bent on making it to safety in Lindi. However, the Maji Maji were also determined to obliterate the white faces that represented the colonial oppression and quickly began tracking the small band of fugitives. The details were not many but my narrator, Ramadhani, had the gift of the real story teller. The Maji Maji were hot on the trail of the fleeing missionaries about 4 or 5 in all. After a few hours of a mad dash through dense forest in the dead of night they felt that they had put a safe distance between themselves and the pursuing Maji Maji. They felt a bit relieved having escaped with their lives the destruction and the plundering of their mission and paused for a brief halt to regain their breath. Unwisely they made a small fire to boil some tea, a signal the Maji Maji picked up straight away. The missionaries were huddled in a small depression with a false sense of protection but totally exposed on all sides by the determined Maji Maji. The fighters had wiped out the mission but were determined also to finish the foreigners, the perpetrators of the foreign rule regardless of the peaceful services the mission gave, particularly the hospital and the schools that the missionaries ran. The little fire and the smell of smoke alerted the Maji Maji fighters and they began a bitter assault with spears and arrows on the missionaries. The arrows and spears were not very effective especially in the dark but the ferocious gun fire from the missionaries put the Maji maji on a more cautious footing. Any moving shadow on the rim of the enclosure called for gunfire and the initial results of the missionary weaponry made the Maji Maji very wary. During a lull in the battle Ramadhani bought the hot tea for the missionaries to drink. As Sister Walburga laid aside her rifle aside and turned to take her cup she was fatally struck with a spear in her side still reaching for that hot cup of tea.  Now I don’t know if there is an official account of this incident but these are the recollections of a man who claims to have been there. Those who survived the attack eventually reached Lindi mission and relative safety. Sister Walburga is now highly revered to this day and processions in her honor go to her grave every year on the anniversary of her death.

I never looked deeper into the history of the Maji Maji uprising and took as bare fact the unsolicited account Ramadhani gave me. It would be interesting if there is an official account of the destruction and flight from the Nyangao mission. If I find an approved authorized version of the death of Sister Walburga I will share it with you. For now, we have Ramadhani’s account of the recollections of a little 12 year old boy which I feel are quite authentic. At that time of this narration there were still many survivors who could have corroborated his story if I felt he was he was fabricating but the circumstances were such that I had no reason to doubt the veracity of this man’s reminiscing.   And for the processions to the grave of Sister Walburga on the anniversary of her death we may just as well be honoring a hero trying to save her fellows as others want to honor her as a martyr dying for the faith. That for me is all for the dear Lord to sort out.

But in our Benedictine congregation of St. Ottilien, death has certainly stalked our predecessors. In the late 18 hundreds and early 19 hundreds scores of missionaries, Priests Brothers and Sisters died before completing a brief one or two years of mission service, succumbing to malaria or some other tropical disease which were rampant and fatal at that time. A walk through the mission cemeteries is a revelation. Scores of mission personnel dying before even getting into their third year of service many never completing a single calendar year.  For our Congregation the death knell continued during the First and Second World Wars when all able bodied men were called up for military service from our German monasteries and 143 Priests and Brothers lost their lives. Daily as we call to mind our deceased for-runners in our congregation who have passed on, the KIA {Killed in Action} after the names of all those young men, is a grim reminder on not just being unknowing of the day or the hour of death but the how and why that they gave their lives is just as imponderable.

When the Communists took over in North Korea many of our mission personnel were captured and imprisoned. Thirty four missionaries died due to starvation or brought to their deaths by brutal beatings or frozen to death. St. Ottilien has published a book illustrating their heroic lives. It is mentioned there that many of those who were killed were specifically made to suffer for their Christian faith. Our very first mission in Tanganyika opened at Pugu near Dar es Salaam in 1889 and was overrun during the Bushiri revolt against the colonial government. It was burned to the ground and a brother and two sisters lost their lives and others were captured and held for ransom.

In the early days of the congregation many of the young confreres were inspired by the ideal of martyrdom for the Kingdom of God. But of course our goal was never to come out to die for the Lord but to live for Him and build up the Kingdom by fighting the big enemies that our first President Julius Nyerere so constantly identified as Poverty, Ignorance, and Disease. With our focus on Education we hope to provide the people with the knowledge to identify and find the means and have the will to eliminate the Poverty and Disease themselves.

Last month our Form VI students sat for their final National Examinations. The results of these exams will determine who will go on for further study at University level. As part of our preparations for the exams every Sunday night prior to the examinations we had a vigil for the Holy Spirit to enlighten their minds for the task ahead. It is a moving experience with just the Pascal Candle in the Chapel lit and letting the singing and the silence fill our hearts and souls. I never miss being there with the students and lend an encouraging word from time to time as well with a little ferverino to keep our sprirts high. I give them credit for their seriousness and devotion. Nobody walks out during the Holy hour which invariably goes on for two hours. And it is all voluntary. Now the exams are over and the students have gone home. Those who have been with us for the full six years of Secondary school have become like our children and leave a mark on the school as well as on us and leave a void as well. We are with these children day and night and hour after hour so in all likelihood we will have been with them longer than their own parents. However, the first year students fill the place with their youth and exuberance and help us to get over the loss of the ones who have gone on with their lives and we hope for bigger things. Our prayer for them is also that they will also be better beings.

Our new Library functions as a key center for them now and they put it to day and night use in honing their study skills. It completes the triangle of classroom and chapel in enabling the students to gain the moral and the mental habits that will fit them for their lives in the big outside world. That is what I like to think is happening.

Our sincere thanks to all of you who have enabled us to make a difference here in Africa in the lives of these children with the sincere hope that they too will also go on to continue to make a difference in the world in which they live.

Examination timeMazinde Juu Carpentry


Father Damian

Newsletter from Africa – May 2015

Dear Friends of Africa,

May, 2015

Throughout my years in Africa beginning with teaching in boys’ schools and various pastoral assignments there was also a lot of building going on. This was always a hands on program: hauling sand out of nearby rivers and breaking stone by hand with hammers to make gravel were givens. In most of our building projects our most sophisticated construction machine was a wheel barrow. Mixing concrete was all done by hand and carried in metal pans usually on the head often up two and three stories on rickety scaffolding. I have seen women climb a wooden ladder up two stories with a pan of concrete on their heads without touching the pan or the ladder. Today with the onslaught of the mobile phone we can find our women carrying the same loads all the while chatting away merrily on their cell phones.

All of our building activities are based heavily on human endeavor as I have already indicated. Excavation on the hillsides to prepare the building site is all done with pick and shovel. When wheel barrows fall apart we could still move if not mountains certainly parts of them by piling earth on cow skins and dragging them to the dumping site.


Building materials could be varied from burnt bricks made from the excavated clay, compacted earth blocks and when a storied building was needed, handmade cement blocks. All the timber and wood work of windows and door frames, roofing trusses and furniture come from our own forest plantations. Each year at the beginning of the rainy season we plant hundreds of trees so we are self providers of our lumber needs.

I still depend on my two men pit sawyers to cut our logs into the boards the size we need. People tell me to get modern and get the job done by machine in half the time. But chain saws are noisy, expensive and wasteful. Besides, every two man saw we have in operation means with our three 8 foot saws that we have 6 men employed, supporting their families with a weekly wage. These men have been on our building team for many years and are now harvesting trees they helped plant 25 and 30 years ago.

