One hundred and thirty years ago,
in 1875, Don Bosco expressed his dream for Africa
in a wish: "What a memorable day that will
be when Salesian missionaries sailing up the river
Congo will meet their confreres coming up the
Nile and shake hands, praising the Lord. [...]
I see that already in Africa" (MB XI: 409).
It was Don Rua who sent the first
Salesians to Egypt and to South Africa in 1896.
The full flowering of Salesian works in East Africa,
as in the rest of the continent, had to wait till
the launching of Project Africa by Fr Egidio Viganò,
the seventh successor of Don Bosco. He spoke of
an African Don Bosco. "Don Bosco must be
totally and genuinely himself but, on the other
hand, he will truly possess the essential traits
of African culture" (ASC 297).
While visiting India in 1979, Fr Viganò
impressed on the Provincials that it was time
for them to send missionaries to Africa. In response
to his pressing invitation, the Salesian Provincial
Conference of India accepted in principle to take
up missions in Eastern Africa. The then five Salesian
provinces of India together offered 15 confreres
for Project Africa.
In January 1980, the Central Province of Italy
(Turin) sent Fr Dario Superina to Kenya to find
out the possibilities for Salesian missionary
work in Kenya. In May of the same year, Fr Harry
Rassmussen from the Mission Department at the
Generalate and Fr Tony D'Souza, the provincial
of Bombay, completed their first missionary journey
to the Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania. They visited
the dioceses in these countries from where requests
for Salesian Missionaries had come to the Generalate.
At the end of their journey and after studying
their reports and the various options available,
the Rector Major – Fr Viganò –
with his Council accepted to take up missions
in Maridi (Sudan), in Marsabit diocese (Kenya),
and in the dioceses of Dodoma and Iringa (Tanzania).
Fr Dario's trip to Kenya led to the decision to
accept the parish of Siakago in the then diocese
of Meru. Thus the stage was set for Project Africa
to take wing in this part of the continent with
the enthusiastic participation of Salesian India
alongside that of the Central Province of Italy.
Don Bosco in Kenya
The first mission in Kenya, taken up by the confreres
coming from the Italian Central Province (Turin),
was the parish in Siakago, in Mbeere-land, which
was under the care of the Consolata missionaries.
Initially, Fr Dario stayed and worked with them
in the parish of Siakago. Later, on January 31st,
1981 the Salesian Community was constituted and
our presence was formally initiated. With the
arrival of more confreres from Turin, in 1984
a second community was started in Embu and works
began for what today is a gem of a technical secondary
school—Don Bosco Embu. In 1988 a third community,
with a parish and a technical school, was started
at Makuyu. In these initial years the Salesian
sisters moved alongside the Salesians opening
foundations for the care of girls in tandem with
the Salesians' works for boys. Thus the communities
of the FMA were established at Siakago, Embu and
Makuyu. In later years though, the trajectories
of growth of the two institutes show differences
in pace and priorities.
In 2002, owing to some misunderstandings
with the Bishop, we handed back to the diocese
the pastoral care of the parish of Siakago and
closed down our community at Siakago. In the initial
years of the Embu community, we made an attempt
to develop a huge agricultural complex at Thiba.
The vision that guided this project hoped to create
a big farming cooperative where some of our past
pupils, who so desired, could be gainfully settled.
This vision was not accepted by the diocese. The
place went on for some years as a good farm but
eventually in 1995, the diocese asked that the
farm be handed back to it. And so it was.
The three confreres who arrived
in Kenya from India on October 14th, 1980, were
assigned to the frontier mission of Korr, in the
heart of the Kaisut desert. The Indian missionary
team comprising Fr Mathew Vadassery, Fr George
Padinjareparambil and Fr Thomas Punchekunnel,
spent a few months at the Flora Hostel in Nairobi
and were initiated in the new cultural and linguistic
realities they were to face in their new mission.
Eventually, on May 24th, 1981 the Salesians took
up residence in this fledgling mission. It had
been started by Fr Redento, a Fidei Donum missionary
from Italy working in the Marsabit diocese. The
challenges were immense. Korr was some 600 km
away from Nairobi, the port of entry, reachable
by a rugged and dangerous road, lacking means
of communication, without water, electricity and
other basic amenities. The desert weather was
something they had to get used to and, more importantly,
the searing loneliness, because of the very limited
contacts they could have with other Salesians
and friends and family.
