Brother Raymond Papenfuss was the oldest of three boys. Originally from Wisconsin, he was born to German parents. In the German tradition, the son performs the work of his father which in this case would have been plumbing. But Brother Raymond had other plans.
“I entered the Holy Cross community right after high school in 1952. At 19 years old I went to the parish priest and said I wanted to enter the church not as a father but I wanted to teach. As long as I can remember I wanted to be a teacher. I had a natural bent towards English literature and theology of course,” he said.
At age 26 Brother Raymond went to Ghana, Africa for 28 years. He explained the work he and other Brothers did to establish schools for children who could not afford to go to school.
“The future of the Catholic Church is centered in Africa” -Br. Raymond
“Kids in Ghana go to either a trade or high school. The Government pays their tuition but they pay their boarding. We developed trades for kids that couldn’t get into high school. We got books like the ‘construction for idiots’ type books and took them over. They were on carpentry, masonry, automobile mechanics and blacksmithing. We only accepted kids who couldn’t pay tuition at all. If their parents had a job and income, we didn’t take them. We started with 20 boys, 5 in each skill. We hired retired master craftsmen to teach them so they would be willing to pass down their knowledge without being in competition. The Knights of Marshalls paid their salaries. We received donations and the Canadian embassy gave me a truck,” he said.
The land for the school was gifted to them by a local chief. Students began working right away to build the school. First cutting bamboo for a temporary shelter then building the walls once they learned masonry skills. In nine months the building was complete.
“Each student received a full set of tools after graduation. They took out blacksmithing in 1987 because there wasn’t a need. They built another school, the kids all built it. We had $400 thousand donated for materials from Germany. They built an office, classroom, production room and infirmary. They made furniture to sell. They also built a home of hope for at risk street kids,” he said.
“I would not have come back to this country for any reason. I liked the culture in Ghana, liked their sense of family” -Br. Raymond
There he served just under 2,000 children until 1987 when he had to return to the US after contracting cerebral malaria.
“If I had not had cerebral malaria, I would not had come back to this country for any reason. I liked the culture in Ghana, liked their sense of family,” he said.
“We have 50 Holy Cross brothers in Ghana and in upcoming years we will have more there than we have here. There are two schools, St. John and St. Augustine, a continuing formation center for adults going into ministry. We want to build an educational boarding school. We have already broken ground on it. I’m going to Ghana in December. I want to start getting Ghanaian’s to start making donations to the school there. I want to put up a challenge grant here met only by Ghanaians. Some of the kids I taught are now business men. The Ghanaians in Virginia are organizing themselves there. They are associated with the school of the deaf. When men go through their formation, they work there. One Brother makes prosthetics.
Disability Culture in Ghana
“Culturally, the way people in Ghana handle people with disabilities is different from us. They are sent to the village and the family cares for them. The culture views them as special. They are absolutely, morally responsible of taking care of their own. If something is wrong the extended family takes care of them. As far as I know there are no orphanages or nursing homes. They wouldn’t send an elderly person to a nursing home because that would be disgraceful. They are taking care of them in an alternative way,” he said.
“You don’t want to change people but bring out the best in their world” -Br. Raymond
Brother Raymond feels we can learn from the Ghanaian culture.
“Rather than insisting a person with disabilities adapt to us, we can see what their world is and adapt to them. You don’t want to change people but bring out the best in their world. The school system broke down tribal differences. The future of the Catholic Church is centered in Africa,” he said.
Brother Raymond is a Brother of the Holy Cross in South Bend, Indiana. He is a guardian and advocate for a person Mosaic serves. His passion lies in helping children in Ghana, Africa. He teaches Tai Chi four times a week, paints and watches the show, Big Bang Theory.