On using our home sawn timber my dear friend, Brother Fortunatus of whom I’ve already written,  used to warn me of the failure of using uncured timber and said that the rule was for every inch of thickness it requires one year of air drying time. I’d sometimes shorten the time and learned to my dismay to find doors warping and table tops splitting. In time we learned to shorten curing time for timber to 10 days by drying the lumber in a homemade kiln, heated with scrap wood from our lumbering activities.

Years ago during my first appointment while building a three story building in Southern Tanzania, we came to an impasse. We had added a third story in the form of a little observatory tower for astronomy classes. During the final plastering and rendering of the overhang on the roof of this observatory our head mason complained and said he could not do the job. I was called to mediate and he reiterated his refusal and said he would not be able to do that upside down kind of a job. Granted our scaffolding was rather skimpy, but not really extraordinarily so. I even demonstrated by lying down on the platform myself and learning over the open space. I showed that with someone to hold my legs I could do the job myself. Then came the real crux of the issue, “Yes” he declared, “You are a priest and the Lord takes care of your kind of people. But look at me, a simple catholic and I haven’t been to confession in over a year. I can’t take this kind of a chance”. So we resolved the issue and got a mason who had been to confession the Saturday before and the plastering job was done post haste.

I also recall during those early days after the Declaration of Independence on December 9th , 1961. There was a lot of hope and yearning for a better life. It took the new leader Julius Nyerere and his compatriots time to find their feet and plot the way forward into the future with many ups and downs.  We are now there after 54 years of Independence. We have had four peaceful elections with Presidents serving each two consecutive five year terms, stepping down and passing on the baton to the new comer at the end of their mandate. There was never a qualm or a quibble over extending beyond the constitutional limit of two five year terms. Tanzania has been a haven throughout its history as a land of refuge for the oppressed of every country on our borders. There was and still is civil war in Mozambique and there was unrest in Malawi for years. The Congo is still up in flames. Children are born, live and die in a constant fear and flight for refuge and safety without respite, Rwanda and its killing fields where 800.000 men, women and children lost their lives. Burundi is again a country in discord where the incumbent president intends to extend his time in office to another full five year term contrary to the constitution and to the dismay and anger of much of the populace. Refugees from Burundi are pouring across the border into Tanzania at this moment with scores of people dying of cholera in makeshift camps. Dar es Salaam means “The haven of peace”, in Arabic and Tanzania has heroically fulfilled this task for the survival of thousands of desperate people fleeing for their lives.

When we hear of the abductions and massacre of school children in Nigeria and recently in Eastern Kenya, we ask ourselves how girls’ schools have become the battlefields, the front lines and the trenches against fanaticism. And this gives us all the more reason and determination to increase and better our schools to make sure that we are up to the task of confronting the ideologies which would deny them their God given birthright to learning.

I always remind our students when they come to Mazinde Juu that the first rule in our school is to be happy, meant in a kind of lighthearted way but I mean it. It seems almost ludicrous to have such a rule now seeing what is happening all around us. But now it is like a clarion call when so much today would wipe out happiness and security altogether.


Some time ago I wrote of the horror taking place in our own country of Tanzania with the killing and maiming of Albinos, especially children. Their body parts were being used by witchdoctors as charms to achieve wealth or success for their petitioners.  There was a public outcry and the advocates for the safety and welfare of Albinos from Canada came to Tanzania to show the International concern for this human outrage and support for the families of the victims. Yesterday I read an article in our leading English newspaper. I want to quote a paragraph from this article which reveals another facet to this abominable practice. From The Guardian  May 27, 2015. “The police must work to arrest “buyers” of body parts of persons with Albinism and not only the suppliers, the Tanzanian Albino Society has urged. We have witnessed the arrest of Witchdoctors and the killers. The society now also wants to see the agents and the buyers of the Albino organs being arrested. The Society decried the fact that the killings of albinos have increased this year and noted that the increase is associated with the upcoming General Elections slated for October of this year.”

What a sad commentary this is on the corruption of a laudable democratic process. Our thanks to all of you who help us to keep our girls smiling and safe.

Our day in Mazinde Juu begins at 6 AM sharp with the entire school body assembled in the school hall for Holy Mass. In our joining instructions for entrance to the school it is indicated that every student is expected to attend this function. It is never intended that we would proselytize or persuade a student to become a Catholic and even if a child asked to change her religion, we tell her wait until she gets home and confers there with her parents on this issue. I once had to terminate a teacher who was taking students for what he called were private lessons in Physics and when I went one day to check on the progress of the science study I found him preaching heatedly, shaking the Holy Bible held aloft. He had told the students that if they accepted his brand of Christianity they would surely get the highest grades and there were some who in desperation fell for his line. He left the next day. But for good order we want the whole school body together as a school family, to thank God for the gift of life and ask for the blessings and grace to make the most of the coming day. The students bring their Bibles and Korans and lesson notes to the hall and when I arrive to have 730 of them in silence with a dozen Sisters in attendance I feel a special presence and it is a joy to be a part of it all. Since our hall was only designed accommodate 600 students the double class of first year girls sit on benches on stage. I feel like a hen with 6 dozen chicks, surrounded by all those vibrant children. It is also quite special to be there when these very young people come into the pulpit at 12 and 13 years of age and do a reading to the assembled 750 in English or Swahili. I also have my evening duties checking the study halls at night. If the girls suspect my coming they will be extra quiet. But when I come and catch them unawares and they are in an uproar, we have words. I then remind them of their first lesson from me when they came to Mazinde Juu when they were all told to write, Rule Number ONE of Mazinde Juu .”Father is always right” and rule number TWO, “If Father is wrong, go back to number ONE”. I go from desk to desk to check on their performance and progress. There is always the unpredictable and the unexpected. Last week for example, I came into the first year study hall and surveyed the orderliness of the study room. I casually sat on a desk and checked visually attendance and class concentration. As I glanced about the room a girl came up to me and told me, “I need my books” and I replied somewhat sternly “Why are you looking for your books and study time is already ten minutes underway”? She replied “I can’t get my books” and when I saw that she was about to cry I  softened my tone and said, “Now tell me dear why can’t you get your books?” and she replied, “Because you are sitting on them”. That same night I came into the 3rd year high study hall. I went from desk to desk. The girls always turn their heads so I can put a hand on them to give a blessing. I noticed that one girl had a little teddy bear on her desk and there I paused. As I stood there next to her I thought that I would be a little smart and said quietly.”Look at that bear, he’s got no claws and he’s got no teeth, what good is he?” And she looked up at me beatifically and said “He smiles.” I had no further comment.

We are a very mixed group of people here at Mazinde Juu, from the point of view of tribe and religion. There are more than 120 tribes living in Tanzania, although today the tribal affiliation is gradually morphing into a national affiliation. In a way it is sad to see even in my life span in Tanzania children who cannot speak their tribal language and it also happens that there are children coming to school with English as their first language and learning Swahili here with us. When I first came to Tanganyika in 1960 as the country was called before Independence, we used to have Tribal Day, a great festival where the students would fashion tribal dress and perform songs and dances accompanied with drums and the traditional instruments. It is now sad to see a parting from ancestral ways which cannot now be recovered. It is plainly the environmental decay of a culture, similar to the way we are wiping out so many living species and other vital elements of our land and waters.

We  thank you for your generosity to Mazinde Juu where books will always be available and bears will always smile, helping us to prepare these young women mentally and morally  for the arduous tasks that life will put to them.

