WOODINVILLE – Just weeks before COVID-19 restricted travel, members of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish flew to Kenya to see the church their donations built for a village of orphans.
“There’s a lot of hope in that village,” said Father Frank Schuster, pastor of St. Teresa of Calcutta, who made the January trip to Nyumbani Village. The smiles on the children’s faces were inspiring, he said.
Those making the trek to the village (about 90 miles from the capital city of Nairobi) included parishioners Ken and Carol Fabrizio, whose efforts to help Kenyan orphans date back to 2006.
That’s when they began a program to provide netting to protect children from malaria-carrying mosquitos; soon they focused on providing educational opportunities for the children. By 2012, their organization became known as the Africa Orphan Program, working to make a difference in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda by “helping children help themselves.”
“Father Frank has been gracious enough to always allow us to make an end-of-the-year presentation at all the Masses in our parish” detailing the program’s projects and seeking donations, Ken Fabrizio said in an email.
Besides supporting educational efforts, parishioners, in partnership with the Africa Orphan Program, raised enough money to build a house in Nyumbani Village. The village is part of the Nyumbani project, started in the 1990s by American Jesuit Father Angelo D’Agostino. Dedicated to serving abandoned infants with HIV/AIDS, Father D’Agostino’s plan for the village included 100 homes for up to 1,000 children, each with a house mother or house father to care for them.
But a real church where the children could practice their faith was missing.
“The church would be a sacred place … much more attuned to fostering spiritual growth and a deep love for God than the previous multipurpose building they were using to celebrate Mass,” Fabrizio explained.
And Loreto Sister Mary Owens, who became executive director after Father D’Agostino died in 2006, “kept mentioning that the church was ‘a dream come true’ for her and the kids,” Carol Fabrizio said.
Some 1,000 orphaned children attend the first Mass at Mary, Mother of Christ Church in Nyumbani Village, Kenya, in January, when a delegation from St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Woodinville was visiting. Photo: Courtesy Ken Fabrizio
Sharing God’s blessings with others
In 2016, the Fabrizios spoke to fellow parishioners about building the Nyumbani Village church.
The first donor was Patrick Koeplin, who had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to do what he could, Father Schuster said.
“His thoughts were, ‘How can I share God’s love and blessings with others?’” Father Schuster recalled.
Koeplin made a significant donation that came with a proviso of sorts, Ken Fabrizio said: The Fabrizios would have to make a commitment to raise the rest of the money for the church project.
So the couple started soliciting donations from parishioners and others, “discussing the importance of spiritual growth of the children in the program,” Fabrizio said.
They quickly raised $200,000 from more than 300 donors, he said. Construction of Mary, Mother of Christ Church began in late 2017 and was completed in December 2019. When the delegation from St. Teresa of Calcutta visited the following month, they joined the village residents for Mass, with Father Schuster concelebrating and blessing the congregation.
Father Frank Schuster, pastor of St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Woodinville, blesses the congregation during Mass at Mary, Mother of Christ Church in Nyumbani Village, Kenya, in January. Photo: Courtesy Ken Fabrizio
Serving those most in need
Supporting orphans in Kenya aligns with the mission of the parish’s ministries — reflecting the values of St. Teresa of Calcutta, who demonstrated her faith by reaching out to others most in need, Father Schuster explained.
Learning about the hardships the orphans have suffered — including malaria, dysentery, and malnutrition — but also their ability to have faith and hope has inspired the parish, Fabrizio said.
“Their persistence in building a future for themselves while at the same time being joyful is truly remarkable,” he said.
In helping the orphans help themselves by providing housing, education, greenhouses and ongoing support, supporters of the Africa Orphan Program walk in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Fabrizio said — a dual goal.
“These two factors are equal in our mind and we always remind the children of this when we see them and do the same with our donors,” he said. “We want the children to know how much they help us.”
Watch a video about the St. Teresa of Calcutta delegation's visit to the church in Kenya.