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Pilgrims at Uhuru Park overlooking downtown Nairobi. Front row: (left to right) Clare Brichler, Jeff Smart, Mark Maxwell, Diane Patterson Schultz. Back row: (left to right) Gerry Vehr, Camille Devaney, Christine Curran, Patty O’Conor, Maureen Collins, Cian Earls, Denise Hintzke, and Mark Bandsuch, SJ.
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"I thank the Jesuits for all they have done for these strong people. . . ."
~Patty O'Conor
Pilgrimage to Eastern Africa

The Midwest Jesuits have had a great impact on the Eastern Africa Province by founding secondary schools, parishes, retreat centers, and orphanages in the countries of Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, and Tanzania. Jesuits from the US have been missioned to help build schools in some of the areas of greatest need, including Dodoma, Tanzania, and the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya.

This past summer, Mark Maxwell and Jeff Smart, regional directors of advancement for the Midwest Jesuits, made a pilgrimage to Eastern Africa with a group of 12 interested in learning more about Jesuits works in the area and ways to help those in need. “The words, ‘This pilgrimage is not for the faint of heart,’ jumped off the page of the trip brochure,” said Maxwell. The group visited St. Aloysius Gonzaga (a secondary school for AIDS orphans), and other Eastern Africa Province Jesuit works including the Nyumbani Orphanage for AIDS infected youth, Kangemi Jesuit Parish, and Hekima College (Jesuit School of Theology). While experiencing challenging conditions, the pilgrims frequently encountered God in the beauty of the people, the vital work taking place there, and in the splendor of the country. “Throughout our visit, ‘Asante,’ the Swahili language equivalent for ‘Thank You,’ was consistently expressed by students, adults, and others for the good work of the Jesuits,” said Maxwell. “More importantly we got thechance to express gratitude to the people we encountered for allowing us ‘pilgrims’ into their lives and therein finding the face of God!”


Orphans at Nyumbani, a Jesuit orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya   
Patty O’Conor, a pilgrim from Cape Cod, recalls “The most rewarding spiritual experience was seeing the vast numbers of people in Kangemi coming out of Mass on Sunday, dressed in what was their very best. No matter what they do or do not have materially, they have great faith in God. I will never forget this most amazing visit to Eastern Africa. It opened my eyes to people who are proud to do their very best under the very worst conditions. I thank the Jesuits for all they have done for these strong people and most of all for providing me with the opportunity to become aware of how people with so very little manage to keep going and try to make better their lives. These people are truly an inspiration.”


Camille Devaney of Lake Bluff, Illinois, had a similar experience. “The trip to Kenya and the time that we spent in Kibera and at the Nyumbani orphanage and St. Al’s were a life-altering experience for me and I found myself struggling to explain to friends, family and co-workers exactly what it is that made such an impact—was it the mind-numbing poverty, the abhorrent living conditions, the thought of sickness and death, the signs of corruption, the friendliness of the people, the smiling children, the beauty of the countryside? Most likely it was all of the above. But after much reflection I think that what I have brought home with me is the realization that it is possible to have a positive impact on the world one person at a time and that material possessions are not what leads to contentment and happiness.”

Mary Grace Henry meets the three girls she sponsors at St. Al’s, (from left) Odhiambo Marlin Achieng, Okombo Joylet, and Wangudi Eunice Margaret. 
At 17, Mary Grace Henry, founder of Reverse the Course, sponsors over 45 girls in Africa from proceeds she raises selling hair ribbons, a business she started at age 12. She and her mother, Terrie Henry, joined the Midwest Jesuit pilgrims at St. Al’s for the annual Feast Day celebration and made a video of the experience (see video above, left). Mary Grace currently sponsors 3 girls at St. Al’s with plans to add more.

She has been featured by It's Relevant and was honored with the World of Children Award. To learn more about Mary Grace and her work, please visit www.reversethecourse.org.



The Midwest Jesuits are sponsoring a 2015 pilgrimage to Eastern Africa from June 16–30. For more information, contact Mark Maxwell at mmaxwell@jesuits.org or Jeff Smart at jsmart@jesuits.org or call 800-922-5327.





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Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House
The Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House is located on the shores of Lake De Montreville in Lake Elmo, Minn.