God bless you all,

Fr. Damian

Letters from Africa – March 2015

Dear Friends of Africa,                                                      March, 2015

Last month the Headmistress of Mazinde Juu had the sad duty of attending the funeral of the father of one of our third year students, Elizabeth by name. During a private moment in the evening of the burial, Elizabeth pointed out to Sister Evetha the high wall around the courtyard of the house, topped with shards of broken glass. She then said “See how much our father loved us, me and my two sisters? Who will protect us now that he is gone?” She was referring to the fact that she and her two sisters are all albinos and savage attacks upon on sufferers of albinism in Tanzania today continues unabated. Outright kidnapping and maiming especially of children for arms or legs as well as other body parts are common gruesome newspaper stories. Some very thought provoking editorials delve deeply into the barbaric practice and seriously probe the deplorable superstition founded on gross ignorance. Superstition is still doing well and thriving at all levels of our society. And now with the national elections approaching, there are open allusions that the political hopefuls are leaving no stone unturned to secure a successful election. The belief is widespread that witch crafting using  the skin or body parts of albinos is one of the most powerful and efficacious  means of securing a successful outcome of any grand human illusion whether it be finding gold, winning an election, or landing a big job. The sky is the limit.

The President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, recently met with the leaders of the International Association of people with albinism and pledged full support in eradicating the evil practice which is rife in our country and during the very last days of the meetings a 6 year old boy had his arm severed by the devilish dealers in body parts. The dichotomy between public policy and actual practice could not have been more dramatically brought out. Cries of the national shame and the blemished image of our country also fill lengthy columns in the national daily news reportage. However the common belief that politicians will exploit every avenue to secure elections tarnishes every campaign speech and promise.

During the last Presidential election which coincides with the parliamentary election as well, I was approached by one of the hopefuls for a post in parliament. He had a promotional T-shirt with his image and logo colorfully portrayed on the front and asked me confidentially whether I would wear it during the 12 hours of Election Day. I thought at first that he meant it as a joke but he was serious.

 With regard to the baleful record of human suffering brought about by such superstitious practices, I recall a long conversation I had with a well educated and highly regarded Tanzanian on this very topic. He was a devout Catholic and spent many years with the International Refugee Services as an administrator. At the time I was the priest appointed to a Refugee Camp in the South of Tanzania during the war for Independence in Mozambique. My friend, Cassian by name, had invited me to his home for supper and we continued our discussion after our meal. This was some 45 years ago and even then secondary education was a very special prize to have achieved. Cassian‘s book shelf was well stocked with Swahili and English titles. On my departure he handed me a rather thick green bound volume entitled in gold lettering “750 Irish Superstitions”. He told me to be sure to return the book as soon as I finished with it.

Now having come this far in my revelations about witchcraft and superstition I must make a confession of having indulged in it myself. The occasion was a robbery at our school, a minor seminary for boys in the South of Tanganyika as it was known then. During a Sunday night movie entertainment for the boys, my room was broken into and my clothes closet forced open. Oddly enough the only item taken was a steel ammunition box containing cartridges for my 30.06 rifle. The rifle came in handy to frighten off the stray lions and hyenas which frequented our school compound at night and also more to the delight of the boys to fetch an antelope or wild pig from time to time adding a bit of bush soup for the table. I was relieved that the rifle had been left for had it been taken I would have been in serious trouble with the police who were very strict on the regulations concerning the safe keeping of firearms. I suspected that the thieves were only interested in money and mistook the heavy steel box for a small safe.

However this was still a loss for us and furthermore the fatal shooting of a local shopkeeper added to my uneasiness. The police were making a village by village search of every dwelling and persons owning firearms were to make a full accounting of weapons and ammunition in their possession. Here I am now the owner of a rifle without a bullet to go with it. Records were also kept of the purchase and use of ammunition and these were also scrutinized by the police during the yearly inspection and licensing of guns and ammunition.

I had a bit of authority as prefect of the school at the time and told the boys that instead of sports that afternoon they should all make a search in and about the property and a reward of 50 cents would be given for every bullet recovered. Monday and Tuesday passed without the recovery of a single bullet. The police were approaching our village and would be demanding an accounting from me within the next 24 hours.

That Tuesday night at supper over my tea I had a brainstorm. I took my used tea bag in a bit of newspaper and back in my room I arranged a little framework of bamboo around the broken window and then suspended the tea bag in the center of my construction. The pathway behind our building was a thoroughfare to and from all our local villages. The next morning one of the students came to my office and told me that he had seen the metal box. He took me to the back of our building and there neatly covered with fresh grass was the green US army ammunition box with every bullet, 52 of them, accounted for. But not only was the use of black magic effective in recovering the lost items but the security of our school boundaries was now assured. The trespassing on the school property as a shortcut stopped abruptly as of that day.

To tell the truth I felt guilty in pandering to the local fears of witchcraft. I confided in a fellow priest, an African father, and he told me the end in this case justified the means. He also told me that the general belief of all the local people was that we whites had just as many spells and antidotes to them as the Africans. The problem for them he said that the Africans could not really tell what antidotes an African could use against white witchcraft.

While on the subject of white witchcraft, I recall a lion hunting expedition I was called to join to drive out a pride of four lions who had taken over the village springs. It was a first encounter with lions for me and one which I only reluctantly participated in. Frankly I was a bit scared and being the only participant with a gun, my position in the drive was to be point man backed up by villagers with spearmen and others with bows and arrows. Even the primary schoolboys absconded from school to take part in the hunt. We did manage to kill two of the lions. Two ancient tribesmen put one lion out of the game with their homemade bows and arrows and I managed to dispatch a second. The two remaining lions seemed to have disappeared or so we believed. But the point of this narration is the witchcraft element. After I had gone back to the mission the men who had taken part in the lion episode all came to the mission. To tell the truth I was calming my shattered nerves with a double shot of Gorden’s Gin when they arrived. I could not believe that I had just been a matter of three feet from an enraged lion bent on my demise and my defense was not at all great hunter’s skill or cunning but just putting my rifle in the lion’s mouth and letting go. When I answered the knock on my door, it was a rag tag assortment of warriors of sorts with a varied collection of knives, spears and clubs. When I asked what I could do for them they said they wanted ‘’dada’ from me, meaning medicine. The medicine needed was to ward off any evil that the dead lions might wreak upon us. It was their firm belief that being the cause of death, even an accidental one, to any of five animals namely, a lion, a leopard, a hyena, a kudu, (a very regal antelope) or a human being, required a very special ‘dawa’ to neutralize the evil spell attached to the death of any of the above. I looked back at the half empty glass of Gorden’s and knew that it would hardly suffice for that crowd. But it dawned upon me that it being Ash Wednesday and “Remember man that thou art dust”, that surely the holy ashes could also suffice for warding off the deadly curses. So I led the whole troop into our makeshift chapel where all dipped their fingers into the bowl of ashes, swallowed some and rubbed the ashes on their faces and then took big swigs of holy water which was always on hand in a great earthen pot in the sanctuary. We all rested peaceful that night. However it was well that the villagers all stayed securely inside that night for the two remaining lions who escaped the daytime drive paid a visit to every house where there was a bush knife or spear that had been bloodied in the killing of the two lions that day. Fortunately there were only claw marks on the earthen walls and veranda floors and sometime a bit of damage to the bamboo doors to let the occupants of that house know that they were on a watch list. You can take it or leave it, but I was there and am happy to be still around to tell the tale.

