Our Diocesan Relationships with Tanzania

The Diocese of St. Cloud has some wonderful connections in Mission with Tanzania. Greenwald-Native Maryknoll missioner, Fr. Dan Ohmann, has lived and ministered there for most of his adult life. Numerous other missioners from our diocese have also lived there, including former Mission Office director Fr. Bill Vos. In addition, parishes in our diocese have built relationships with people and communities of Tanzania. Learn about these many wonderful connections.


ohmann_maryknollFr. Dan Ohmann, MM

On July 10, 2005, a special mass was celebrated for Fr. Dan Ohmann in thanksgiving for his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination as a Maryknoll Missioner. The thanksgiving liturgy was joyfully celebrated together with hundred of family, friends, and supporters at St. Andrew’s Catholic Parish in Greenwald, MN.

Fr. Ohmann has served most of his 50+ years in the rural Tanzanian Parish of Ndoleleji. He ministered to about 10,000 people living in 27 villages throughout the Ndoleleji Parish through the sacramental ministry, training of church leaders, health care, agriculture projects, and a wind-mill powered water program in many villages.

Fr. Ohmann recalls the high light of his 50 years of ministry as the time he spent 3 years working in the Rukole Refugee Camp among the Rwandese and Burundian refugees. In the camps, he fondly remembers the blessings of his days with the refugees and the beauty of the hope which only faith, the church, and the sacraments can bring. He was extremely touched that amid the suffering and difficulties they celebrated an extremely joy, spirit, music, and alleluia filled Easter Sunday service in the magical, early morning mist with thousands of newly arrived refugees.

Fr. Ohmann shared that “if everyone could experience the refugees camps and the joys of the priesthood like I have, our seminaries and convents would be filled. We can serve in times of war, who will serve in times of peace?”

ohmannIn 1998, Fr. Dan began working among a semi-nomatic tribe of approximately 80,000 people known as the Watatulu. It’s a slow process especially among people who have resisted and don’t want to hear the Gospel. But Fr. Dan loves the people, and is the presence of Christ among all.

You can read Fr. Dan Ohmann’s Biography, reflections he has written or find out more about his ministry in Tanzania by visiting Maryknoll online.


Read more about the Fr. Dan’s Ministry in past newsletters (contact the Mission Office for this edition):

  1. Spring 2013
  2. Summer 2007


Fr. Thomas Assenga, Zanzibar

assengaFather Thomas Assenga made a clear choice to leave his home on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, East Africa, to be a missionary in the Diocese of Zanzibar, made up of two islands about 25 miles off the coast of the mainland. He chose to go because there were abundant priests in his home area and he felt called to go to a place where there were not enough priests. Little did he know at the time that his missionary call would bring him even further afield to the United States — to a culture and climate very foreign to him.
In September of 2001, Bishop Augustine Shao, CSSp, of Zanzibar sent Fr. Thomas to Minnesota to take graduate courses in Business Management at St. Cloud State University, and to minister part time at St. Mary’s Cathedral. For four years he served as Diocesan Procurator,” handling the finances of the diocese.

Fr. Thomas was pleasantly surprised to see people attending Mass in large numbers in Minnesota. His previous conception of the United States was that people did not attend Mass. In Zanzibar, and Tanzania in general, people spend more time in the church or in neighborhood Small Christian Communities that are connected to their local parish. However, lay people in St. Cloud are much better educated and utilized to a greater degree in parish life.

Education in Tanzania is a privilege open to very few. Uniforms, books and school fees put a strain on family finances already stretched to the breaking point. In Zanzibar, prospects for education are even bleaker than on the mainland. The instruction in public schools is so poor that few students are able to pass the exams required to enter secondary school.

Twp Franciscan Sisters from Little Falls, Minnesota, Sr. Maristell Schanen and Sr. Tonie Rausch to helped at Wisdom Center, where students are tutored for the exams they need to pass in order to attend secondary school on the mainland. There has been a high success rate at Wisdom Center, where the Tanzanian congregation, the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary have taken over the Franciscan’s work. But even after passing exams, they are finding that many students do not last long at the secondary schools on the mainland because the parents cannot afford the additional costs.

Fr. Thomas is hopeful that the training he will receive at St. Cloud State University will greatly serve the Diocese of Zanzibar when he returns. He says there are many unmet needs, especially in the areas of health care and education, which the Diocese hopes to effect. St. Cloud has a great opportunity to broaden our awareness and experience of our global Church through his ministry with us. His presence among us, like the presence of Franciscan Sisters Maristell and Tonie in Zanzibar for 2.5 years, will help us build up the “families of faith that reach beyond our national boundaries” that our US Bishops called for in their 1998 pastoral letter, Called to Global Solidarity

Fr. Thomas returned to Zanzibar in April of 2007. He was a great blessing to us all, and he will be greatly missed. We wish him and his diocese many blessings!

