We are excited that our students are back for the first week of school at our St. Anthony of Padua School. 31% of our students are new to our school this year. Overall, we have 245 girls and 206 boys. We are so grateful for all of our students joining us for another year of learning. Thank you to all of our donors who support and pray for our students.
Our Summer Work program is coming to a close.
The roofs of the school, church, boy’s dorm and girl’s dorm have been replaced. The school is freshly painted inside and out. Our students were paid an hourly wage, learned carpentry, masonry, roofing, painting, and project management. The Summer Work Program is a double win: the mission’s infrastructure is maintained while the students learn skills that will serve them the rest of their lives. Thank you for helping us fund this effort.
Liberia Mission Staff Updates
Brittany Skolnick has returned to America. She has been a volunteer at the mission for the past year working as our Finance Officer. Brittany has done a great job and we are very grateful for her selfless service to the poorest of the poor. Thank you Brittany!!
Kristen Caudle has accepted the offer to replace Brittany as our Finance Officer. Kristen brings with her tremendous knowledge in managing non-profits. We are very grateful to have her managing the finances of the Mission.
Back to School Updates
Booker T. Washington Institute (BWI)
Four years ago we began sending our high school students to BWI. During our first year, 3 students from the mission were enrolled. BWI’s program is a 4 year program. Incoming students have graduated from 9th grade and have passed the WAEC (West Africa Education Council) aptitude test. The program is intensive with students covering the same academic curriculum as the other secondary schools plus the trade curriculum. All the other secondary schools in the country are 3 year programs (grade 10,11,12). BWI includes a 4th year, which includes academic study and a 4 month internship program.
Our first 2 students to finish the BWI program will graduate soon. Paul and George have spent the last 4 years learning their trades. Congratulations to them!
Currently, registration for our BWI students is occurring. We have 10 new freshmen entering BWI from our mission program. This will bring the number of mission students at BWI to 50!
St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School
Registration at our school is in full swing. Our school provides quality Catholic education for the poorest of the poor. We offer 150 scholarships and the balance of the students’ pay 40% of their total tuition cost. Your contributions subsidize the schools operation. Last year we had over 450 students. The class sizes average at 41. We are trying to bring class size down, but that means we either need to increase tuition (which will put quality education out of the reach of the poor) or find Community Student Sponsors. To learn more about the community sponsorship program, visit this page. Please share with anyone you know who may be interested in becoming a community sponsor!
Every summer, Liberia Mission raises funds to provide students with ongoing vocational education during the break. The students are hired by the mission to carry out a project the school needs done for the new year. This year, we raised money so our students could repaint our school.
Through a generous grant from the Shanahan Foundation and from gifts made by donors through GoFundMe and Missio.org, we raise the funds required for supplies and student salaries. Thank you to every person who generously gave! We have photos of the project underway and complete below.
As you can see from the image, we used an oil paint on the lower third of the classroom walls to allow for cleaning of that part of the wall. This area is what primarily gets dirty from hands, feet, pen/pencil marks, etc. We also used water paint on the upper part of the wall. We are so grateful to everyone for making this project possible!
This is the two year anniversary of Mary Ann's passing. Mary Ann served as the Director of Liberia Mission and is still loved and missed daily. Joe Sehnert, our Board President, here reflects on her remarkable life:
Remembering our beloved Mary Ann Gemma O'Driscoll. It is difficult to believe that Mary Ann has been gone for two years. It seems like much, much longer. We know that she is with Jesus, who was the joy of her life. Anyone who spent time around Mary Ann can recall the songs, humming and tin whistling that praised Jesus and demonstrated where her heart and mind were all the times. But the emptiness she left behind is still palpable in Africa, Ireland, the U.S.. and in the hearts of anyone who met her.
She gave herself to the Great Commission. It sounds so noble and difficult to accomplish, but Mary Ann made it seem natural and easy to follow Jesus' command to take His Good News to the ends of the earth. Jesus filled her with His Holy Spirit to such a degree that she spilled grace all over anyone who she came in contact with.
In many ways Mary Ann was tough as nails, but in all things centered in Christ, vigilant and steadfast. She gave herself freely, openly, and constantly to The Holy Spirit. In the minds of many she is a martyr of charity. She embodiedcaritas, as a lover of neighbors.
Mary Ann Gemma's life is proof positive that there are people in our day who still give without measure, who walk in the faith and live in the light of Christ. She is gone, but her example and her life give us hope. To the young men and women of Liberia she left a path to follow. One of giving and seeing the face of Christ in others while always offering a helping hand.
To the Irish, she gave an example of a faith not dead to consumerism, materialism and individualism, but a faith like those of her kin: St. Patrick, Gobnaught, Brigit, Brendan and so many other of old. Mary Ann Gemma was not of old and not a sentimentalist or a romantic, but a pragmatic follower of the faith and what it calls us to.
To us Americans, Mary Ann Gemma was a challenger who often called us from our lofty thoughts of self to bring us down to see the face of Christ in the poorest of the poor.
To Mary Ann Gemma's family, we offer our sincerest appreciation for sharing her life with us. We extend our condolences once more and we pray for her soul and for you.
Let me end with a prayer that Mary Ann Gemma said daily after our Angelus:
May the Divine assistance remain always with us.
And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace, amen.
A final note: I just got back from the Convocation of Catholic Leaders held in Florida. The whole 5 day conference was based on Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Evangelic Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel. Mary Ann Gemma lived as a Missionary Disciple, which is what the Pope is calling us all to do. May her joy and fire for living the Gospel be an example to us all. To learn more, I recommend reading this article.
Happy Easter! Liberia Mission is truly a special place to be Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday (Easter Monday too – because school is closed!).
Palm Sunday begins as students gather at the football (soccer) field in Blacktom Town. On the field, the students make a big archway of palm fronds they’ve grabbed from a large table. Father Gabriel is there with Holy Water, accompanied by servers who have thuribles full of hot coals loaded with incense that pour smoke into the air. Stephen, the donkey, is led out to the field to walk next to Father as he begins the procession from the field over to the church. Stephen isn’t much on having someone on his back – but he is happy to walk along side Father Gabriel as he leads the students and community members in singing “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest!” When the entourage gets to Saint Michael’s, they begin Holy Mass and the reading of the Passion of Our Lord. As in Catholic Churches everywhere in the world, the Priest, Parishioners and Prayer Leaders speak parts of the Gospel and dive deeply into Christ’s Passion as Holy Week begins.
Holy Thursday is a profoundly meaningful day on the mission. Many cultures and traditions come together to tell the story of the Jesus. The afternoon begins with the students preparing the Seder meal dishes. Eggs are hard boiled, apple sauce and nuts are mixed to make Haroset, and parsley and radishes are cleaned and prepared. A group of students prepares sheep and goats for the celebration. The parishioners and students gather to celebrate the Seder Supper as they read from the Book of Exodus. Students also take a small bowl of blood and make the sign of the cross on the door and lintel of their dorm rooms and all the other doorways of the mission. Everyone then gathers back and finishes the Seder. At 7 p.m., the Mass of the Lord’s Supper begins. Father Gabriel proclaims the Last Supper narrative, then washes the feet of the students. After mass, Blessed Sacrament is received in a special chapel the students put together at the back of the church. The main altar is stripped, the tabernacle is left open, and an all-night Eucharistic Adoration vigil takes place. The students take turns making sure someone is with Jesus the whole night, at times falling asleep just as the apostles did in the garden of Gethsemane.
Maundy Thursday service at the Mission.
Good Friday proceeds with the students and parishioners meeting for Stations of the Cross at 3 p.m. They return to the church at 7 p.m. to pray on the only day of the year that no Mass is said anywhere in the world. The students leave the church with the tabernacle door left open and empty. The altar is stripped and all walk away in silence.
Holy Saturday morning is begun with Morning Prayer: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise,” as echoed in eons and will be repeated in the future from east to west. The afternoon is spent in silence, cleaning and decorating the church; preparing food for Sunday; and everyone doing their laundry, pressing their best black trousers, skirts, and shirts, and polishing their shoes, making sure everything spiffy clean. We have no vigil mass at the mission, as Holy Saturday is a day of solemn silence.
Easter Sunday arrives to the ringing of bells and once again the Morning Prayer of the ages is said by all: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.” The students busy themselves getting on their “dress blacks” and they look their best. The bells ring as the servers make huge coals for the thurible and load it up with incense. Community parishioners pile into our little chapel and the singing begins an hour before mass starts. They follow one praise song with another: no papers, no booklets, no program, no order, no pre-selection of songs, just one heartfelt song belted out after another because Jesus has risen! You feel it, you sense it, you know it because He is alive in the people around you, in the words of the Gospel, and in the Holy Eucharist we share 2000 years after His triumph over death.
It is amazing, truly amazing, in my fond recollection…
But in reality, on Palm Sunday, Stephen, the donkey, loves to take off running and Nupuwo, one of our students, has to contain him so he will walk next to Father. On Holy Thursday’s Seder Supper, the students roasting the sheep and goats eat all the meat and we are left with only bones to share with the community members. On Holy Saturday, the students are chased around to do their laundry and get their clothes ironed. Mary, the monkey, escapes and chases the girls around their dorm because she knows they are afraid of her. On Easter Sunday, we get up to make donuts at 3 a.m. so they will be ready after 8 a.m. mass, but the dough doesn’t rise well and each donut weighs in at about five pounds.
But still, Jesus has risen! You feel it, you sense it, you know it because He is alive in the students and the people around you, in His word, and in the Holy Eucharist He left as His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to keep us in Him until we are with Him.
Happy Easter to everyone!
-Joe Sehnert, Board President
“My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” John 5:17
Dear Franciscan Works Supporters and Friends,
Jesus’ words lay it out for us this week. Sometimes we have to hunker down and just work. These last two weeks of Lent at the Mission are about that: studying, praying, fasting, working….lots of “ings.” Here are some updates about what is happening in Liberia:
Our Roofing Project is under way, thanks to a grant from the Ruckstuhl Family Foundation. We are replacing the metal roofing material on St. Martin Hall (our boys dorm), St. Bahkita Hall (our girls dorm), St. Michael the Archangel Church and our junior high school building. This project is providing work for our BWI high school students on weekends. Joe Wes, our maintenance man, led a team of student replacing the elementary school roof a year ago. That project paved the way for us to take on this huge project. The students are great workers and do a fine job under Joe’s tutelage. This project will take some time but will teach skills, provide pocket money, and enhance our campus infrastructure. We are grateful to the Ruckstuhl Family Foundation for making this possible.
The West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) tests are an annual event for 9th and 12th graders in the countries of West Africa. You cannot move on to the next grade or college if you do not pass this exam. St. Anthony’s offers extra classes for our 9th graders in the afternoons. Classes began this week. The exams are comprehensive so these refresher courses are very helpful. St. Anthony’s has had a 100% WAEC pass rate for the past 4 years. This is a tremendous track record. The exams are taken over three days, nationwide, in June.
The Friday Stations of the Cross are a tradition throughout the Catholic world during Lent. It is no different in Liberia or on the Mission. Each Friday evening, the students get the pictures of the Stations off the walls of our little church of Saint Michael and place them along a route around the campus. The students gather in front of the church and process saying the stations as they have been prayed for centuries. This practice began during the Moor’s occupation of Jerusalem when pilgrimage could not be made to the Holy City. The tradition continues to call others to walk the way of the cross with our Savior and turn our hearts toward God. Some of the students of the mission opt to walk the station barefoot, others with their regular shoes. It doesn’t matter what the feet are doing, its what your heart and soul are doing and the students know that.
The Piggery Team has put together a flyer that will be emailed to the Expat community in Monrovia. The little notice tells the expat community what we have on sale for the Easter Season. Orders come in and the students do their best to make some money for the mission. This micro-business is sewn into the fabric of the mission. Some students feed, bathe, and care for the animals. Others do the marketing and selling, while still others work in our Butcher Shop. The micro-business teaches valuable skills while providing income to the mission. Your support of the piggery helps us provide seed and investment capital to help the business grow.
On behalf of the students of the mission, I want to thank you for your support. We know you have many places to put your hard earned cash. It sometimes seems like all we get in our email or snail mail are requests for money and many are worthy causes. The choice to help Liberia Mission can be difficult when there are so many good causes right in our own country. But God has somehow sent you a message about this mission and these young people. He has made you aware and your hearts have been moved. We thank Him for you.
Thank you for praying, working, and supporting Liberia Mission.
We send you a Blessing,
Joe Sehnert, Board President
Want to Support Liberia Mission Through Your Lenten Giving?
Join us in connecting your fasting with giving by supporting the piggery of Liberia Mission for only $15 a month. A piggery sponsorship gives our students access to onsite vocational training, which is critical in their development. To learn more, click the button above. Our goal is to add 40 piggery sponsors over the 40 days of Lent, so join us today and tell a friend!
One of our students at the mission, Famata Cephas, has lived with a physical disability in her left leg for many years causing her leg to bend and for her to endure much pain. In September, through the support of a friend of the mission, Famata was able to travel to Germany to seek treatment in her leg. During the week after Famata’s arrival, the examinations of her leg started. While waiting for surgery, Famata took walks, visited the adventure playground and made multiple visits to the local youth center where she created some beautiful artwork.
Famata then had orthopedic surgery on December 1. She had a 9-day stay in the hospital and then return to her host home, where she could not put any weight on her leg for about 4 weeks. Famata will remain in Germany to rest and recover through January, and will then return to her family and the mission at the end of the month. We are deeply grateful she had to opportunity to receive the surgery she needed to help her leg heal. What a blessing.
From the Director of Liberia Mission, Greg Caudle:
We safely arrived to the Shrine in time for the start of Mass. The Mass was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. We parked the van near the entrance to the Shrine and walked about a half mile to the area where the outdoor Mass would be held. There were faithful from all over Liberia, including religious and lay missionaries, greeting one another and preparing for Mass. We found seats on the concrete amphitheater structure near the altar. The seats in the shade under tarps were already taken.
Our group found seats in the center of the amphitheater just above the entrance tunnel where the clergy would process in. We had a great view; however, once it became clear that Mass was not starting on time, we gave up our seats to spend time under some shade trees to find relief from the heat. It was probably for the best as Eliana and I were in the front row over the tunnel and there was no railing!
The Mass did eventually start at 11:30 a.m. It appeared that we were waiting for someone to arrive before the Mass could begin. The apostolic nuncio to Liberia, a representative for Pope Francis, and many clergy concelebrated the Mass with the Archbishop of Monrovia, Lewis Ziegler. Representatives from the Muslim community were also at the Mass. After the Mass began, a security team ushered the vice president of Liberia to his seat. I believe he was the one everyone was waiting on before Mass started. I think his late arrival was planned by his security personnel to maintain an element of surprise.
After the two hour Mass, we enjoyed a picnic lunch of rice and soup. “Soup” is a spicy sauce containing chicken, fish, or other protein source, such as peanuts, with some greens to flavor the rice base. It is a common dish in Liberia. I have included a picture of Eliana eating this dish at the back of our van after Mass. You will notice that Eliana’s hair was braided. The girls are required to wear their hair in braids at school or any formal occasion. Eliana was trying out the hairstyle that day.
After an already full-day of travel and an outdoor Mass, we piled back into the van for a hot and sweaty ride back to the Mission. We were making good time until we got about 10 miles from the Mission. It is then that the van’s transmission started failing. On several hills the students and I had to get out of the van and push it. We were quite the scene as we slowly rolled through several small communities along the gravel road. The students were singing loudly and I was waving to the children along the side of the road who had come out to see the strange sight of a white man pushing a van.
The older boys and I bonded over having to push the van up each hill. We would cheer and yell to encourage one another. I did well. . .the first two times. Then the heat and humidity caught up with me! Eliana and the younger students stayed in the van each time we had to push. I was quite the scene when I jumped back in the van each time. I was getting progressively more exhausted, more sweaty, and more eager to see the last hill. We finally crested the last hill and the van was able to crawl home. We arrived just before sunset and I was happy to be home. Each homecoming here at the Mission is similarly a cause for celebration and thanksgiving for a safe return.
Enjoy this Liberian adventure from the Director of Liberia Mission, Greg Caudle:
Eliana and I attended the closing Mass for the Year of Mercy at the end of November. This was the extraordinary jubilee year that Pope Francis called for in 2015 that ran from last December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, to the Solemnity of Christ the King on November 20th last month. It was held at Our Lady Queen of Peace Shrine in a town just outside of Monrovia called Virginia. You will find that many place names in Liberia are influenced by America. It is said that Liberia is the closest the United States ever came to establishing a colony in Africa.
We went to the Shrine in the Mission van together with about 16 current and former residential students and the Director of Religion. The Mission van carries many people anytime there is a special outing. We pray for safe travels when we set out on Liberian roads. This should be done anytime you travel, even in the U.S. with all our safety regulations, but in Liberia it feels a little more pressing. We are fortunate to live near a paved road. Even with its potholes and jarring speed bumps near town, it is better than the true off-road conditions you find most everywhere else. You know you are on a real Liberian road when the Crucifix on the Rosary hanging from the van’s rearview mirror is hitting the roof!
The constant buzz of motorcycles flowing through traffic like water, adds to the chaos of lane-less roads and intersections without streetlights or stop signs. Motorcycles are a common transportation method. Don’t think Harley-Davidson or Honda sport motorcycles. These are more basic, but they are effective in navigating through snarled traffic and potholed roads. You can regularly see motor bike drivers carrying two or three passengers (no side car) passing so close that side mirrors tap or passengers’ shoulders rub.
Emissions testing in Liberia is non-existent so you are guaranteed to get a mouthful of diesel exhaust everywhere you go. We drive with the windows down since there is no air conditioning. Some cars and trucks emit so much noxious fumes that they have a persistent dark cloud following them. This makes stop and go traffic, which is common in and around Monrovia, almost unbearable. One time a large truck with its side tailpipe the same height as our windows shot a cloud of exhaust into our van – yuck!
In my next post, I will share about our time at the Mass with some pictures and video. I will also share our adventure getting back home that day!
Advent Blessings! -Greg Caudle