I am writing this letter tonight on the 26th of March, bathed in the comforting glow of our energy saver bulbs powered by 4 hundred watt solar panels on the roof of the building. It has been my dream of using as much of the friendly African sun to help us illuminate our school in the night time hours. This was part of our appeal last year and we are now on the way to the reality of the dream. We have always had solar of a very minor sort to light stairways and critical areas during black outs on the national grid. These are becoming more and more frequent and fueling a generator is almost as expensive as the national electric power supply. So in January we started in earnest in implementing the solar electrification of our major buildings. The present classroom building contains four large study halls with 65 students in each hall. Along with labor this investment comes to about four thousand dollars.  If this trial period is successful then I’ll continue to solar power all our study halls and eventually the entire school complex. With our electricity bill running to three thousand dollars a month our investment should be repaid easily in a year or two.

Along with the sun powered lighting we are also going to fully supply our kitchen with biogas. Our pilot project has functioned beyond our expectation for over a year so the time is right for us to gas power all seven of our 40 gallon kettle stoves. We are talking of keeping seven hundred and thirty teenagers from the brink of hunger. Our consumption of firewood keeps 3 men fully employed to keep these fires burning. Although wood is a renewable energy source, I’d rather see our forests return to their original species which blanketed our hills for eons. This year we have planted 1400 indigenous species of trees and some wag commented that who would be around in 150 years when they matured. I replied that we all could look down from heaven to see the Usambara Mountains again adorned in their original arboreal splendors.

I so well recall my first association with the scattered Christian communities here, especially the sick calls, bringing the sacraments to the sick and the elderly. One venerable old woman would delight me with her stories of escapades herding her father’s two cows and six goats. She had vivid stories of driving off elephants and buffalo, pelting them with stones when they got curiously close to her precious live stock. What a sight that would have been with an eight year old girl driving off five ton elephants and two ton buffalo with shouts and pebbles. Now, the only wild animals to be seen are the occasional Blue or Colubus monkeys who help themselves in the patches of sweet corn which is equally desirable to the rapid expanding human population.

In my former letter I described the ordeal of a new mother called Ester, who had worked for us in the Kindergarten of our parochial school for a number of years before getting married and moving off to Arusha with her new husband. Ester had skirted death by just a matter of hours, snatched as it were from eternity by the gifted healing hands of our devoted Sister Avelina who does part time duty in the government hospital in the town of Korogwe about a two hour drive from here. Sister Avelina also by the way had spent a couple of years with us as a student teacher when we first opened Mazinde Juu back in 1989. As I was giving the anointing of the sick to poor Ester, she uttered a lament from a breaking heart saying “Why O Lord did you give me my son Michael and then taking me away from him? Who will care for him now?” Obviously that prayer was being answered as she prayed it and within hours the deft doctor’s touch brought Ester out of a crisis of acute sepsis, back to the land of the living and just as important to both of them the maternal care of Michael. My sincere thanks for your loyal support of the future mothers of Tanzania.


2015easter01                      ESTER & MICHAEL TODAY





Father Damian Milliken

Letters from Africa – December 2014



Dear Friends of Africa,                                                                                              December 2014

In every one of our mission letters we are invoking the name Mazinde Juu and of course it appears on our mailing address as well. A little etymology of the title might be in order to clarify the meaning and the origin of the name.  Actually Mazinde Juu is merely a place name and Juu means the higher or the upper Mazinde. Hence it is also logical that if there is an upper Mazinde (Juu) then it also follows that there must also be a lower Mazinde. However the people of the original Mazinde living in the valley strongly contest that there is no such place as the lower Mazinde and furthermore that they are the rightful title holders of Mazinde which from time immemorial was simply Mazinde neither upper nor lower.

 The splitting of the name came about during the colonial time in Tanganyika when the foreign planters came and took possession of vast tracts of land turning the appropriated properties into large plantations of coffee, tea and sisal. In the case of Mazinde an enterprising English retired army officer by the name of Sir William Leeds came into the ownership of the vast plain at the foot of Usambara Mountains called Mazinde and planted thousands of acres of sisal. In the boom years of the 40s and 50s sisal was the key fiber in the manufacture of twine, ropes, gunny sacks and anything that needed long tough fibers to keep it together. Then with the discovery of and the proliferation of nylons and plastics, sisal production was superseded and production of sisal headed for an almost zero output.  Just for the record however sisal is making a bit of a comeback and along with decorative woven baskets and mats it has also found a humbler and hidden use as a packing in the empty spaces in car doors. The reason given by car makers is that car buyers want to hear and feel a solid reassuringly thud when they close the door of their vehicle and not the cheap clang of tin on metal which I suppose it really is. No doubt the impact absorbing features of the compacted sisal fiber is also an added safety reason for its use in car manufacture.

So our sisal planter Sir William Leeds decided to use some of his growing wealth in building a spacious mansion in the forest reaches of the Usambara Mountain which stood a towering bastion over his far reaching holdings in the Mombo plains. When Sir William’s wife took proud procession of her English Manor House in the mountains, then by association with her husband’s plantation in the plains called Mazinde the new home in the Mountains was styled Mazinde Juu meaning the Upper Mazinde. To facilitate the 40 kilometer journey up a torturous switch back cobbled road Sir William put in a little airstrip at each location for his regular weekend commute home in his own little monoplane.

In 1942 William Leeds died and his wife tried to maintain the residence at Mazinde Juu for some years but tired of her lonely existence there. She left the property to the church and moved to retirement in one of the Mediterranean Islands.

I won’t tire you with the subsequent history of Mazinde Juu, but following the trend of most enterprises run by committees, this one being the Tanganyika Bishops Conference, it gradually morphed from a Social Science Training Center for African Sisters to a small domestic school for local African girls run by a little clutch of Sisters. Being without any financial input aside for a bit of moral support from the authorities, the Sisters struggled to make a good go of their project relying on a lot of thrift and gardening to stay alive.

There is one incident that occurred during the early days in the history of Mazinde Juu that I only recently became aware of. It took place during a period in the late 60’s when the small domestic Training Center for African sisters was operational. A young German teacher by the name of Katherina Erhard was recruited to run the new school. It was a daunting undertaking, starting a school in a deserted property with overgrown lawns and gardens, a derelict building in sore need of renovations and repair and for good measure infested with rats. But Katherina being of solid intrepid Bavarian stock was not to be deterred. With practically no funds to speak of and a lot of heart and hard work she and her first group of students cleared and landscaped outside, cleaned and polished inside until Sir William’s mansion became a functioning school with an address and  even an oval rubber stamp that printed out, Mazinde Juu Training Center P.O. Box 90, Lushoto. Then it was official.

Some months after the opening of the Training Center some guests had announced their intended arrival and if I am not mistaken they were in part representatives of the organization which was supporting the fledging Training Center. At the same time as the reception of the guests was immanent the students informed Katherina that the water taps were all dry and the water system had shut down. Since they were not overnight guests and the tea was already prepared it did not seem a very urgent problem at the time.

 Thus the water problem was relegated to later when the guests had departed. The tea was very well received and appreciated and the visitors expressed their satisfaction with the progress of the school. Being without expertise in African plumbing, Katherina contacted a trade school operated by the Lutherans in the neighborhood to see if they could lend a hand in their predicament. A young German tutor appeared on the scene and began a thorough check of the water system from the spring to the storage tanks and found nothing amiss. When he asked about a storage tank in the main house no one had any information except for a student who had seen a trap door in one the upstairs corridors. When the plumber checked the attic he found a large copper holding tank for water distribution throughout the main building. He also found the cause of the water stoppage. There in the water tank he found half a dozen rats some still swimming, others not and one with its head stuck in the water outlet for the building.