Read more about the Fr. Tomas’s life and ministry in Zanzibar in past newsletters (contact the Mission Office for this edition):

  1. Spring 2011



machLiz Mach, MKLM

Liz Mach is a native of Minnesota who has been serving as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner for many years. She works in health care ministry in Tanzania, not too far from the border of Kenya.


Fr. Herb Gappa, MM

gappaFr. Herb Gappa, MM, from Urbank, Minnesota, is a former Maryknoll Missioner who spent his years of ministry “Making a Difference” in Tanzania. When he was assigned to serve at St. John’s Parish in Bariadi, Tanzania; there was only a crude chapel and tiny Catechist house on the church compound. More challenging still, there was an attitude among the people that their many misfortunes happened because “God planned it that way.”

After living with a catechist and his family during a five year period of observing, asking, listening and discussing alternatives, Fr. Gappa laid out three clear objectives for his parish’s work:

  1. Building Blocks of People, which included faith formation, religious education, and sacramental life
  2. Cement Blocks, which included all the physical buildings, equipment, supplies, and personnel needed to operate a parish
  3. Basic Human Needs, which were identified as food/firewood and water

The idea was to integrate all of the three areas. So much so that when parishioners would tell Fr. Gappa that they wished to be baptized in order to be saved; he would jokingly tell them that they were being baptized to plant trees and dig wells. He would chide them that when you reach the Pearly Gates of Heaven, God will ask you two questions: “How many trees did you plant?” and “How many did you cut down?” He wanted to get across to people that the Church was present so that we and others can begin to taste salvation, and that salvation included all three elements of body, mind, and soul. The parish was present to MAKE A DIFFERENCE, and working together, they would do just that.

After 25 years in Bariadi, Fr. Gappa has left a faith community that has grown so much that there is now need of a second large chruch in addition to two mulitpurpose “centers” and numerous small chapels throughout the area. “Liturgy was one of the greatest gifts in Africa” according to Gappa.

People’s attitudes toward the environment and trees have changed as well. Tens of thousands of trees have been planted throughout the Bariadi Parish. The Small Christian Communities have also been the main impetus for people in the community to form “Water User Groups” and dig hundreds of shallow wells also.

Fr. Gappa taught by example, and his motto that it is better to nurture growth than to watch death appears to have caught on. Currently Fr. Gappa has brought his wealth of experience and considerable gifts in ministry to the U.S. Church. He now is retired in with the Maryknoll community in New York.

Read more about Fr. Gappa’s community in Tanzania in past newsletters (contact the Mission Office for past editions):

  1. Winter 2010


Fr. Mansuetus, Diocese of Same – Reflection of the Delegation

Fr. Mansuetus Setonga, Secretary General and Director of Development for the Diocese of Same, Tanzania, hosted the delegation from Newman Center, St. Cloud. He visits MN every summer and maintains relationships at the Newman Center.

tanzania9In January, 2006, a delegation from Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud left the cold of Minnesota for a two week mission trip to the heat of the Diocese of Same in Tanzania. Newman Center parish first became acquainted with the Same Diocese in 1994 when Fr. Mansuetus Setonga from that diocese came to St. Cloud to study at St. Cloud State University. Several years later (2002) Newman members Chuck and Pat Ernst along with their son Paul visited Fr. Setonga in Same. He was at that time the Secretary General (chief administrator) and also the Director of Development for the Diocese of Same. After viewing a number of his development projects in the diocese and seeing how these projects affected the lives of the people, the Ernsts returned to their parish with some enthusiasm for helping to find funding for some of those projects. At their urging Newman Center began annual collections for various projects in the Same Diocese. The Newman Center had raised funds for some of Fr. Setonga’s projects before when he lived in St. Cloud and has become an annual affair.

The Diocese of Same is in the northeastern part of the country and about 65 miles from Mount Kilimanjaro. About ¾ of the diocese is mountainous (Pare Mountains). The population of the diocese is over 700,000 persons of which about 45% are Christians, 35% Muslim with others practicing indigenous religions. Further, the residents of the diocese are among the poorest in Tanzania with a per capita income of about half of the average for the country. To make matters even worse, much of sub-Saharan Africa, including Tanzania, has been suffering from severe drought for the last several years. The obvious consequences of the drought are an increase of disease caused from the less safe water sources, plus there is reduced agricultural production and hence an increase in hunger related diseases. In addition, to make ends meet, the men cut the trees in the area to make charcoal which they can sell in town to help buy household necessities. However, the loss of trees causes soil degradation and erosion which only makes the soil less productive when there are rains. In the last 5 or 6 years the life expectancy at birth has declined from 52 years to 45 years due to starvation related diseases and HIV/AIDS.

tanzania24On their very first day in Same, host Fr. Setonga took the delegation to visit a remote Maasai village about an hour’s drive (some of it on roads!) from Same. The Maasai people have been colorful nomadic pastoralists (cattle herders) who take their cattle wherever there is water and green grass, although there are more and more restrictions as to where they are allowed to graze their cattle. Many of them are now settling in villages and turning to farming for survival. The drought they are currently enduring makes it difficult for them under either means of livelihood. There are very few green places where the cattle can graze and so the cattle are beginning to die from starvation. The Same Diocese has been working with these people to teach them other life skills and also to help get their young people an education by building schools in their villages.

