The Pew Research study on religion recently reported that from 1910 to 2010 the people in sub-Sahara Africa have gone from 9 percent Christian to 62 percent. Some Toledoans have been a part of this fantastic growth. Many of us are aware of the Jesuits and their service at parishes and, of course, St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo. But did you know Toledo Jesuits are making their mark in Africa too?
Jesuit Father Ted Walters, former president of Toledo St. John’s Jesuit High School, has spent nearly 20 years teaching and helping to develop St. Augustine’s University in western Tanzania. The school now educates 10,000 students and offers a wide selection of professional degrees ranging from education to nursing, accounting to film making, government to food management and educates lawyers, electricians, X-ray technicians and hospital administrators. All these skills are vitally needed in developing Africa.
Jesuit Father Richard Cherry, a native Toledoan, started a secondary school in Wau, Southern Sudan, in 1984. Expelled by a government hostile to any non-Sudanese during their long civil war, he learned that the school was taken over by the army and turned into a barracks. For more than 20 years all schools were closed and people were deprived of an education. Finally, in 2005 the school was returned to the church.
Fr. Cherry returned after a 20-year absence and helped to reopen four of the original six rooms in 2007. Today there are some 200 students ranging in age from 16 to 42. They hope to expand the school to accommodate 1,000 students if funds can be found.
Another Toledo Jesuit is Father Martin Connell. Three years ago he went to Dodoma, Tanzania, to open a coed residential high school. It opened January 2010 and now has more than 400 students. He had hoped to start a teachers’ college, but the funding did not come through. He recently returned to the states, but hopes to return to Tanzania to start the college as funds become available.
We so often take schools and education for granted. We expect our schools will have electricity, safe running water (and a water cooler, of course), desks, textbooks for each student, a library, cafeteria and even bus service.
This is not so in most of the world. Many schools lack electricity, trained teachers, textbooks for everyone, rarely have bus service and often have 60 to 80 students in a single classroom. In many mission countries there are not enough schools for all the children to attend, and even those often lack what we take for granted.
We can be proud of the vast array of schools provided, not just to Catholics, but open to all children and many adults under Catholic auspices. Instructing the ignorant is one of seven spiritual works of mercy. We need to continue to pray and support those who are doing a heroic job under most challenging conditions.
Father Robert Haas is a senior status priest of the Diocese of Toledo and regularly organizes mission trips to Belize and Tanzania. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.