Fr. Paul's Thanksgiving Newsletter
This is a very long letter. I have not written for many months. Many events have taken place. Few are mentioned.
For those of you who will be giving thanks on Thanksgiving I pray that your day will be filled with many blessings and joy. Although we do not celebrate Thanksgiving here due to our different seasons of the year I do give thanks daily for all of my good friends and relatives that have made God’s work possible here at St. Peter Parish in Nkololo and for Songambele Hospital.
I returned to Tanzania on Friday night, 12 October. As usual during the long flight my thoughts were on my parish of St. Peter in Nkololo and of course on continuing construction of Songambele Hospital. I was also concerned about continuing with treatment for macular degeneration in my right eye. Receiving a monthly Avastin injection in my eye in LaCrosse, WI was a relatively easy 60 mile trip to a well known eye clinic. On the internet I had information that the injection could be done at the CCBRT hospital in Dar es Salaam. I had many thoughts and fears about the situation but had to do something. To make a long story short, Stefano Isidory accompanied me to CCBRT where I received my first injection on 30 Oct. in the hospital’s operating theatre all dressed up in a maroon pants and shirt. I will fly back to Dar for my 2ndinjection of 27 Nov. Hopefully I can eventually extend the period of time between injections as Dar is 600 or so miles from here, not a 60 mile trip.
My first stop on Saturday, 13 Oct. in Dar es Salaam was a trip to Kariuki Hospital where Stefano and his wife Rebecca’s son Michael was in ICU with very high levels of sodium, potassium and ketones. There may have been other problems. Michael was a 27 year old medical student and just waiting to graduate with the MD class of 2018. He missed graduation in 2017 due to his serious medical condition.
Last year, 2017 when I arrived he was in extremely critical condition in the same ICU. He had Type 1 diabetes and some treatment for something else had gone wrong. He miraculously came out of a 30 + day coma when we said the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This year, on Sat. I found Michael awake and he was able to eat food slowly. Stefano and I visited with him although he struggled some to talk. We said the Divine Mercy Chaplet with him. He had a great devotion to the Divine Mercy, more probably than we realized. I was staying quite a distance away so I said “goodbye, I’ll see you on Monday”. It was not to be. I will never forget Stefano’s 7 a.m. phone call on Monday morning, “ Mikaeli atiho” “ Michael is gone”. I was not ready for the news.
The outpouring of love and concern for Michael and the family is something that I have never seen in 58 years. Hundreds of people came to the house in Dar es Salaam where Michael lived while in school. Tueday evening we flew with the body to Mwanza and then a 120 mile night time 8 car funeral procession to Old Maswa where hundreds of people were at Stefano’s house to receive the body and have a 2 a.m. Mass. Wed. afternoon the wake moved to Nkololo where again hundreds and hundreds of people came to Stefano’s mother’s house for another evening and whole night of mourning. On Thursday morning I led the funeral Mass that was co-celebrated with 19 other priests. There were a 1000 or so people in church and who knows how many outside. I thank God that I was back in time for the funeral of my “nephew”, a very holy young man. Some days before he died he told his father that he saw the Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel had a cup of some kind in one hand and took Michael’s hand in the other. Michael said that the Angel Gabriel had come for him. Not so long after that he took him to heaven. After his death a cloistered sister in Musoma diocese went to church to pray for him. When she returned from her hour of prayer she told others she knew that Michael was in good hands. To me, those two happenings plus the numerous, amazing and previously unknown testimonies given after Mass before the burial, leave me with no doubt that we have a Dr. Michael Stefano MD in heaven. He is now looking out for us. Alleluya.
More News: This is my 51styear in the Old Maswa/Nkololo area. I arrived here in 1967 after being at Buhangija Parish in Shinyanga for 7 years. I have worked at various projects over the years plugging away one day at a time at a slow pace. It is only when I receive visitors who have never been here before that I am given a different perspective on our progress. They see the cumulative results of 51 years of work and marvel at what God has done over the years with the help of hundreds of people from many parishes and places. I will continue to celebrate Thanksgiving every day in my prayers and daily work. Thank you all.