He carefully removed all the unwanted trespassers and upon returning to the dining room he told Katherina that he had solved the problem. He also discreetly inquired about the tea that afternoon and was assured that it all went just fine. (Might we also have said“swimmingly”? first recorded usage in 1692). I do not believe that he went into the details at the time of what he found in the water tank. However Katherina must have learned of the water rats for she was the one who related the above story to me. And this brings us to another episode in the story of Mazinde Juu.

It was Katherina herself who introduced herself to me by letter after receiving information from the Archabbey of St. Ottilien in Germany that Mazinde Juu was still an educational institution with the very same P.O. Box Number 90 when she was here in 1966. Her father had close ties with the Archabbey and the family often went there for Mass especially on Holydays. When she learned that I was in charge as the manager and incidentally a member of St. Ottilien it was the beginning of an interesting correspondence.  To top it all off we actually met face to face last month on my visit to St. Ottilien. I had gone to the Archabbey to meet with the Superior there to present my reports on the programs here and to receive the Archabbot’s blessing for future developments at Mazinde Juu. The hours of that afternoon and evening with Katherina, her children and grandchildren went all too quickly. Much to my surprise Katharina introduced me to her elder sister, Theresa, who had actually preceded her to work as a volunteer in Tanzania. It was Theresa then who persuaded Katherina to come to Tanzania and to take over the new project of the Social Training Center at Mazinde Juu which was just waiting for a leader to get the program under way. Theresa herself had a very interesting story to tell after spending ten years here in Tanzania living alone in the villages teaching African women by her own example of how to improve their lives and the health and welfare of their families. Her lifestyle was as simple as that of the local women and she became a powerful example for her African neighbors. Using the means at hand she was able to show by doing how to grow gardens of healthful vegetables and showing the best means of preparing and preserving them as well.

Her lifestyle was on the same level as her African neighbors so her message became all the more valid for the African mothers to follow. Theresa’s expertise in home craft, child care and gardening was all well within the scope and ability for the women to understand and to put into practice. She became a marvelous apostle of spreading the message of good health and well being by doing and by sharing. Although she never married she adopted two African children. I met one of the children, a delightfully pleasant African named Maria who is now a full fledged teacher in a German school. Her knowledge of Swahili was sketchy but her German was dead on pitch. She was not so entranced with the idea of going back to Africa, having so few contacts there anymore and for sure not having a desire to leave her beloved Mom, Theresa.

I cannot conclude this German Tanzania exchange without a final note about Katherina’s rat tea  party. In March of this year we received a small group of Indian and German visitors who came on a sentimental journey to Mazinde Juu. The Indian visitors had been playmates of David Leeds the only son of Sir William and Lady Leeds. They were delighted to revisit the places which still lived with them in their childhood memories. The German gentleman described his background as an instructor of mechanics and plumbing at the Trade School which the Lutherans used to run just a mile away from where we were sitting. He elaborated on his experience as a plumber and in particular how his expertise applied to the very room where we were then sitting having our coffee and tea. Then the tale you have already read of Katherina’s tea party was related to all there in the William Leeds dining room, the tea at which the rats had the first sips. There is an old African saying that “mountains don’t get together, but people do”. I believe that this is a valid description of this episode. Quite a coincidence indeed.

 The education and rearing of children, especially adolescent girls, entails a lot of patience, wisdom, tolerance, insight and ingenuity. We had one student who teetered on the knife edge of expulsion for the entire two years of her advanced secondary years. She tried our spirits to the limits and it was only a combination of Irish stubbornness and African sagacity that brought this girl to the joy of graduation. Relief was written in bold letters in our hearts as we watched the mega malefactor ascend the stage to receive her diploma. Thank God, I breathed, as I watched her descend with her torture trophy.

Later that day I met with the parents of this daughter of Eve. We exchanged pleasantries and the usual chatter about parenting and education when the mother of the girl put one hand on the father’s arm the other on mine and  declared ”Father, how did you ever survive two whole years with this daughter of ours?”  I just smiled but the relief that came with the departure of that girl was palpable. There are those students whose company is a delight and thank the Lord they are in the majority and who are truly God’s special gifts to creation. They compensate for the naughty ones. Thank you for being partners with us in this great endeavor of education of keeping the good girls on the high road and not letting the not so good go too far astray.

As a final note let me frankly put to you a special request. Firstly, I am trying to keep our school rooms lighted during the night study periods. This means electricity. It is costing us $2000 and often more per month to pay the grid electricity bill. The grid is very erratic and we can go days and nights without power relying on the mercy of God for light. With the installation of solar panels I can bring this expense down by 75%. I can purchase solar panels from Germany and install them with my own people. For the four classroom blocks and the library I need $4000 each to electrify these areas with solar power.  This would be a onetime investment for a very essential function of the school.

The other item I want to mention is our kitchen. Obviously nothing functions here without heat. My massive 30 gallon stoves consume acres of fire wood to keep them stoked and cooking the food for our seven hundred students. I have already installed a biogas digester which can heat such a stove for six hours. It has functioned now for a year and has never faltered. Now if I can install six more such digesters, I can save so much more forest land for timber use and transform my whole septic system into biogas generators. The output of a biogas generator is pure methane gas for the kitchen and liquid nitrogen which goes straight into the gardens. One biogas digester comes at a costs $2000. I have not used this forum for begging but I do entreat you to give a practical thought to our children in whatever manner the Good Lord urges you.

And the Peace of our Blessed Lord’s Christmas be with you all. And on a practical note reflect that the greatest gift of Christmas was enshrined in Light and Warmth. A great gift too for our children in Mazinde Juu.


Father Damian

Newsletter from Africa – Sept 2014

Dear Friends of Africa,                                                       September 2014

In 1986, my sister, Kathleen Milliken, a Religious Sister of Mercy, came to Africa during her sabbatical. She remained with us for 6 weeks and accompanied me on all my safaris visiting various mission schools and convents throughout Tanzania. Nothing was too inconvenient for her nor too insignificant for her attention. She spent days in an African village with no running water or electricity. She ate the food with her African hosts out of a clay pot cooked over an open wood fire.

 Sr. Kathie’s African trip came to a close all too soon and the final farewell took place at the airport in Dar es Salaam. Just before going into the departure area, Kathie turned to me and said, “Now what do you want me to do?” Having seen so much I knew that she wanted in some way to be a part of it all. I said simply, ”I want college scholarships for African Sisters.” This was the Fall of 1986.

 In the Spring of 1988 four African Sisters were registered and began studies at Nazareth College of Rochester, NY. Nazareth College provided free tuition for our sisters but there were many other expenses to be met for room and board, health insurance, school fees, books, personal needs, etc which ran into the thousands of dollars each year. Sr. Kathleen and her Sister of St. Joseph counterpart, Maura Wilson, had to find ways to raise the money to cover these expenses over the the next 24 years. It entailed yearly appeals in parishes throughout the Rochester Diocese and  fundraising drives through the mail. My own family of sisters and nieces living in the Rochester area contributed to the success of the program by mentoring and tutoring the African Sisters. They and other family members living in various parts of the Eastern US included the Sisters in family gatherings and gave site seeing tours to help them learn and adapt to the new and sometimes strange American customs and ways.

 By 2012 twelve sisters from the Congregation of Our Lady of Usambara passed through this educational program and received teaching degrees from Nazareth. All of the sisters who participated in the program are now actively working in schools in Tanzania and four of them are principals of highly successful secondary schools for young African women. There are at present some 3000 young Tanzanian women in secondary schools under the care and guidance of of our African Sister graduates of Nazareth College.