Fr. Setonga had informed the tribe that he was bringing a group to visit their village. The men of the village then prepared a lunch for the delegation back in the bush. It consisted of goat roasted around an open fire (see photograph) which the chief sliced with his machete and handed to his guests. In addition, they served a medicinal tea that had been brewing for four hours. The group does not fully know all the ingredients of this tea, but it did include pieces of various local healing roots, leaves, twigs, etc. It was a little bitter, but it must have worked since everyone came back healthy. In addition, the Newman group was treated to traditional Maasai music and dancing. Delegation members were encouraged to join in some of the dances.

On Sunday the group attended Mass at Christ the King Catholic Church in the Village of Makanya. This is a village in which Newman Center had funded the construction of a shop and grinding mill in the marketplace in addition to a girl’s hostel (dormitory) at the local secondary school. Secondary schools are scarce in Tanzania so most students must travel long distances to attend. Boys can stay in the homes of people in the village, but for girls this is not culturally acceptable nor is it safe. Hence, girls do not generally go. The delegation visited both of these projects after Mass. The shop and mill had been operating for more than a year, making money for the Samaritan Women’s Group of the parish that operated it. They were using the profits for other development projects in their community as well as to care for the needy among them. It was a highly successful project that is beginning to be modeled by other communities. The hostel was still under construction and is expected to be ready for the beginning of the next school term in July.

Fr. Setonga is the parish priest at this church and he presided at what was a truly joyful celebration with enthusiastic singing, dancing and clapping throughout the service. At the end of the service a member of the congregation came to the front and read a message to the group, thanking them for all the help the Newman Center had given this community and presenting them with a large decorative fabric to bring back to the Newman Center. The Newmanites were also made honorary members of the Makanya parish. In addition, a goat was presented to them for Fr. Setonga to use for the farewell party he had planned for the group.

The delegation visited several development projects that were sponsored by the diocese. One of the most successful of these was a project partially funded by Newman members in which water from the Pangani River was diverted to irrigate several hundred acres of land with more being added each year. Chuck and Pat Ernst had been here only four years earlier and saw parched desolate red soil covered mostly with brown brush. Now it is a beautiful green oasis growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables including corn, watermelon, mangoes, bananas, papaya, black beans, tomatoes, peppers, rice, lots of onions and more. There are even two fish ponds containing lots of fish. Since they have no winter, for many of these crops they get three harvests each year. They are learning about preserving the soil through crop rotation, natural fertilizers, etc. This farm supports many families.

tanzania21The majority of the people in the Same Diocese are members of the Pare tribe. The Pare are primarily subsistence farmers growing maize, vegetables, etc., but may also raise goats and chickens. In most of their villages there is no water source except the rain. The women often walk long distances to get water for family and animal use. They cannot carry water for their crops. Since they have been in a drought for several years now they are turning to the church and other agencies for food to feed their families.

One afternoon the delegation stopped at a typical Pare village named Kirinjiko just before dinner time. The group talked with the villagers about the needs of the village and was told that their greatest need was a source for water. Currently the women walk to Same town (about 8-10 miles) for their water. The closest clinic for health care is also in Same. The children have to walk about 5 miles to primary school. In this village of 900 souls with a median age of about 17, there is only one person attending secondary school because the families can not afford to pay the school fees.

Mr. Mchome, the village chief, scolded the group for not telling him in advance that the delegation was going to visit his village. He apologized for not having food ready for the group because he didn’t know they were coming. “If I had known,” he said, “I would have killed a goat.” He then proceeded to offer the goat to the delegation to take with them. This generosity seemed to be typical of most of the people the group encountered.

Each evening after dinner the delegation gathered for a discussion of the day’s events. After the day in Kirinjiko Village (a Muslim community, by the way), the debriefing was very somber and emotional. Jim Jacobs suggested that “I feel guilty that in the U. S. we have so much compared to them and are often so reluctant to share. They, on the other hand, have so little but are willing to share the best of what they have even with strangers.” Each person talked about the value of this experience for them personally. Mary Ann Leitch said “Even if this had been the only experience we had on this trip, it would have been worth our time and cost.” This experience reinforced the notion that all persons have gifts to offer. “We are all missionaries to one another,” one said.