Our missionaries faced these realities with exemplary
missionary zeal and set themselves to the task
on hand with great generosity.
The external conditions have not changed much
after more than 25 years, but the ordination to
priesthood on April 24th, 2005 of Fr Marko Lepakit,
the first Salesian from the Samburu community,
was an eloquent sign of the fruitfulness of the
Salesian charism and of our missionary commitment
in this remote part of northern Kenya. We attempted
a second presence in the diocese and took up the
care of an existing technical school in Marsabit.
After a two-year stint, though, we handed it back
to the diocese in 1985.We hadn't as yet mastered
all the lessons of the cultural and pastoral reality
of our new home!
The Salesian mission in Kenya today is articulated
in 10 flourishing presences, including a technical
secondary school at Embu, vocational training
centres at Embu, Makuyu, Nairobi and Kakuma, care
of street children in Nairobi, and of refugees
at Kakuma and parishes in Makuyu, Nairobi, and
Machakos. The pre-novitiate alongside the street
children's project in Nairobi as well as the studentate
of theology and the Marian Shrine at Upper Hill,
Nairobi, complete the panorama of a rich and variegated
Salesian presence in Kenya.
Don Bosco in the Sudan
The adventures of the first missionaries in Sudan
bear all the marks of suspense and impossibility
characteristic of a Hollywood thriller. The first
mission in the Sudan was opened in the diocese
of Tombura-Yambio, at Maridi, and the Salesians
were very warmly received there by the Bishop.
Fr Jacob Kizhakeyil, Fr Ernest De Gaspari, Fr
Lawrence D'Souza and Fr James Pulickal formed
the first group of Salesian pioneers to set foot
in the Sudan. What began as a challenging yet
promising missionary endeavour had to be abandoned
under trying circumstances. Three of the four
Salesians were unceremoniously bundled out of
the diocese and the Sudan itself by their Bishop.
Fr James Pulickal, who was kept behind by the
Bishop, was eventually called away by the provincial.
The first chapter of our presence in the Sudan
ended on an unhappy note barely a year after it
had begun. But that was not to be the end of the
road. Soon the Salesians returned, this time in
even bigger numbers and to two communities: one
in the Archdiocese of Juba (in Juba itself) and
the other in the Diocese of Rumbek (at Tonj).
When the Anyanya II movement took
up arms against the government in Khartoum in
1983, our missionary presence was again under
threat and the confreres had to live with the
burden of anxiety and uncertainty. The state of
insecurity around our mission in Tonj forced the
confreres to move to the relative safety of the
nearby town of Wau. This was the beginning of
what would turn out to be yet another Salesian
presence in the Sudan. Fr James however soldiered
on, undaunted by the dangers surrounding him.
He kept the Tonj mission going till he himself
was abducted by the SPLA soldiers and forced to
march with them and share the life of the guerrilla
fighters through 18 harrowing months. After a
good number of years, Fr James was able to go
back to his beloved mission of Tonj, alongside
his confreres and the Salesian Sisters, bringing
solace and deeper meaning to the lives of the
inhabitants of that area. During the captivity
of Fr James, the fear of further abductions led
the superior to close our community in Juba.
As the civil war raged on, more and more Sudanese
from the South sought refuge in the capital, Khartoum.
Whereas earlier Khartoum had but a sprinkling
of Catholics, the onrush of refugees to Khartoum
swelled the number of the Catholics in that city.
So in 1986, it was decided that we open a new
presence in Khartoum. Fr Dominic Padinjareparambil
pioneered the move to Khartoum and was joined
by Fr Jacob Thelekkaden and Bro. Francis Chinnappan.
Fr Ernest De Gaspari kept alive the flame of Salesian
Charism in the Deep South in Wau. Over the years
more Confreres would join the pioneers and in
spite of the ravages of the civil war and the
hostility of the ruling Islamic leaders, the Salesians
never let go of the hope of fulfilling Don Bosco's
dream for Africa, in the Sudan.
In Khartoum, we received a rather run-down technical
school from the Comboni Missionaries: the St Joseph's
Technical School. Even as the confreres wrought
marvels of transformation in this technical school,
their attention was also directed to the pastoral
care of the Catholics in the area and the parish
of St Joseph began to take shape. After some ten
years of our arrival in Khartoum a separate parish
community was instituted. We had hopes of extending
our services to northern Khartoum, but the Islamic
leaders thwarted all our plans and efforts. At
about the same time, invitations from the Diocese
and Government leaders of El-Obeid convinced us
to set up another technical institution in El-Obeid,
currently the fifth presence in the Sudan.
