Minnesota students, teachers to visit schools in Kenya

| June 22, 2011 | 0 Comments

Bishop Anthony Muheria of Kitui, Kenya, speaks to Father Thomas O’Brien’s class at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights in February 2010. St. Thomas Academy has formed a partnership with St. Joseph Minor Seminary in Mwingi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Eric Simon

Bishop Lee Piché, two St. Thomas Academy students and representatives from several Catholic schools and parishes are preparing to visit the Diocese of Kitui, Kenya, June 27 to July 12.

This will be the third trip archdiocesan representatives have made to Kitui since the two dioceses began a partnership in 2004.

The relationship between the two dioceses began with an invitation from Catholic Relief Services to participate in its Global Solidarity Partnership program, which connects U.S. dioceses with African dioceses.

In 2004, Archbishop Boniface Lele, then bishop of Kitui, traveled to Minnesota. Since then, two other delegations from Kitui have visited Minnesota.

Now four archdiocesan schools, including St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, have formed their own partnerships with schools in Kenya. Other participating schools are St. Pius X in White Bear Lake, St. Joseph in Rosemount and St. Mark in St. Paul.

Kitui trip blog

The St. Thomas Academy students and other members of the Minnesota delegation traveling to Kitui, Kenya, will be blogging about their experiences on the Center for Mission website, http://www.centerformission.org. Look for a link to the blog under the heading “What’s New.”

Making connections

During the upcoming visit, representatives of three archdiocesan schools will spend time at their partner schools and visit with the Kenyan students and their families.

St. Thomas Academy student Matthew Goldammer said he was “thrilled” to receive an invitation to join the delegation. The school gave him and his classmate, Thomas Sjoberg, $2,000 grants to cover a majority of the trip’s expense.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to go there,” Goldammer said. “To see how they live and the culture is going to be an amazing experience, and also the Catholic aspect, to understand how we are all connected.”

When the students return to Minnesota, they will prepare a presentation for their school and possibly other schools in the archdiocese, Goldammer said.

Father Thomas O’Brien, director of Catholic Mission and Identity at St. Thomas Academy, will accompany the students to Kenya.

“We have all sorts of dreams” for the partnership, Father O’Brien said. “Everything from Skyping classes to reading programs where our students would read books written by African authors and the students at St. Joseph’s would read books by American authors, and then we would participate in discussions about the various things we’ve read.

“We’re also talking with our biology classes about working on common water projects,” he added.

Father O’Brien said he will work with Goldammer, Sjoberg and other students involved in campus ministry to further develop the relationship between the two schools.

The priest, who has traveled to Africa several times, said he hopes the students will come away from the experience with an appreciation for the “profound unity we have in Christ.”

Sharing wisdom

Yvonne Webb, fourth-grade teacher at St. Pius X, also will be joining the delegation. Her school has been in partnership with St. Gabriel School in Mwingi for more than a year, she said.

“We did the H2O Project through the archdiocese,” Webb said. “That was wonderful and we thought it was very valuable, but we really wanted to form a relationship with a school or a community. So when Deacon [Mickey] Friesen [of the archdiocesan Center for Mission] said they were thinking about starting a school-to-school partnership, we really saw it as a way to form a more lasting and a deeper relationship than just being a benefactor.

“We really feel that St. Gabriel’s has much wisdom,” she added, “and we want to learn from them as much as they want to learn from us.”

Last school year, students communicated via Facebook and Google Groups, but Webb hopes to explore other forms of communication during her visit to Kenya.

“I really hope to work on some curriculum projects with St. Gabriel’s,” she said. “I think there are a lot of opportunities for learning about culture and learning about the different ways that we’re Catholic.”

The Minnesota delegates also will visit a game park and view earthen dams that were built with funding from archdiocesan schools and parishes through the H2O Project, a program that challenges people to drink only water for two weeks, then donate money they would have spent on other beverages to clean-water projects.

From the start, the relationship between the two dioceses has been built on sharing rather than charity, said Mike Haasl, global solidarity coordinator for the Center for Misison.

“We’re not at all going over to save Kitui,” Haasl said. “It’s really to see them as our brothers and sisters, and the only way you can do that is build real relationships with them.

“We are one Catholic family,” he added.

Archdiocesan schools interested in forming partnerships with schools in the Diocese of Kitui should contact Mike Haasl at (651) 291-4504 or haaslm@archspm.org.

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