Image: Fr. Tom Heath, O.P. Photo source: angelicwarfareconfraternity.org

IN KISUMU

Many years ago, the Province of St. Joseph answered the call to serve and preach in East Africa. It was during the early 1990s, when political tensions and violence were high, that Fr. Thomas Richard Heath, O.P. initiated a special mission to help children receive financial aid to attend schools in Kisumu, Kenya. This fund was affectionately known as ‘Fr. Tom’s Kids’ and it was enthusiastically supported by the Lay Fraternities back home within the eastern province. 

Unfortunately, Fr. Tom fell victim to violent robbers during an attack on January 4, 2005. He died of complications from sustained injuries 9 days later. Fr. Tom’s Dominican vocation had sent him to many places around the globe in 84 years of life: Florence, Italy- Beirut, Lebanon- South Bend, Indiana- Kisumu, Kenya– to name just a few. Yet it was this final location that truly won his heart, as he admitted in a 1998 letter to his Superior: “My desire is to die and be buried here in Kenya, in Kisumu, on our property across the road from the novitiate, what Kieran [another priest in the mission] calls the Orange Grove.” God does not always grant our desires, but even in tragedy we can see that God honored Fr. Tom’s deep and loving connection with the people of Kenya.

LEGACY

After his death, ‘Fr. Tom’s Kids’ continued to provide educational funding for the children of Kisumu. In 2008, however, these efforts were focused to meet a particularly devastating reality: children needed protection. For many unescorted children, traveling to school became a dangerous and sometimes life-threatening act. In addition, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, combined with decades of violence, had created an environment where far too many children were growing up without parents or a reliably-secure environment. In response, Fr. Martin Martiny, O.P. established Our Lady of Grace School within Kisumu– a school where at-risk children could safely learn, in an environment which taught and modeled the Gospel message of dignity and love for all people. 

Fr. Tom’s commitment to joyfully spreading the Gospel and inviting every child of God to develop a love of learning still stand as his legacy through Our Lady of Grace primary school, which is now funded through “Partners in Mission.” We invite you to join us in supporting this school, and to promote the life and service of our dearly departed brother, Fr. Tom Heath, O.P. 

To read more about Fr. Thomas Heath, O.P., we recommend a beautiful article written by Barnabas McHenry, O.P. entitled “A Life: Measured, Packed, Shaken and Over-Flowing” which was published in the Dominicana Journal in 2017.

More about Our Lady of Grace School:

Our Lady of Grace, a pre-K to eighth grade school, now serves more than 220 vulnerable and at-risk children. Many are AIDS orphans; some are victims of abuse; most come from homes without the resources to allow them to attend school (children are needed to gather fire wood and fetch water).  On a budget of just $130,000 per year, OLG scholarships these students into its program.  The school attends to body and spirit, serving its students breakfast and lunch (many will return to their homes with no dinner), offering instruction in the Catholic faith, as well as academics.  The school has consistently performed in the top tier of area schools, and OLG‘s trustees guarantee that any student graduating from OLG‘s eighth grade will receive scholarship assistance for high school.  Maria Oguom Casiraghi, who worked closely with Fr. Martin Martiny, OP, establishing the School now heads it.  She hopes that “each child experiences the love of God and their dignity as a child of God here.”  Dominican-founded and supported, Our Lady of Grace School is run by an the independent OLG Foundation, and gratefully receives donations at https://ourladyofgracepartners.org/