We have a tryst with the destiny
of Africa. One need only think of the remarks
Don Bosco made to the chapter members in late
May 1886 while he was speaking of his plans to
send missionaries to Africa. "This mission
is a plan of mine; it is one my dreams...Come
let us go to the Cape of Good Hope, to the heart
of Africa, to the Congo, to Khartoum ...to Suakin"
(MB 18: 142). Indeed we have 'promises to keep
and miles to go'. Over the last quarter of a century
Don Bosco's sons have made slow but steady progress
in answering the many needs of the Sudanese people.
Today, we have 6 presences in the Sudan: Khartoum
(2), El-Obeid, Wau, Tonj and Juba (which was reopened
in 2006, after being closed in 1986) including
parishes, vocational training centres, schools
and centres for refuges. Some of the works, like
the assistance to young prisoners in Khartoum
and the help to the young victims of the Darfur
civil conflict or the assistance to the thousands
of kids who flocked into Wau in the years of famine
and death or the care of the lepers and the destitute
in war-torn Tonj, would certainly have Don Bosco
smile benignly on his sons working in these challenging
With the dawn of the fragile peace
in the South, the hope for a better future is
lighting up the horizon
and the soul of a people, long suppressed. The
Salesian Family in the Sudan is gearing up to
meet this unique opportunity and to offer to the
young of the Sudan the gift of our charism. There
is an urgent need for brave hearts, wise minds
and strong hands to bring hope where there was
only despair, light where there was darkness,
and joy where there were only tears. The Salesian
Congregation, deeply committed as it is to the
Church in southern Sudan, is drawing up plans
for evangelisation and development. While we proceed
with our plans, we need to recognise the existence
of a meticulously planned strategy that has been
put in place for the "Islamisation of the
Southern Sudan". It is a wake up call and
a challenge to proceed expeditiously.
The Rector Major with his Council
has evaluated the situation of the New Sudan and
views it as a new Salesian frontier Mission. The
Mission Department has committed nine confreres
for the Sudan. The hope is that even more confreres
will be available to take up the huge challenges
that face us in this land. For over 50 years the
people have suffered the ravages of war, poverty,
sickness, the lack of education and health care
and the total absence of spiritual assistance.
We keep hoping that the political promises of
peace will be more than empty words and we keep
praying that our hearts will be stout and strong
and a real match for the challenges ahead and
the roads yet to be travelled.
Don Bosco in Tanzania
The pioneer Salesians in Tanzania, Fr Peter Fernando,
Fr John Vellayil, Fr Crispin D'Souza, Bro. Trophy
D'Souza, Fr Tony Fernandes,
Fr Joseph Pulikkal, Bro. Tyrone Baron, Bro. Celestine
Nathan and Fr Stephen Chemmalakuzhy, arrived in
the country on October 13th, 1980 and received
a warm welcome from the bishops and the people.
After some months devoted to the learning of the
national language, they commenced their missionary
The first mission entrusted to the
Salesians was the parish of Mafinga. On Palm Sunday,
April 11th, 1981, the parish was entrusted to
the Salesians and our pioneers – Frs Peter
Fernando, Tony Fernandes and Joseph Pulikkal –
launched out courageously without being awed by
the challenges posed by the novelty of language
and culture. For a second time, we were entrusted
with a Parish that had earlier been taken care
of by the Consolata Missionaries. They graciously
welcomed us and one of them, Fr Sandro Nava, spent
a whole month living with us in the community
and introducing us into the ministry. In April
1981, Fr Dominic Padinjareparambil and the Co-operator,
John Williams, joined the Salesians working in
Tanzania. At the end of three years' stay with
the Salesians, John Williams opted to join the
Salesian Congregation and has stayed on in the
province ever since. In August 1982, Fr Edward
Liptak, the only Salesian to join the East Africa
jurisdiction from the Eastern United States Province
(SUE), arrived in Tanzania. He was to pioneer
the setting up of our apostolic school at Mafinga.
At Iringa, Fr John Vellayil, Bro.
Baron Tyrone and Fr Stephen Chemmalakuzhy were
given the task of starting a work for the youth
of the town of Iringa. For a year they were hosted
at the Bishop's residence. The Diocese built a
residence for the Salesians and on May 24th, 1982
the house was blessed and the Salesians moved
into their new home and commenced activities.