You will be receiving my Christmas news letter at your parish or in the mail sometime before Christmas. In the center fold is a current drone picture of St. Peter parish and of Songambele hospital. The existing buildings can be clearly seen and there are indicators showing where new buildings will go. The numerous buildings that we still have to build are a formidable task not to mention an area for major construction that is missing in the picture because the drone could not get everything in one picture. You don’t see the 12 nearby acres of land we have acquired for building our much needed nursing school. There is no school with a 3 year course of studies for Registered nurses within 100 miles of here. The school is important for our hospital because we need nurses in training to do their practicals in our growing busy hospital. 40 students per year for 3 years would give us a total enrollment of 120 students. Our construction cost estimate over a period of time would be 2 million dollars or so depending on how many staff houses we are able to build. Anyone in the business of building knows infrastructure is costly, such as a bore hole for clean water with storage tanks, pipes, waste water disposal, wiring and the numerous unseen items that make a structure sound and safe. Inflation is inevitable. Because of the size of the project we may have to engage a contractor thus thus adding an extra expense that we have never had before. During my early years of building I did most of the planning and drawings. Construction was done slowly with local help. Now we are blessed with the help of medical architect Southern Ellis of Dallas Texas who continues to donate his time and talent in medical building design. I visited him and his wife Courtney in Sept. 2018. We spent many hours in his architecture office. With his computer program he made plans in hours that used to take me weeks using graph paper and a ruler. I love the modern technology.
Last year, 2017, I was blessed with funding from a generous friend for an item that has been on the top of my wish list for years, namely a tractor with a front end loader and a back hoe. I always had so many priorities for my limited funding that I had to put off buying a tractor. Now we have our dream come true in the form of 90 h.p. Escort tractor from India. What a blessing. For instance, with the back hoe, our expert driver Bahati, dug the trench for the foundation of our 144 ft. x 32 children’s and men’s ward in about 10 hours. The ground was very dry and hard. It would have taken 20 of our good workers at least 4 weeks to do the same job. Without the back hoe we would still be digging for the foundation. Instead we have nearly all of the 4608 sq. ft. concrete floor poured and that is with hand mixed concrete. We have also finished digging trench for the foundation of our hospital volunteers’ house. I will send lots of pictures of our labor saving tractor at work. Having equipment that most builders take for granted is for us a miracle.
This year I have emphasized the importance of visitors to our Songambele hospital. Because we are actually building a hospital we need large donations. The competition for funding is great. We do not have the means that some organizations do using lobbyists, TV and expensive advertisements. We have to depend on writing and and especially on word of mouth accounts by friends and relatives who come to visit us. I believe that if only people knew the what, the where, the how and the why we are building a life saving hospital, we would already have funds to finish our hospital and a very necessary school for registered nurses.
I wish you could be here to witness some of the flurry of activity that goes on some evenings in our afterhour’s reception/treatment/emergency room that serves as outpatient and inpatient department during the evening and night shift. We have been open 24/7 for many many years consequently we need a large staff in our hospital. Recently when I was leaving the hospital at about 6:45 p.m. an ambulance from a village health center came in with a siren wailing. A woman 7 months pregnant in danger of dying from loss of blood was brought in. As she was being rolled into our after-hour’s room for a blood transfusion and on to the operating room for a c-section a mini-bus came roaring in at high speed with an unconscious lady. The clinical officer on duty already had 5 patients lined up for examination. In the midst of this activity a motorcycle came in with a sick girl needing attention. I went as quickly as possible to the auditorium in our new administration building where a doctor was teaching some of our medical staff. I asked for help and staff members came running. I emphasize the running that took place in that room because we have had bad experiences in local medical facilities where you have a hard time finding anyone to receive a sick person much less finding people running to take care of the emergency situations. I assure you that I was proud of our medical staff that evening and it confirms what I already know, Songambele Hospital is God’s work and He will continue to help it grow and save lives with the help of hundreds of people like yourselves. And me? Where do I fit in? Well, amazingly God chose someone who is still a farmer at heart, not even a builder or doctor, to get involved in order to make it obvious that it IS HIS work.
I will send some pictures of our recent and current activities via my Galaxy phone as I don’t have them downloaded to my computer. Cousin Mary will include some of them with the email letter.
Join me in praising the Lord. Today, 13 November 2018, is the 86th anniversary of my Baptism in St. Mary church in Bloomington, WI. I bring this letter to a close with some of the words of St. Padre Pio that I pray daily “I thank you for having created me, MADE ME A CHRISTIAN and kept me this day”.
Your prayers are appreciated. You have my prayers of Thanksgiving every day.