By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Editor | Published May 13, 2021
ATLANTA—A new school, named for Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, of Atlanta, will open doors and possibilities for 225 vulnerable children living in Ghana, West Africa.
The school is part of the Pope Francis School & Health Centre (PFSHC) program in the Volta Region of Ghana in the Diocese of Ho. Mike Barry, former parishioner at St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, founded the outreach in 2014 to serve children who had been orphaned.
Barry said a generous anonymous donation is enabling completion of the school’s construction. The donor requested the school be named for Atlanta’s auxiliary and longtime Marist educator, Bishop Konzen. The school will be finished in August, featuring a library and computer lab for children in grades K-4 through ninth. A chapel will be named for St. Francis.
“I have already communicated my appreciation to the anonymous donor of the school, but I will surely commend again the spirit of selflessness that has motivated this donor to care for the needs of the unknown and some of God’s neediest,” said Bishop Konzen in an email.
The bishop serves on the program’s advisory board. He acknowledged other donors from the Archdiocese of Atlanta who have helped make the overall school and health centre project successful.
“I am humbled that there are those in our midst who want to love those whom they may never see but for whom their compassion and ambition is great,” said Bishop Konzen.
Barry is a parent of a Marist School graduate. He first shared details of the mission when Bishop Konzen was principal there.
The school administrator was moved by Barry’s sincerity in helping others, and with how quickly he had been able to launch programs.
“Surely, the housing and health care will improve the children’s lives significantly,” said the bishop. “However, they should be given opportunities to aspire to an occupation different from the life of subsistence that destitute orphans are relegated to because of their parentless status. Education is the great game changer.”
The children will learn in a Catholic environment, with religious sisters overseeing their education.
At the Pope Francis School & Health Centre compound, the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church care for children who have lost parents to due HIV/AIDS. The children are malnourished and many acquired HIV at birth. Barry said he always misjudges the ages of the children, because poor nutrition has stunted their growth.
In early 2020, priorities expanded to protecting the young people from the COVID-19 pandemic, and a new initiative was launched that April.
“We started the health security program,” said Barry. “None of the children have gotten sick.” Each child received a complete hygiene kit plus an extra supply of vitamins, supplements and nutritious food. Health care professionals conducted in-home visits with children.
Bishop Konzen was unable to make a planned trip to Ghana in October 2020 due to pandemic travel restrictions. Barry, along with board member and retired Coca-Cola executive Tim Doyle, will travel to Ghana in June to monitor progress of the program’s Joy Health Centre. The centre will partner with the government there to provide critical health care to the underserved, including adults.
Bishop Konzen hopes to be able one day to travel to Ghana and visit the sisters and the local bishop who supported the endeavor, and see the work of the school and health centre.
“There is never a shortage of needs in our own locales and among those in distant lands,” he said. “Christ’s saving action has given us boundless hope for what might be accomplished when we strive to embody his tremendous love.