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Toledo priest promotes education in Tanzania

Jesuit visits United States in support of schools

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    The Rev. Martin Connell, a Jesuit priest from West Toledo, has returned to the United States from Tanzania, where he is in charge of a new high school in the capital, Dodoma. He was sent to the African nation in 2009 to help start St. Peter Claver High School.

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Rev-Martin-Connell-tanzania

The Rev. Martin Connell, a Jesuit priest from West Toledo, has returned to the United States from Tanzania, where he is in charge of a new high school in the capital, Dodoma. He was sent to the African nation in 2009 to help start St. Peter Claver High School.

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

In March, 2009, the Rev. Martin Connell's phone rang at 6 a.m. It was the head of his Jesuit religious order calling from Rome.

It wasn't bad news, as Father Connell first feared, but it was a life-changing phone call.

The Jesuit priest's provincial said he was sending the priest to Africa to help start a Catholic high school.

Construction already had begun on St. Peter Claver High School in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, but the school had no teachers or administrators.

"We had the school, but we didn't have any personnel," Father Connell said.

Father Connell, 47, who grew up in West Toledo, went to Blessed Sacrament grade school and graduated from St. John's Jesuit High School, spoke to The Blade during a three-week visit to the United States to promote awareness of the Jesuits' educational projects in Africa.

Although the Toledo-born priest never had been to Africa, he had a great deal of expertise in education.

Father Connell has a doctorate in education from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with an emphasis on teacher education and development.

Father Connell also served as principal at University of Detroit Jesuit High School and was a professor of education at Loyola Marymount University before his Africa assignment.

There is a dire need for education in Tanzania, where only one in four primary school graduates has the opportunity to enroll in high school, he said.

And even those who go on to higher education often find little opportunity to put their schooling to use.

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"Education is a good thing, and knowledge is a good thing, but people who receive an education but cannot find employment become alienated," Father Connell said.

With corruption a rampant problem in Tanzania, the Jesuits also strive to teach ethics as part of the high school curriculum.

Dodoma, which became the capital city in 1974, has about 325,000 residents and is set in a dry, dusty region of the East African nation. Tanzania's former capital, Dar es Salaam, about 280 miles to the east, has 2.5 million residents and is a much more vibrant city.

The northern region is Tanzania's main tourist draw, known for its national parks, game preserves, and world-famous Mount Kilamanjaro.

The Jesuits started a primary school in Dodoma nine years ago, and the high school opened its doors in September, just in time to welcome the first class of primary school graduates.

The schools were built on a 500-acre tract with funds donated by the Our Lady Queen of Peace Foundation in Calgary, Canada, Father Connell said. The boarding school has a four-story dormitory with two wings that can house 640 students each.

The tuition is $1,400, more than most Tanzanian peasants earn in a year, Father Connell said.

But the Jesuits provide scholarships to needy students, and children of peasants study, eat, sleep, and play alongside children of diplomats and government leaders, he said.

Unlike many African nations, peace is "an absolute value" in Tanzania, the priest said, and there is no ethnic conflict.

He credits it to the legacy of Julius Nyerere, the nation's first president after independence from colonial rule in 1964. Mr. Nyerere also instilled in Tanzanians a sense of commitment to give back to their country, "which dovetails with the Jesuits' mission of men and women in service," Father Connell said.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.

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