WHO WE ARE
We are Paul and Nancy Berrigan, parishioners of St Fabian Catholic Church in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
We have been members of the parish for 19 years and on a warm Sunday morning in July 2005, our lives changed.
Paul and I were attending Mass on Sunday but had no idea that it was “Mission Appeal Sunday.” A Diocesan Priest from Uganda Africa, Msgr. John Kauta, came to speak to our parish family about the great need for the poor in his home country of Uganda, East Africa. Msgr. Kauta was a very dynamic and personable speaker and he immediately had our attention and captured our hearts. We were moved by the stories he shared about how very little these people have and how little it would take for us to make a difference in their lives. We felt drawn to him and his Ugandan people and knew we had to speak with him and learn more about his missionary work.
After Mass, we introduced ourselves to Msgr. Kauta, and proceeded to tell him that we would like to help in some significant way, something more than just a donation. In his talk, Msgr. Kauta had emphasized how far an American dollar can be stretched in Uganda. We had looked at a handout that he provided that listed the cost of services in Uganda to emphasize this point and based on that we thought we might be able to build a school for the children of Uganda. Msgr. Kauta was very excited and quickly grabbed my husband and gave him a big bear hug! That was the start of our wonderful journey. It took many phone calls, e-mails, faxes and FedEx packages back and forth to work through all the details, but finally in March, 2006 construction started on the school. The school was originally planned for primary aged children but through an incredible series of circumstances ended up as a secondary school. At the time we committed to build the school, the Museveni government had mandated primary education for all children. Since the Catholic Church had determined to build our school in the village of Chelekura, the Archbishop of Tororo went to speak to the government officials and requested that they consider building a primary school in Chelekura. In exchange he would convert our school to a secondary school. They agreed and suddenly Chelekura, which had no school, had a primary and a secondary school.
John Paul Secondary School (named in honor of our fathers) opened in February 2007. We were fortunate enough to travel to Uganda in March 2007 to attend the dedication and blessing of the school. It was extremely hot that day and yet there had to be about 800 people, adults and children, waiting to greet us and thank us for building the school. It was the first time many of these people had ever seen a white person (Mzungu)!
The Archbishop celebrated Mass and dedicated the school. Whenever he preaches, an integral part of his message is: “the people of Uganda are not an entitled people.” He instructs them that they must “give back”, either through their time, talents or treasures………..and they did! After Mass, they processed up to the altar and each gave back to their ability with various gifts that consisted of eggs, grain, honey, bunches of bananas, pineapple, live chickens, turkeys, doves, small coins and even a sheep. It was a very humbling and life altering experience for us!
This has been an incredible journey, one we didn’t plan but the most fulfilling experience of our lives. We have met so many wonderful people and our lives continue to be blessed in more ways than we ever imagined. We never thought we would be able to build a school and “building a web site” was the furthest thing from our mind. But, when God speaks, you must listen! We’ve learned that it’s always good to “give back”…….no matter how big or small; that even the smallest gift can make a very big difference.