Image: Brother Chris Sweeney, S.C. is part of a team of four brothers and many dedicated laypeople who have revived a Catholic school in Mozambique, a country where only 8 percent of children go to high school and over half live in poverty.
BROTHER CHRIS SWEENEY, S.C. arrived in Amatongas, Mozambique in 2011 fresh from New Orleans, Louisiana and ready to tackle a formidable job. He and three other brothers were given the assignment of reestablishing a Catholic boarding school that needed just about everything: money, desks, equipment, gardens for feeding the boys who lived there, and animals for food, among other essentials.
|The team of brothers who have poured themselves into rebuilding the Amatongas Catholic school in front of the refurbished building.
Refounding a school is a big job anywhere, but in a place ravaged by war and beset by extreme poverty, the Amatongas school has been a particularly daunting task—but one Sweeney loves.
For one thing he’s not on his own. He is one of a four-brother team, with the others coming from three continents: Africa, North America, and Europe. Years ago the school had been Catholic, but the church lost control of it following the Mozambique war for independence in the 1970s. With a changed political landscape by 2010—and a war-torn population hungry for education—the Catholic bishop of Amatongas invited the Sacred Heart Brothers to rebuild the school.
Thus, in 2011, Sweeney and his confreres began to reconstruct a school from the ground up. With help from volunteers and donors, they built schoolrooms and dorms. They dug a well. They found funding. They hired teachers. And, tapping into a national passion, they even started a soccer team that has achieved local fame.
Among a population eager for a better life, the brothers easily found students. Although the school had been boys only, girls are now part of it. Today some 1,000 students take classes, and when the school day ends, they learn pig farming, corn cultivation, carpentry, and a number of other trades. Often they put their skills to work for the school, gaining experience that may help them find work after graduation.
|Brother Lucas Favreau, S.C. and Brother José Roberto, S.C., who is visiting from Brazil, plan the school year together.
Sweeney sees the reopening of the school as a gift in his life as a religious brother. The work is something he can sink his teeth into. The communal life with his brothers in this corner of Africa is not easy. There are electrical blackouts, insects, uncertainties, problems with students, but together in prayer and with faith it is a life he is glad to be part of.
Almost every morning Brother Chris begins by riding a tractor from the residence area to the school’s farm.
“No matter how I’m feeling, often tired, sometimes frustrated, the smiles of the kids along this road bring a smile to my face and heart. I have driven down this road now hundreds of times, and each time the kids come running, sometimes dancing and singing to see the tractor roll down the path. It’s just an awesome feeling.”
|The celebrations following a second-place soccer trophy lasted for days. Brother Angel Monge, S.C., bottom center, is both a teacher and soccer coach.
|Brother Chris loves his morning tractor ride, which always brings children running out of their homes to greet him.
|Brother Lucas takes part in a Sunday Mass. Worship is a full-body experience in Amatongas, with singing, dancing, and a great deal of energy.
|More children than desks is not uncommon in Mozambique. This reality is changing in Amatongas, thanks to benefactors who support the brothers’ education ministry.
|The brothers interview orphans who apply to their school. Brother Angel and visiting Brother José Ignacio Carmona, S.C., superior general of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, talk with young men whose parents have died.
|Brother Angel has plenty of company as he tackles a paint job.
|Brother Fabian Jongwe, S.C. plays with children during a break from his efforts to purchase corn to feed boarders at the school.