Twenty Years in the Making
It was eighteen years ago that we first met Sr. Eugenia Tabane. She was living at the convent at St. Brendan’s as a retired principal and teacher. She was a kind, caring and holy woman spending much of each day in prayer and service to others.
Sr. Eugenia’s passion was to help the people of Ga Pasha build a church. The Catholic population was small but growing and they worshipped in an elementary school where we attended mass with her.
Ga Pasha is a small and very poor village grown up in the harsh, unforgiving environment of the bush. The roads mostly used for walking and herding cattle are rocky, dry and dusty. The population has few options for employment with many making the walk to St. Brendan’s each day where they work as maintenance workers, kitchen staff and cleaning staff. Others survive on small gardens or food and vegetable stalls at the local markets.
The church began with Sr. Eugenia quietly and humbly soliciting donations for blocks and cement. We, along with friends from CTR, helped fund the first few rows of blocks. Through the years, perseverance paid off and the church was built by the parish one row of blocks at a time. Finally, last year the building was completed, dedicated and opened for business. Sr. Eugenia, who passed away last year after several years of illness, was never able to see her church or to even understand that it was completed.
We attended mass there today and it was a delightful experience. There were about fifty parishioners – 40 women, 10 men – and a handful of children. The women sit on one side and the men and children sit on the other. That does make for beautiful harmonizing during the songs. One woman will start a song with a powerful voice and spirit, then everyone else joins in, with the men singing harmony in low voices. The only musical instrument was a referee’s whistle which one person would begin to blow during the more upbeat praise-worthy hymns.
As it turns out, the priest was a young man that we knew from St. Brendan’s, back when we were teaching in 2000 – 2002. He welcomed us as guests and told the parishioners that Mr. Williams worked hard to teach him computers, especially Excel spreadsheets. Fr. Emmanuel would normally conduct the mass in Sepedi, but easily threw in some English for our benefit. We have observed that most African people are amazingly multi-lingual.
The mass certainly was a highlight of the day. To see Sr. Eugenia’s photo in St. Thomas Catholic Church brought tears to our eyes. Even though she was not there in body, we know that her spirit was present in many ways.