By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published December 12, 2019
ATLANTA—With much support from the Catholic community in Atlanta, construction for the Pope Francis Children’s Home and School in Ghana is underway.
Michael Barry, founder of the home and former parishioner of St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, traveled to the west African nation Oct. 21-29 for a ribbon cutting and to monitor the project’s progress.
“It was a big success. We had tremendous support from the Diocese of Ho (Ghana) and the community,” said Barry, who now lives in Arizona. “Our first phase—boys’ dorm, girls’ dorm, kitchen, medical clinic, sisters’ housing—is 50% complete. We expect to open by mid 2020.”
Barry said that during the fall visit, the organization also held its first annual soccer tournament, calling it “lots of fun.”
Initially inspired by the mission work of his late wife, Danise, Barry volunteered at an orphanage in the Volta region of Ghana in the summer of 2014. Moved by the spirit of Ghanaian people and needs of children there, he started the Pope Francis Outreach Program.
Barry met the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church, of the Diocese of Ho. The sisters work at the Margret Marquart Catholic Hospital in Kpando and belong to a religious congregation started in 1971 in Ghana.
Sister Justine Ayivor, community health nurse in the children’s ward at the hospital, introduced Barry to many children who had acquired HIV at birth. Most are orphans, having lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.
Since the fall of 2014, the outreach program has been providing medical care, housing, school tuition, food and transportation for children in need.
Later that year, Barry partnered with the Diocese of Ho to create the Pope Francis Children’s Home and School (PFCHS) project. The project has nonprofit status in the United States. Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, diocesan administrator for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and Savannah Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, OFM Conv., serve on its advisory board.
Tim Doyle of Atlanta, a retired Coca-Cola executive and parishioner of the Cathedral of Christ the King, also serves on the advisory board. He accompanied Barry on the October trip.
The overall project includes 10 buildings, housing for 100 children, a school and St. Francis Chapel. Total cost is $1.5 million, said Barry. He expects the project to be completed in early 2020.
On Friday, Oct. 25, Bishop Emeritus Francis A.K. Lodonu of the Diocese of Ho addressed supporters at the “sod-cutting” event of the children’s home.
The bishop spoke of the shared vision of Barry and his friend, Father Jeremiah Ankutsitsia of Ghana, to build a home and school.
“The idea sounded radical, unrealistic, incomprehensible,” said Bishop Lodonu. “But, guided by faith and hope, here we are today cutting the sod of a dream made reality.”
He called it a blessing to have such a school in the Volta region.
“This institution is meant to take care of young children who have serious illness and have nobody to take care of them,” he said.
The bishop closed his remarks by sharing words from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25—“When I was hungry, you gave me food to eat; when I was thirsty you gave me water to drink; and when I was sick you cared for me.”
To learn more about the Pope Francis Children’s Home and School, go to www.popefrancishome.org.