From lowly beginnings the work grew and developed
into a flourishing youth training centre. At Dodoma
too, a similar story would be played out. The
confreres, Fr Crispin D'Souza, Bro. Trophy D'Souza
and Bro. Celestine Nathan, faced many initial
difficulties, but by late 1982, they too had a
house to live in. Work was begun on a vocational
training centre. Over the years the Don Bosco
Technical Institute at Dodoma continues to maintain
its position as a ranking institute offering quality
technical education to poor youth.
About the same time, in October
1982, the Salesians accepted the responsibility
for looking after a youth centre at Upanga in
Dar-es-salaam. Soon we were asked to coordinate
the CRE programme for secondary schools in the
Archdiocese of Dar-es-salaam. It is a work that
we have been doing with competence and dedication
for over 20 years.
The pioneers were quick to start
looking for local vocations and proceeded to set
up a junior seminary at the Mafinga parish. From
its humble beginnings, the junior seminary grew
steadily and developed into a full fledged Apostolic
School, the present Don Bosco Seminary of Mafinga.
1986 saw the beginnings of what was to grow into
a strategic presence: the Catechists' Training
Centre of Makalala. In the centenary year of Don
Bosco's death the Salesian seminary at Dodoma
came to birth. Three years later work would begin
on what today is our novitiate and the international
post-novitiate community at Moshi. In Dar-es-Salaam
we also accepted from the Archdiocese the care
of a vocational training centre at Oysterbay.
The last of the present array of 10 Salesian communities
of Tanzania is the secondary school at Didia in
the diocese of Shinyanga. After a lengthy fact-finding
mission, we initiated steps to open a co-educational
secondary school at Didia. At the time, there
wasn't another secondary school within a sixty-kilometre
radius. Fr George Padinjareparambil, the veteran
of many a pioneering enterprise, was there to
get the work started. Given the co-educational
nature of the school, from the beginning we enlisted
the cooperation of the Notre Dame Sisters.
At present, the work has started to open a new
presence at Morogoro: the buildings are under
construction. It will be the new home of the Novitiate
of the Province and will also have a Youth Centre
for the young people of this flourishing town
in central Tanzania
Today, from Didia (Shinyanga), in the north-western
part of Tanzania to Dar es Salaam at the East
coast, from Moshi in the North to Mafinga in the
South, Salesian presences dot the landscape of
Tanzania bringing succour to youth and doing honour
to the hopes that our Father, Don Bosco, had for
Africa. The Salesians are engaged in evangelisation,
catechesis, pastoral ministry, education and technical
training and formation of Salesians.
Don Bosco in Uganda
After the turbulent years of Idi Amin, the Salesians
from Poland ventured into Uganda in 1988. Fr Bernard
Popowski, Fr Henry Juszczyk, Fr Thomas Grzegorzewski
and Fr Richard Jozwiak formed the pioneer team.
They were soon joined by Fr John Marciniak and
Fr Waldemar Jonatowski. Our missionaries pitched
tent at Namaliga, a small village situated some
33 kilometres North of Kampala, on the Gulu highway
The parish church that lay abandoned for several
years was renovated, a vocational training centre
was set up and later a senior secondary school.
In 1995 after looking around the
dioceses of Masaka, Mitiyana and Jinja, we accepted
from the diocese a village polytechnic in Kamuli,
some 60 kilometres North of Jinja. The Salesians
have transformed the village polytechnic and at
the same time do much animation work among the
youth in Kamuli and the surrounding areas.
In 2005, we accepted to take over
a project for street children at Namugongo, near
the Shrine of the Ugandan Martyrs, some 10 kilometres
away from Kampala on the Jinja highway. The project
had been initiated by a Jesuit Priest and a Comboni
Sister, who – due to a series of reasons
– were looking for a congregation of educators
who would take care of it and possibly expand
On August 15th, 2006 Uganda was
united to Rwanda and Burundi to form the new Vice
Province of the Great Lakes region (AGL). Thus
the AFE Province was reduced to three countries:
Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania.