Upon reflection after returning home, each person in the group, without exception, thought the trip had been very worthwhile for them personally. Carol Jacobs said “The trip exceeded all of our expectations. It was valuable to us as a cultural, personal and spiritual experience.” Cecilia Noecker thought that “I learned a lot about myself on this trip. It redefined me as a citizen of a global community.” Her brother Ross added “…you realize that it is not us who have so much, but them, whose family bonds and sense of community obviously were unbreakable. That is something they have that most of us often don’t.” “It was when I got home,” Mary Ann said, “that it really hit me. After seeing so many bare feet or home made flip-flops made from old tires, I had a difficult time going with my grandson to buy tennis shoes. Imagine what that $125 could do there.” All those things that are usually just taken for granted now get attention, just turning on a faucet to get water, for example. John Massmann suggested that “I was impressed with their resilience. The people of Same broadened our horizons and improved and enriched our lives. They taught us what faith and hope are really about.”



brianna_in_tanzaniaCathedral High School trips

Another connection with Tanzania is through Cathedral High School in St. Cloud.  Students from CHS travel to Tanzania after a semester-long global concerns class under the direction of former teacher Dick McMorrow. For more information visit: tzconnections.org

Read more about CHS teens’ experience in Tanzania in past newsletters (contact the Mission Office for this edition):

  1.  Summer 2010

Jerry Hansen, returned lay missioner

Jerry Hansen is a former Maryknoll Lay Missioner who served for several years in Tanzania.  The following is a reflection done by Jerry on the occasion of Maryknoll Father and Brothers 100th anniversary:

My hope is to employ the following story in an effort to thank Maryknoll for the years I was privileged to work with them as a lay missioner in Africa.  Without the priests, brothers and sisters of Maryknoll and their faith in me, I would not own this story.  It is a story about Zele Madulingi and how I came to love him….

After finishing my language training, I learned that I would be going with Father Paul Fagan to the small village of Old Maswa.  On my first day, he introduced me to Zele, a young boy who lived with his mother and brother in a small mud hut near the rectory.  Zele was the most physically handicapped person I had ever seen.  He was about 2 feet tall, and because his legs were so deformed and atrophied, he could only maneuver by shifting from side to side on his buttocks and calloused elbows.  Looking down on this little guy with a solar smile and a voice to rival Lou Rawls, I had little sense of the precious gift that God was unwrapping for me.

An old wheelbarrow was Zele’s only means of transportation and one of my earliest memories of Zele is from a rectory window where I could see a little head sticking out of the wheelbarrow going to and fro, always being pushed by one of the small boys in the village..

In those early days, Zele would come by my carpentry shop and watch me work, and then at the end of the day ask if he could have the small pieces of wood left over.  One evening, he invited me to his house to show me a folding chair he had cobbled together from the remnants he had gotten earlier.  He had glued and nailed more than 40 pieces of wood to make a chair which stood several inches taller than himself!  That night, I decided to build a small carpentry shop for Zele and 2 other disabled  boys in the village.  Eventually the project grew to 5 buildings with 20 members; 14 boys and 6 girls.  In addition to the carpentry shop, the project included an oxcart factory, bicycle repair shop, sewing center and small store.

While Zele was the smallest member of the group, everyone looked up to him.  He spoke little and then only what had already been weighed two or three times on the scale of thoughtfulness.  Looking back, I still marvel at how wise and loving he was at such an early age.  In the 6 years I was graced to be with Zele, I never tired of watching him work.  While fate had forced him to always take the long way around, it never kept him from arriving at excellence.  Zele was a craftsman who put all of his little body and big heart into everything he did.  What made him so special, I think, was not only that he brought us all forward, but that in the process he took us a little upward as well.

In time, Zele went on to marry a special lady named Christina, and together they had 3 beautiful daughters; Angelina, Victoria and Gaudensia.  Some years later when president Julius Nyerere from Tanzania came to visit Old Maswa, Zele was chosen to speak on behalf of the village.  Perched on a table that he himself helped build, Zele addressed the President along with the other religious, political and military leaders there that day.  When I recall that day, I am always reminded of another young boy in a temple explaining things to His elders some two thousand years earlier.  Zele was small, weak and vulnerable and he had neither prestige nor power.  He truly was of the lowest and I still wonder how it is that I received so much from someone who the world assures us has nothing to give.

When I received the letter from Fr. Paul in May 1996 informing me that Zele had died, I felt like a huge part of me had been torn away.  Had someone come upon me sobbing then, they might have thought that I had merely lost a friend when so  much closer to the  truth would be to say, that my obituary will err should it fail to note, that many years ago in Africa, I had a son.