St. Mary’s Helps Build High School in Uganda; Parishioner Returns From Mission Trip Motivated to Do More

Sep 26, 2018
Photo by: Ron Vanadia

Some local Catholics recently returned from an outreach trip to Uganda that opened their hearts and eyes to the living conditions of people in their “twin parish” 7,000 miles away. The trip celebrated the opening of a newly constructed, all-inclusive secondary school, built with the generous help of the Twinning Ministry at St. Mary’s Parish in Barnegat, for the Holy Trinity Parish Ziroobwe in the Diocese of Kasana-Luweero, Uganda, led by Fr. Vincent DePaul Mukiibi.

Msgr. Ken Tuzeneu and parishioner Ron Vanadia of Barnegat traveled at the end of August to see the school and get to know the students and villagers, who were “so welcoming and so grateful,” according to Vanadia, who is writing a six-part series of articles about the mission for the parish newsletter, “The Voice.”

The new school, which opened in February, offers meals and dormitories in addition to the education desperately needed by children of peasant farmers. Back on the homefront, Vanadia feels sharing what he gained from the experience is an important part of the ministry’s ongoing work.

Holy Trinity’s Fr. Vincent was ordained in 2009 and has been a pastor at Ziroobwe since October 2012. He is the youngest parish priest (or pastor) in the diocese. Mary Goss, director of Yamba Uganda, based in Toms River, has worked to facilitate the twinning.

Fr. Vincent’s visit to St. Mary’s in 2015, during which he described in detail the difficulties faced by Uganda’s impoverished citizens, prompted congregants’ sympathy, and the outreach ministry was born. Since then, St. Mary’s parishioners have contributed about $200,000. The ministry organizes fundraisers, sponsors Ugandan children, and helps meet their families’ food, clothing and medical needs, from eyeglasses to life-saving antibiotics. The American parish provides financial support to the African parish, and the two church communities stay connected through letters and visits.

The trip involved an eight-hour flight to Brussels, Belgium, followed by another eight-hour flight to Uganda, and then a two-hour car ride to their destination. Vanadia described the reception they encountered upon arrival as riotously joyful. The American guests were treated to a welcome barbecue, where large pieces of beef on wooden skewers were cooked on coals in a bonfire; a tour of the new school; performances of native dance; and gifts of thanks and praise.

Goss, or “Mum Mary” as she is known, “is beloved by all people there,” according to Vanadia. “Young and old rush to her with hugs and words of thanks as she brings handmade dresses, donated shirts and various gifts of love and caring to them all.”

As gifts to the teachers of the school, Vanadia presented watches a St. Mary’s parishioner had refurbished and set to Ugandan time. “Appreciation is not a strong enough word to describe their reactions,” Vanadia wrote in his latest parish newsletter. “Mary said to me, ‘Ron, for them, it was like you gave them keys to a brand new Cadillac!’”

A visit to Sister Lucy’s orphanage was emotional and inspiring, Vanadia recalled. Nearly 30 children are in her care, many younger than 5, with impairments and disabilities of varying severity. For Vanadia, one of the trip’s highlights was Msgr. Ken’s baptism of 448 babies at one Mass that began at 9 a.m. and ended at 2:30 p.m.

While the people were exceedingly warm toward the visitors, the realities of daily life in rural Uganda are hard. Villagers live in small, scarcely furnished huts, where the main living room is smaller than the average American’s walk-in closet. Their diet consists mainly of what they can grow: a lot of bananas, corn, potatoes and rice, not much meat. Hunger is a major problem due to prolonged drought conditions. There is no trash collection or basic services. Without record keeping, birthdays are unknown and ages are approximated. The main street business district “looks like a flea market,” Vanadia said. The roadways have no traffic signals or road signs. Motorcycles are a common form of transportation. The cultural differences are startling among those with a radically simplified way of life.

Communities are held together by their faith, Vanadia said.

For Msgr. Ken, the most meaningful aspect of the trip was developing relationships with the people they met, which made it tough to leave. Vanadia feels blessed to have had the opportunity to lay eyes on the school and to see the smiles on the faces of those who will benefit. “A lot of people donate to causes and never get to see the outcome,” he said.

A goal of the ministry is to expand out even more. To learn more about what is being done and how to help, visit

— Victoria Ford

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