Fr. Paterne Mombe, SJ, Coordinator of the African Jesuit AIDS Network, and Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ, Provincial of the Chicago-Detroit Jesuit Province

Eastern Africa Province Hosts Midwest Jesuits Team

The Midwest Jesuits’ work is not confined to the 12 states where their ministries are located; they also collaborate with provinces in India, Ecuador, Peru, and Eastern Africa.

It is that partnership with the Eastern Africa Jesuit Province that brings Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ, Provincial of the Chicago-Detroit Province, and Mr. Howard Craig, the Midwest Jesuits Provincial Assistant for Advancement, to Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Beginning with their arrival in Nairobi on Sunday, May 3, Fr. Paulson and Howard are scheduled to visit a number of ministries in the province, which the Midwest Jesuits have supported since 1987. These include the African Jesuit AIDS Network in Kenya, a parish and primary school in Tanzania, Ocer Campion Jesuit College in Uganda, Hekima College in Kenya, and various other parishes and sites.

Howard will be sharing some of his reflections on the ministries, sites, and people he is meeting in Africa.

Click here to view the Midwest Jesuits Team photos in the Smugmug gallery

Monday, May 4 (Nairobi, Kenya) Every morning, the Jesuit community at the provincial offices in Nairobi observes mass in a small chapel. Open to the surrounding communities, the room was packed with Jesuits and other religious. Our cantor was a very diminutive sister; she could not have been five feet tall. But what a voice! With great beauty and gusto, she led us in singing, praise, and worship. And the group could sing! They sing without reservation, proclaiming with all their beings the goodness of God. As I was thinking on this experience later, God placed a question in my heart: why are we so timid proclaiming all the blessings we have received?

The Jesuits are active in the midst of a slum in Kangemi, a large community in Nairobi. St. Joseph the Worker Parish, founded by Irish Jesuits 30 years ago, is located right in the heart of the Kangemi slum. In addition to a thriving parish, the community supports many programs and ministries. 

AIDS remains a major problem in Africa, especially in the slums and lower-income neighborhoods. The people living near the parish have all come to Nairobi from up-country, hoping for better jobs and new lives. As soon as they can, they find work and move out to better neighborhoods. Unfortunately, some are never able to leave.

  As always,
the Jesuits are there to help and support
the most endangered
and the most
vulnerable, those
who are among the
poorest of the
~ Howard Craig

The children in the slums find it hard to receive a quality education. Therefore, the parish runs an elementary school and just last year reopened a secondary (high) school that also teaches trades and technical skills. Finishing school with a marketable trade will help children find employment and leave the slum. In addition to the high school, the parish runs a center for women, teaching skills in sewing and tailoring. They also have a special home for children at the greatest risk – AIDS orphans and the children of parents with addiction issues. Christ the King, a sub-parish of St. Joseph, has been largely funded from local donors and Kenyan benefactors. The people of Kenya support the Jesuits and stand with them as true partners in God’s mission!

Following our visit to St. Joseph, we visited the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN). One of AJAN’s principle focuses is providing materials and courses to African teachers and other persons. Recently, it completed “A Happy Generation,” a course about AIDS and human sexuality that is geared toward African youth. 

Babies and orphans with AIDS – many of whom take anti-retroviral drugs – are now entering adolescence and will face new issues. They will need to discover their own responsible sexuality, sometimes without parental guidance. As always, the Jesuits are there to help and support the most endangered and the most vulnerable, those who are among the poorest of the poor.


Sunday, May 3 (Nairobi, Kenya) The Mwangaza Jesuit Centre is a Kenyan retreat house located in a corner of the former plantation for Karen Blixson, the woman Meryl Streep played in the movie “Out of Africa.” 

Women working for Dolly Craft in Kangemi Slum in Nairobi, Kenya.

I had an opportunity to visit with Fr. Miguel Angel Garcia, SJ, who is currently overseeing the Centre. Mwangaza is very active, with retreats staffed by Jesuits throughout the year. Originally built to house 23 retreatants, it was expanded in recent years to house more than 50. Unfortunately, no accommodations were provided to feed these additional retreatants! As a result, the dining room and kitchen facilities are overtaxed when it is in full use. It is at more than 85% occupancy most of the time, so this can be a real problem.

Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ, (third from right) and Fr. Dick Baumann, SJ, (second from right) of the Midwest Jesuits Province stand with Eastern Africa Jesuits from the Pedro Arrupe Jesuit Community.

Mwangaza is favored by many Catholic priests and religious who come for their annual retreats.  As these men and women serve on the “frontiers” of African society, they are often approaching personal and spiritual burnout when they arrive. Many of them spend the first two days of their retreats simply resting and recovering from their otherwise busy lives. As Fr. Garcia explained, the Centre provides a very valuable resource to the Church. Without it, these ministers to the poor and the fringes of society would have no place to go when they need spiritual renewal. Once again, the Jesuits are making a great impact where there is the greatest need, serving those who serve the poorest and neediest in Africa.


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Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House
Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House is located on 80 acres of gently rolling meadows and wooded countryside just 40 miles northwest of Chicago.