 I recall so vividly the day when  the Sisters arrived in New York in the spring of 1988. As we drove through the tenement section of Brooklyn from Kennedy airport they were speechless as we passed the endless acres of storied brick apartment buildings. Finally one of the sisters blurted out, “Who made all these bricks?” Coming from our village environment where every building component is made by hand the task seemed insurmountable. They had a lot to learn and they did it very well.

 On our entrance exam the only criteria we set is the ability and desire to learn. Unfortunately I need hard cash to keep my schools functioning. For those able to pay the school fees we are grateful but for orphans and children of single mothers our doors are also open. Our gratitude goes out to you for helping to keep these doors wide open for these special and precious ones in the sight of the Lord.

                                   May the Good Lord bless you all abundantly,

                                                     Father Damian

Newsletter from Africa – August 2014

Dear Friends of Africa,                                                  August 2014

On one of my home leaves during a family gathering, one of my little grandnieces asked me“Are you my Uncle Jack from Africa?” and I replied readily, ”Yes, Bessie I am your Uncle Jack from Africa”. And she then came back with the snappy little question,“Then why aren‘t you black?” This caught me a little off balance and I told her that this takes a long time and that I was doing my best and starting on the inside first. This sort of coincides with the remarks of some of my parishioners who say of me that Father Damian is white on the outside but he is black on the inside especially his heart. So there are two conflicting opinions which time will sort out.

I went to Africa when it was still known as Tanganyika in 1960, a year before independence which came in December 1961. To tell the truth I was a rather reluctant missionary. After 7 years of seminary training and the novitiate in a Benedictine Abbey I had come to love the monastic life and saw myself settling down to a life of Ora et Labora, meaning prayer and work in a monastery. It was a bit of a dilemma for me to become a member of a monastic community which also was engaged in foreign mission work in Asia and Africa. So I resorted to a mental accommodation to this dilemma by leaving it up to the Lord and my vow of obedience. If I were sent by the superiors then I would of course go to the missions, but I resolved that I would not ask or volunteer for that kind of work. In July of 1959 while I was studying in Wurzburg, Germany I received a letter from my Abbot of St Paul’s Abbey in Newton, New Jersey, that I would report to my assignment at the mission station of Namupa in November of 1960. So my vow of obedience put me on the list of missionaries going that year to Africa. Now after 54 years in Africa I see what the Lord had in store for me and also what He wanted of me.

My first assignment and the first five years of my mission career were spent in a boarding school for catholic boys who were being trained for the priesthood. Few would ever get that far but it was one of the best ways for a village boy to get a good education and the priests in charge were under no illusions about this. It was a very busy place with about 300 boys from the 5th to the 8th grades and we were putting up the buildings which would become the new high school. I had charge of the discipline, food and general good order along with the building program, a good introduction for my future life in Africa.

On one of the first days of my supervision duties, which entailed eating with the students during the noonday meal, a little boy came to my table with his spoon and began to skim off little black specks from my bowl of lintels which was the side dish that day. I assumed that these specks were bits of black pepper and I told him that I liked pepper and he needn’t remove it. Then an older boy who could speak a bit of English came over and enlightened me that we always remove the weevils from our beans when they float to the top of the bowl before eating them, so I dutifully consented to the removal.

When I did the night check I could often hear the growls of leopards and the grunts of lions on the other side of the walls and was far more concerned and frightened than the boys. When one of these night prowlers happened to climb over the wall and parade about the courtyard I was even more perturbed and would hurry to get the tracks brushed away before the boys got up to find their parade ground so invaded. The same head boy who had alerted me about getting rid of the weevils in the beans also informed me that they all knew that the animals sometimes took shortcuts through our compound but they were usually gone by morning and that I needn’t bother with the tracks anymore. These boys all came from very basic and simple village backgrounds and knew the habits and ways of the forest wildlife far better than a stranger like me.

In the 1970’s and 80’s all our mission schools were nationalized and the missionary sisters, brothers and priests were all sent on our separate ways. Many found other types of social work to continue to give a boost to the development of the country, others went home disillusioned with the dismal course of events. My own conviction was always that it was through education that we could make any kind of change and improvement for the good of the country and better the lives of the people. So with the permission of my superiors I applied to the Ministry of education as an education officer and was given the job to teach in government schools basically in the same schools which once were our own. I held this position for 14 years. As I look back on this period of my life I see it as a preparation for the task that lay before me when the new government opened the door for the missionaries to restart our own schools again.

Then in the mid-1980’s the government of Tanzania allowed mission schools to operate as they had done so for decades. Today mission schools of many denominations are operating in the country, graduating thousands of boys and girls at the secondary level. Our own schools at Mazinde Juu and Kongei are among these schools and we are not to brag but we are at the very top in our yearly academic performance. At our first graduation in 1992 fourty girls graduated and one of those girls, Sister Eveta, is now the principal of Mazinde Juu. The people of Rochester have played a great role in the success of our mission of education in Tanzania. Sister Eveta herself earned her Masters in Education at Nazareth along with 11 other Tanzanian Sisters, all sponsored by scholarships from Nazareth College and the generosity and dedication of the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester. Today Sister Eveta watches over two hundred graduates a year come on stage for their diplomas and continue their march right up to College and University. At present we have over 2000 graduates Catholic, Protestant and Muslim girls each one well equipped and motivated, we hope, to make the world a better place. Our first school event each day is our prayer together at 6 in the morning. It made me feel good one day when a Muslim girl wrote me a letter saying “I will always be thankful to Mazinde Juu for there I learned how to pray”. Today in our schools we are empowering the African women who have been degraded and pushed aside for centuries to take over the vital task of bringing the light of education to their own brothers and sisters to see a new way forward on the road to dignity, prosperity and excellence. I have high esteem for our African Sisters and also their levelheaded handling of the daily happenings in boarding school life. Last Sunday the class that led the singing and the liturgy for the day really outdid themselves with their song and drumming and the overall vitality and verve in their participation at Mass. When I commented on how pleased I was with their participation I told Sister Eveta that the Holy Spirit was well represented at the Liturgy that morning. Sister readily agreed and she added too that her promise of giving them fresh doughnuts for breakfast that day if they did well at Mass might also have had something to do with it.

At the close of every morning prayer and before the final blessing the girls all bow and meditate for a few minutes on what they have heard that morning, listen to what the Lord is saying to them and think of what they are going to take away with them for the day. I get spontaneous responses from some students and often they share with me in the form of little notes that they will leave for me in my office. Here is one of the recent ones for your own appreciation and edification.

In October of 2012 we began a crash building program to put up a dormitory and classroom-library building to cater to the flood of new applications to the school. Requests for the ordinary high school and the Advanced High School 2 year program are in excess of one thousand applicants at each level yearly. Often times we rely on angelic guidance when we sift through the entrance exam papers to make the right choices. Top performers, especially when they are orphans or children of a single mom, will always get a green light though we know the payment of school fees will be hard for them to come by or not at all. Divine intervention is then involved but for me it’s perpetual thin ice skating. Our intake standard should be 100 for each level but we rarely keep to that standard. The principal, Sister Eveta, will come with slips of paper with a girl’s name, her marks according to our exam, the family particulars, and then a big question mark. The question mark usually means we are already over booked or no prospect of payment of school fees. When I ask, “ Where will she sleep?”, the reply comes back, “We’ll find a way.” When I ask about how we’ll pay the bills, the reply comes back,”You’ll find a way, Father. Faith moves mountains”.

So to get back to October 2012. We had moved a good portion of one of the Lord’s mountains and put a lovely 2 story building on the site. The purpose: to house 100 extra students and with two new classrooms and a spacious, lofty library. I envisioned a school with an enrollment of 560 and we now house and educate 720. Late last year we were racing with the weather to put the roof on the building before the rains. That we accomplished but I had not completed the fixing of the rain gutters and down pipes. But I was not unduly concerned at this early stage of our building. The inside would be dry and we could continue our finishing jobs. Then one night as I was closing my office one of the watchmen approached me and announced that a stone wall had moved. The man relayed the message but to me this was unbelievable, just preposterous, so I remarked that he must be seeing things and I went on home. It was 10:30PM and I lay in bed, but sleepless, and could not close my eyes. “Walls can’t walk”, I kept telling myself, but sleep had fled that bedroom. I got out of bed, dressed and went back to school. I had my flashlight ready and was now prepared to inspect any walking walls. And truly it was a scene of disaster. Two days of soaking rain, and an enormous cascade of water from the roof had built up pressure behind my retaining wall and pushed it 3 to 5 feet in places and it was now snug up against the foundation and the structural wall of my new building. Now I know the meaning of heartsick – a 75 feet of retaining wall, 10 feet high, detached itself from the embankment it was supposed to retain and walked away from its job.

When the workers reported on the job the following morning I merely said, “We have a big job ahead of us.” They preceded me to the building site and stood speechless at the devastation of 75 feet of rock wall 10 feet high to tear down and replace. With a will and without a word, they set to the job and in two days they had removed the entire retaining wall and cleared away the cave in of the embankment. By day number 3 our mood had greatly improved. The masons were now reenergized and commented that the Lord had wanted to teach them a lesson in moving mountains. They said they would put the wall all back together and it would not take them the six creation days either – they did it in four. The women stone bearers were also in high spirits and I even saw one sturdy Mama bending slightly while two strapping boys struggled to place a 50pound stone on her head while she chatted away gaily on her little black Nokia cell phone.

Thank you all for your loyal support in helping us not to put stones on women’s heads, but wisdom and knowledge into girls heads so that their lives will rest on the solid rocks of patience, courage and faith.

Your’s truly, Father Damian

Newsletter from Africa – December 2013

December, 2013

Dear Friends of Africa.

      As I look back over the past 12 months it is with heartfelt gratitude for your loyal support and your faith in our cause to educate and liberate African women through education. In late October of 2012 we blessed the foundation of the new dormitory, classroom and library building. One of our teachers took a photo on this occasion. There I am pictured standing on a mound of earth above the foundation while a little first year student is standing in the open freshly excavated foundation holding on to the medal  of Our Lady ready to place it in the foundation after the blessing. Later on as I looked at that photo there was a remarkable detail which nobody noticed until they had seen the photo itself. There was little Elizabeth standing over her head in that trench with a brilliant ray of sunshine beaming down directly upon her. I immediately took the emotional interpretation that the Lord himself was intervening in this project. At the time we were so overcrowded that every nook and cranny space was taken up wherever a student’s cot could be squeezed in.

    Today just 13 months after that blessing, the two story St. Catherine’s building is ready to bring under one roof all those students from their cubbyholes and corners. There will be ample space for six girls to a room with space for their belongings in the lockers and room too for their luggage. All of the furniture was made by our village carpenters from timber we planted 30 years ago. Much of the workman’s wages go into paying the school fees for their children. This is part and parcel of the nuclear family social security system whereby the child who succeeds well in schools will be the provider for the parents in their declaiming years.

 In February 1989 I began Mazinde Juu with 40 students and a staff of one, myself. We now have a staff of over forty and a student body of over 650. Eight of our staff members did their secondary education with us and are here with us again as qualified teachers with degrees. Hundreds if not thousands are likewise making not only a life for themselves and their families but with the sharing of the light of knowledge they are bringing Africa into a new and  better place.

Fr. Damian

Newsletter from Africa – October 2013

Dear Friends of Africa,                                                                            Mazinde Juu, Tanzania, Oct.2013


On November 21st 1960 I arrived at my mission post in what was then known as Tanganyika Territory. I was transferred out of the southern province in 1972 and eventually landed in the northeastern section where I am presently working in Secondary schools for African women. I have come back to the South for a few days visit to see my old haunts and have found that much has changed over the past 40 years .Life has definitely improved for many of the families, but like the climate with the implacable sun without a drop of rain for four months, the rural life for the ordinary farm family is bitterly hard. Even the leaves on the trees have shriveled and hang like tatters from the limbs in the breeze. The Mango trees however boast over all the rest and hang their luscious fruits on long strands that seem the most improbable way to grow a fruit that can weigh half a kilo when it is fully grown. But they hang in there as the saying goes and tide many a family over the drought months with nourishment which keeps many a child alive. I recall meeting an English farm expert in the 60’s who declared that the Africans would never become real farmers until they cut down all the mango trees. His contention was that they could live on mangos for three months and really did not have to worry about putting by enough of a harvest to last them for a full year depending as they did on the mangos for their livelihood for three months of the year.

On the 21st of September we celebrated the 21st graduation ceremony of our School at Mazinde Juu. There were 88 graduates out of the 90 girls who entered their first year in January 2010. It was a particularly memorable day to have as the guest of Honor the former Student Prefect from the opening of the school in 1989. She was able to give a powerful message to the student body on what the school had to offer them for their life to come and the urgency to use every effort to make the most of the opportunity that the school was giving them now to prepare them for their life in the big world of tomorrow. The ceremony began with a formal blessing which I usually give. This was followed by a dramatic Swahili hard driving Rap kind of versifying urging the graduates to be a credit to themselves, their parents and the school. This feature of the program was done by the children from our parochial school and for me was the event of the day. Their part began with Dora, a little four year old girl from the Kindergarten, sounding off in a hall seating 600 without a mike and her voice resounding off the walls without missing a beat or a syllable. She set the pace for the following nine children who all took Dora’s lead for a flawless presentation. It was truly an electrifying performance and during the resounding applause a little first grader did impeccable cartwheels back and forth across the stage. Our parochial school is the handmaid of the parish life and we strive to give our local children every advantage they will need to make the most of what they will meet in High School. So English is the medium of instruction even in primary school and along with Swahili and the local tribal languages a child is fluent in at least three languages by finishing grade school.

I want to assure you who have been so faithful in supporting our work here in education that your sacrifices are bearing fruit and as Our Lord enjoins us; “strive for fruit that will endure.”


Father Damian

Newsletter from Africa – Sept 2013

DEAR FRIENDS OF AFRICA,                                                       SEPTEMBER 2013


 The following story has a beginning some twenty or more years ago and is still unfolding. It is the story of the odyssey of a vocation and the determination of a little village girl to answer a powerful call to serve the Lord. I became aware of this child’s vocation one Sunday as I was going to our little country out station. That out station eventually grew into the vibrant parish of St. Benedict’s Mabughai. We now have seventeen small Christian communities in the parish and a parochial school with some 160 students. But that is another story.

The little girl in question approached me that Sunday of twenty years ago and told me she wanted to become a nun. There are more than a dozen religious sisters who have come from our parish belonging to several different congregations but at the time little Theresia approached me I knew of only our diocesan congregation of the Sisters of the Usambara mountains. I assumed she had the Usambara Sisters in mind and suggested that she contact the Sisters at one of the local convents. But Theresia had other ideas and said that she did not want the local congregation but wanted to join the congregation of the Precious Blood. This is a congregation founded some 100 years ago by a German missionary, Father Franz Phanner. Father Phanner was a dynamic apostle, some critics however claim he was more of a maverick. The controversial apostle started his mission career in East Africa then moved to South Africa where he set up the Marianhill congregation of religious missionaries of both men and women. Somehow little Theresia had determined to join them and showed no desire to be persuaded otherwise to join our local sisters.

