Polish priest with a machete gave Catholic school in Maggotty its start

| Eric Simon | October 8, 2015 | 0 Comments

JAMAICAMAP

“Why aren’t you in school?” asked Father Marek Bzinkowski of a couple of children in Maggotty, Jamaica.

“Because we don’t have any money or food,” they answered.

For 17 years, Father Bzinkowski has been encouraging children to attend school as an important path out of poverty. And poverty is quite severe in Maggotty, where unemployment is 70 percent.

Father Bzinkowski, ordained in Kielce, Poland, followed his passion for mission to Ukraine. With the encouragement of the Passionist community and Bishop Paul Boyle of the newly created Diocese of Mandeville, he arrived in Jamaica in 1998 to bring the good news of Christ to a community where Catholics are 1.7 percent of the population.

Father Bzinkowski went to live within the community of Maggotty to build the body of Christ. After he cleared the property with a machete, Holy Spirit Church grew to what it is now: church, health clinic, retreat center, farm, sausage factory and several education facilities.

Why are we highlighting this location for World Mission Sunday?

The education facilities, including a library, computer lab and homework program, are all supported by grants from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which is mostly supported through Pontifical Mission Societies collections.

Marta Socha, a volunteer from Poland, oversees children in her role as principal of the Holy Spirit Homework Centre in the town of Maggotty, Jamaica.

Marta Socha, a volunteer from Poland, oversees children in her role as principal of the Holy Spirit Homework Centre in the town of Maggotty, Jamaica.

Education first

When Father Bzinkowski arrived, he found that education was a low priority as families dealt with the daily struggles of survival. They had little available funds for necessary transportation and lunch for school. As a result, only four out of 100 children were attending school regularly, and very few could read.

Father Bzinkowski recognized the importance of nourishing the entire person spiritually and materially to enable them to “hear” the word of God.

At first, Father Bzinkowski told a couple of children that if they would agree to attend school, he would leave a little money and a sandwich for them after Mass. This grew quickly as other children desperately desired an education, he recalled, adding, “We will never say no to a family who needs us.”

Jamaicans are proud, dignified people, and as the program began to develop, Father Bzinkowski wanted to find a way to respect their dignity and avoid giving charity.

Parents whose children receive aid through the donations to the Holy Spirit School’s education fund work on the church’s farm and help with harvesting.

Parents whose children receive aid through the donations to the Holy Spirit School’s education fund work on the church’s farm and help with harvesting.

With the help of newly arrived Polish volunteer Marta Socha, they developed an agricultural/educational program that enhanced the dignity of all. Parents promise to work in the Holy Spirit farms one day every other month, and in exchange for the day’s work, their children receive necessary money for food, transportation and other items for school, which they must attend regularly.

Holy Spirit gets crops of pumpkins, sweet potatoes, peanuts and hot peppers to sell for the education program and families in need.

Father Bzinkowski fondly remembers one young girl whose parents were unemployed with little education. She expressed interest in being a teacher or a lawyer. The staff of Holy Spirit was so touched by her passion that they decided to “walk with her dreams” and supported her with food, books and transportation.

Children learn about the sacraments, liturgy, prayer and Christian living.

Children learn about the sacraments, liturgy, prayer and Christian living.

“Sometimes it was difficult,” admitted Father Bzinkowski, “but we stuck with her.”

Today, she is a teacher in Maggotty and the neighboring community of Santa Cruz, and is a mentor for the students.

The program has been successful, educationally and spiritually. Today, 96 out of 100 children are in school. The program has grown to include over 200 children. Socha and other volunteers continue to work closely with students in the educational facilities. Spiritually, the Church at Maggotty is also blossoming.

A shack in Maggotty on the list to be rebuilt.

A shack in Maggotty on the list to be rebuilt.

All the activities at Maggotty have demonstrated to Jamaicans what the Catholic faith cherishes: the dignity and flourishing of the whole person.

Now, Mass attendance is growing and the community celebrated 23 baptisms last spring.

When one adult was asked why she decided to be baptized, she answered, “Because this is how I want to live.”

A Maggotty home built with help from the diocese.

A Maggotty home built with help from the diocese.

The World Mission Sunday collection encourages the growth of the body of Christ through enhancing spiritual and material health in mission dioceses like Maggotty, Jamaica. This year we celebrate World Mission Sunday on Oct. 18. An envelope has been included in this issue of The Catholic Spirit for your convenience.

Please help these young and struggling mission dioceses.

Simon is mission promotions manager on the staff of the Center for Mission in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

 

Photos courtesy Eric Simon/Center for Mission

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Category: World Mission Sunday