A Unified Salesian Presence
Up until 1994 the communities in
East Africa continued to work supported and guided
by their respective provinces of origin. At this
stage though, the further growth of Salesian presence
here demanded the unification of all these presences
into one juridical entity. Overcoming the nostalgia,
the emotions, the security and comfort deriving
from the links to one's province of origin, the
vast majority of the confreres pitched in to form
the Vice Province of Eastern Africa. A few opted
to leave. Four years later we became the full-fledged
Province of St John Bosco, Eastern Africa (AFE).
The growth of the Province of Eastern
Africa in the past 28 years has been truly prodigious.
Today, out of 171 Salesians working in the Province,
over 80 are indigenous to the Province. Don Bosco
comes to Africa! There are 26 communities spanning
the three countries. Several of these communities
have a scope and an outreach capability that make
them strategic presences. The studentate of philosophy
at Moshi and the study house for the students
of theology at Utume have become international
communities open to Salesians coming from all
the jurisdictions of Africa. The studentate of
philosophy at Moshi is an affiliate college of
the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, while
the students at Utume attend the Tangaza College
which in turn is also an affiliate college of
the same Catholic university.
The Institute of Youth Ministry
(IYM) at the Tangaza College
in Nairobi is run by Salesian Sisters and Salesians
in partnership. The IYM imparts knowledge and
skills in youth ministry at a tertiary level,
and it has the potential to spread the Salesian
charism among a wide and qualified population.
In the Kakuma Refugee Camp, situated
in the far north-western part of Kenya, the Salesians
have a parish that cares for over 60,000 Sudanese
refugees and a vocational training centre that
imparts technical skills to over 300 youngsters,
both men and women, from among these refugees.
Even as the repatriation process of many Sudanese
refugees is under way, the centre continues to
offer technical education to a changing crowd,
in which the number of Somali refugees is increasing,
adding the challenge of working with members of
the Islamic faith.
The Bosco Boys Kuwinda, already
in its 16th year, is a success story of how street
kids can be motivated to become honest citizens
and good Christians.
The Catechetical Training Institute of Makalala
in Tanzania has been the pioneering institute
that has trained a great number of catechists
for several dioceses of that country. The Development
Office of the Province has enlisted the help of
USAID and launched the Life Choices Programme.
The aim is to create awareness of the HIV and
AIDS pandemic and to encourage young people to
opt for behavioural change and positive living.
The Programme engages full time trainers in each
of the communities of Kenya and Tanzania and it
is expected that in this manner we can impact
a very large number of young people, since the
trainers work with the youngsters in a large radius
around our presences.
Another significant initiative is
the setting up of the Bosco Eastern Africa Multimedia
Services (BEAMS). Through this project we seek
to harness the powers of the modern media for
education and evangelisation.
In July 2006, the Delegation of
Sudan was created by the Rector Major. It is juridically
linked by its Statutes to the AFE Province and
at the same time enjoys a special connection to
the Rector Major himself (particularly as personnel
and finances are concerned). Fr Jacob Thelekkadan
was appointed as the Superior of the new Delegation.
The Province therefore was faced with the new
and exciting challenge to learn how to operate,
having been entrusted with a Delegation. In this
way, the Sudan has been given a wonderful boost,
as the Congregation made it its missionary frontier
for two consecutive years.
At the end of August 2005, the Rector
Major graced, with his presence, the Silver Jubilee
celebrations in the province. The Jubilee aroused
a new enthusiasm and a new energy to rededicate
ourselves to the original dream of Don Bosco.
Echoing his sentiments, the Rector Major spoke
to the Salesians in Eastern Africa: "Dream
of a Salesian Africa, capable of living in solidarity
with the poorest and the destitute, offering the
best we have – Jesus and his Gospel, Don
Bosco and his educational charism – to the
young, believing that a better world is possible
and therefore, giving our best to make it a reality".
The fertile mission of Eastern Africa beckons
the daring, the brave and the generous to join
ranks and make the dream of Don Bosco for Africa
a vibrant reality. Trusting in Divine Providence
and confident of the Maternal Assistance of Mary,
we gaze with thankfulness and appreciation at
what has been: the congregation that has been
a bastion of strength and support, our confreres
who, after a life-time of dedicated service, have
gone ahead of us to the Father's home, our benefactors
whose generosity and sacrifices supply us the
wherewithal for all our developmental works, and
our people themselves who have formed and shaped
us even as we sought to be of help to them. At
the same time we eagerly grasp the opportunity
of the present moment and reach out to the challenges
of the future. Duc in altum.
"The woods are lovely, dark
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep."