Franciscans Commemorate 25 Years of Ministry in Africa

Wendy Healy Franciscan World

NAIROBI, Kenya — The 25th anniversary of the Africa Vicariate of St. Francis — first known as the Africa Project — was celebrated in April at the Portiuncula Franciscan Family Center here, commemorating a combined OFM ministry in Africa since the early part of 1983.

The anniversary Mass, celebrated by Archbishop R.S. Ndingi Mwana A’Nzeki, included OFM friars, along with OFM Conventuals, OFM Capuchins, Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi, Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart and others.

The Africa Project, also known as the Call to Africa, was the first time that a diverse group of friars from a variety of provinces worked together. The project was unique, according to Franciscan historian, Dominic Monti, OFM, Holy Name’s provincial vicar, because friars were inserted into the local community and, from there, determined what ministry needs were greatest.

Of the initial friars who went to Africa, four were from Holy Name: Joseph Ehrhardt, OFM, who is still in Kenya; Pascal Gallagher, OFM; Finian Riley, OFM, of Ringwood, N.J.; Conrad Schomske, OFM.

Diverse Friars Work Together

“For friars of quite diverse ages, languages, nationalities, mentalities and experiences, to live together daily was a positive experience,” according to the Provincial Annals 1983 – 1985. “A common bond in the fraternity of St. Francis, and especially a communion of ideals and hopes, united us. We had all left behind something very dear to find ourselves here.”

The ministry was officially launched on March 9, 1983, when the General Council established the Africa Vicariate of St. Francis with Gualberto Gismondi, OFM, of Genoa as vicar. The Council also established a council, comprised of friars serving throughout Africa. On Feb. 19, 1983, the first group of friars ministering in Africa completed their training in Rome.

The Project’s Early Beginnings
The first group of friars from Rome to reach Africa arrived in Rwanda on Feb. 20, 1983, according to the Provincial Annals. The group wasted no time in traveling to Tanzania. Another group of friars arrived in Kenya on April 17. The groups met with other missionaries in Malawi and Sudan, including the Poor Clares.

“It is flourishing,” Dominic said.

The Annals also said: “For everyone involved in the new venture, this is a most exciting time; it is very much an adventure into the unknown, an adventure inspired and sustained by the vision of St. Francis and the ideals enumerated in “The Call to Africa.” No doubt there will be many problems, possibly a number of setbacks, but as friars left Rome, there was a definite sense that they are a family, that they are not going as isolated groups but as members of a deeply committed fraternity.”

On Sept. 3 to 12, 1983, the friar groups met at the Benedictine Monastery in Nairobi for their first meeting in Africa. Anselm Moons, OFM, administered the africa desk in Rome, and had affectionately become known as the Project’s “Dutch uncle,” according to the Annals.

A Project of Unity and Equity

When it was launched, the Africa Project was very popular with the friars, with many waiting to join the vicariate and a growing volunteer list.

The vicariate today is still a favorite of Franciscans. The invitation to the 25th anniversary Mass said, “The Franciscan family is characterized by unity and equity. We all look for events of togetherness.”

The event was “an opportunity offered by the Lord to document this togetherness. Members of our formation-houses are preparing a colorful liturgy,” according to literature from the celebration planners.

Wendy Healy of Griffin Communications in Connecticut is a frequent contributor to this newsletter.