I gave her my blessing and sent her to the nearest Precious Blood convent where she started her secondary education. After her fourth year of secondary school Theresia was sent to various other institutions of the congregation helping out in orphanages and giving care for the elderly, presumably to assess her interests and her capabilities as a potential Sister of their congregation.

It was seven or eight years of such activities before Theresia entered the Postulancy in preparation for her Novitiate, the final 2 years before formal entrance to the Sisterhood. I did not see much of her during this period, perhaps at most once a year. However when she did  write to me during her novitiate years it was of her happiness and her yearning to take her vows as a professed Sister of the Precious Blood. I was naturally happy for her as she approached the goal she has set for herself at the age of 13.

What a seismic blow it was on a late afternoon when I was called to the visitors’ room here at Mazinde Juu to find Theresia in ill fitting clothes dissolved in tears. She was so distraught that it was a half hour before I could get any kind of story out of her. The bottom line was that she had been called by the Mother Superior and told that she’d have to leave the convent for their Council had ascertained that she did not have a vocation to the Sisterhood of the Precious Blood.

The body and soul wracking sobs seemed coming from some unworldly creature, not our sweet little Theresia. When her shaking tremors subsided she was able with two hands to hold a cup of tea to her lips. As I watched her sip the tea I searched my soul for a word of comfort, finding nothing. So I sat there silently and when she had regained some semblance of composure I told her that I was there for her in whatever she needed. The following two weeks were a trial by tears and ears. Tears on her part and ears on mine, trying to detect between the crying and rambling verbal pleading for the rhyme or reason for this horrible dashing of her lifelong hope and desire. These episodes went on for the fortnight as we sat together daily over tea after our morning Mass. By this time Theresia was coming around to some suggestions of how to build back her life. Her determination to become a Precious Blood Sister was still alive and the thought of joining any other congregation was not an option for this young woman.

At this time we were in the process of setting up our library and we had a Sister in training at the National Library Center to become our librarian. I took Theresia to the library in the making. As she entered the room she stood still and stared at stacks and stacks of books on chairs and tables as well as on the floor.  All of these were waiting for classification and when Theresia asked how we knew where they should go on the shelves I knew she was coming back to the land of the living. I told her that the secret to that was to be found in the Dewey Decimal Classification, a tome about six inches thick. And we just happened to have one, the gift of my sister Kathleen, a Sister of Mercy from Rochester NY, who has been a lifelong partner with me in my missionary work in Africa.  After about an hour and a half of puzzling over the classification process I asked her if she would like a job in our school library. She was ready and accepted the offer. As the days went by her proficiency grew and she became more and more engaged with the physical and mental tasks of setting up a library. We were also able haltingly at first but more thoughtfully later on to talk over what had happened to her future and where to go from here on.

Theresia regained her appetite and the glowing beauty came back to her face. When the Sister Librarian returned from her course the two of them made great progress in putting the library on a good footing. I was overjoyed on the occasions I could hear laughter in the library and on climbing the stairs finding Sister Christiana, the librarian and Theresiasharing a happy moment together. With Sister back in charge there was less work for two people and when I suggested to Theresia that she go on to library school she was delighted for the opportunity and to get to know  the ropes  about books.

Our budding librarian did the year’s certificate course at the National Library Center in Dar Es Salaam and was granted a certificate with honors. By some special heavenly favor we had just completed the building of the library for our school at Kongei, another of our girls’ schools, and Theresia could take over on day one as the official certificated Librarian. She did a first class job in putting the new library in running and reading order. I would always make a special trip to the library on my tours of Kongei secondary school. It is only 15 miles from here on a lovely drive through a patch of rain forest and skirting some massive rock formations and descending a five mile winding road to Kongei nestled in a lovely valley with a web work of mountain fed streams. Over the months our new librarian seemed to thrive there but there was always a bit of a forlorn wistful look about her that told me she was really somewhere else in her mind and heart.

Then one day after she had been a year or more at Kongei she made a sudden appearance at my office here at Mazinde Juu . “I’ve got to see you” she exclaimed waving a letter at me. “Just read this” she exclaimed. In brief the letter from a new Mother Superior said that the Congregation had reconsidered the status of the sisters who had been expelled and that they would be welcome back if they so wished. It seems that a new administration had come into office and reconsidered the brash dismissals ordered by her predecessor.

My gut male reaction was that Theresia should write back and tell them flatly to go fly a kite. But before a word left my mouth she exclaimed “And I’m going on a three month renewal course next week before going back to the Sisters of the Precious Blood”. Theresia did all of that, went through the novitiate again, took her vows and radiates a joy that is infectious. When I meet her now I always ask myself, “What am I missing out on in this religious life that this young lady has found.”

The final chapter on this interlude on Sister Theresias’ redemption, but certainly not of her life by any means, was another summons to the office of the Mother Superior. This time too it was a departure for Theresia. But the marching order this time was quite different and certainly more welcome. Theresia had been selected to go for further studies in the United States for a college degree in Education where she is at the moment of this writing. Her future pupils will have a lot to learn from this determined lady. A perfect example of conviction, tenacity and faith.

Now for a final word and this about Theresia’s father. Joseph had worked for many years as a cook in government institutions. He spent much of his retirement puttering about on his little farm and going about the village having a word and a chat with his old friends. I was one of his station stops and would have a cup of tea ready for him when he came by. He had the most glorious orb of snow white hair that bobbed as he walked along seemingly unattached to his head. I am sure that when Joseph arrived at St. Peter’s gate and Peter saw him coming with his halo already in place that some strings were pulled for his dear Theresia.

But as for performance we are doing quite well. In our graduating class of the VI Formers as they are called (the two year course of Advanced Level Secondary  School)  everyone of our class of 87 students were selected  to go to the university. That means they also qualify for a government loan which is quite generous with both tuition and board included. Formerly a student from a poor family would have to prove destitute poverty to receive a loan but now with so few students passing the ordinary secondary academic level the colleges are glad to take in students with a less rigorous scrutiny of their economic status. At one stage a student from Mazinde  Juu would not qualify for a student loan for the very fact she came from our school. The very name was a liability. The assumption was that anyone coming from such a prestigious school must belong to the upper echelons of wealth.

  At present our enrolment has passed the 670 mark and rising. With the dismal results in most government schools the private sector, especially the mission run schools are being overwhelmed with applications. As I mentioned many of our students come from poor and deprived families and our school provides them with the only avenue to a better life. I have included a couple of pictures showing some of our girls busy at an exam. Just by the way, the desks they are so busy at were made in our own carpentry shop and the wood itself comes from cypress trees that we planted thirty years ago. That wonderful bit of advice about the best time to plant a tree is thirty years ago holds true especially if one did plant them back then.

            There is also a photo of our newest building, a dormitory on the ground floor and classrooms and a library on the second. We are nearing completion and I am hoping that it will be fully functional by the end of the year. I am in great need of furniture for this building with items like one hundred desks and chairs at fifty dollars a set, shelves galore for thelibrary along with more tables and chairs in the library reading room, so anything that you can spare for this grand project will be most gratefully received and may you all be richly blessed by your generosity. I don’t often beg but I do invite you to become a part of this endeavor in spite of all the hardship that so many of you have to bear these days and also to share a blessing upon us though you prayers.


Fr. Damian