School named for Sheen and supported by Rock Island parish brings hope in Ghana

The Archbishop Fulton Sheen Catholic Academy in Ghana is in need of a roof to cover second story classrooms. (Provided photo)

ROCK ISLAND — On a roadside near a remote village in the western African country of Ghana there is a Catholic school that is changing lives thanks in part to a spiritual bridge linking it to St. Pius X Parish here and a name that ties it to the Diocese of Peoria.

It would be nice if the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Catholic Academy also had a roof.

The van that transports students is often a conversation starter about the Academy’s namesake, Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Students pray daily for the canonization of the Diocese of Peoria native. (Provided photo)

“Sometimes you and I are the instruments that God uses to fill others with the joy of salvation,” said Deacon Joe Dockery-Jackson in a mid-February mission appeal at St. Pius X, where he serves as a permanent deacon. “And that school we have helped to build is a tangible expression of God’s saving love.”

Deacon Dockery-Jackson never expected to spend part of the last dozen years as a “beggar” on behalf of a school near the equator in Ghana. He doesn’t even like to travel.

But when a priest from the Society of African Missions, who formerly spent summers at St. Pius X, invited him to visit Ghana, “I heard these words come out of my lips,” said Deacon Dockery-Jackson:

“I’ll go.”

A MIRACLE BEYOND BRICKS AND MORTAR

That priest is Father Michael Adrie, SMA, who for the past decade has served in the Diocese of Peoria. Since 2019, Father Adrie has been parochial vicar of St. Paul Parish, Macomb, and St. Rose of Lima Parish, Rushville, as well as assisting at St. Francis of Assisi Newman Center.

The Archbishop Fulton Sheen Catholic Academy was founded in 2009 in his hometown of Ave-Afiadenyigba, 40 miles inland from the Gulf of Guinea and near Ghana’s eastern border with Togo. Supported by hundreds of thousands of dollars raised primarily at St. Pius X as well as a few other parishes in the diocese, the school has grown from two classes its first year to a pre-K to ninth grade facility with an enrollment of 200 students on a 10-acre campus.

HOW TO HELP: Those wishing to contribute to the school and its mission can make checks payable to St. Pius X Parish, put “Fulton Sheen Academy” in the memo line, and mail to the parish at 2502 29th Ave., Rock Island, IL 61201. For more information on the project, contact Deacon Joe Dockery-Jackson at (309) 738-0471 or joejdock@gmail.com.   

“The success that the school has realized has truly been theirs,” Deacon Dockery-Jackson of the local population in Ghana. “They’ve taken the gifts we’ve given them and used them to produce a miracle.”

The miracle, he emphasized, is not the construction of a school. It’s not even that the school now has flush toilets.

The miracle is this: For two years prior to the establishment of the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Catholic Academy, not one child in the village could pass the entrance exam to continue their education into high school. In the spring of 2019, all seven of the Academy’s ninth-graders passed the exam.

And Father Adrie, just back from 13 months in Ghana — a planned brief stay extended because of COVID-19 travel restrictions — came with more good news.

“Once again, every child from our school has been placed in senior high school,” he said in an interview with Deacon Dockery-Jackson conducted with The Catholic Post via Zoom on March 24. Two students from the Academy, in fact, had the highest scores in the district.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Peasant farming on small tracts of land is the dominant way of life in the village and region.

“Imagine being a parent in that village,” said Deacon Dockery-Jackson, “knowing you have a child who is pretty smart, but also knowing there doesn’t seem to be any chance for that child in this world. The goal of this school is to give these kids a different future.”

“It’s powerful when you realize that through the work of the Holy Spirit the school is making such a dramatic difference in their lives,” he continued.

The opportunity to continue their education means the students “can become nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers . . . any profession they want to go,” said Father Adrie, who knows something about the value of a Catholic education. It’s where he found his priestly vocation.

Father Adrie and Deacon Dockery-Jackson both emphasized the importance of the school’s Catholic identity and mission.

“Our goal wasn’t to build a building,” said Deacon Dockery-Jackson. “Our goal was to have a great Catholic education.” During his first fact-finding visit, local villagers and church leaders told him that Ghana has many resources, “but they’ll be wasted unless we have moral leaders.”

Deacon Dockery-Jackson has now made three trips to Ghana and hopes to make a fourth when pandemic travel restrictions ease. The school project, he said “brings home the universal nature of our church.”

“When I would go to Africa it was really clear that we are one church, and the ocean and the distance evaporates,” he told The Catholic Post.

 FAITH, LOVE ARE MOTIVATIONS

The focus of recent appeals has been to complete a roof on the school’s second story where three classrooms and a library are located. Some classes are now meeting outside under trees, “but that only works until you get to the rainy season.”

On the Zoom interview, Father Adrie interjected when Deacon Dockery-Jackson said his 30 years as a teacher and administrator in higher education didn’t prepare him for the task of fundraising for a distant school.

“Yes, Deacon Joe has something in his background that made him assist with this project,” said Father Adrie. “It is his Christian faith and his love for people. That’s true for everyone who contributes to this project. They love people, and have a faith background, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.”

Deacon Dockery-Jackson said the school’s name is a conversation starter, leading to discussions about Archbishop Sheen and evangelization. The students pray daily for the Peoria Diocese native’s canonization.

“At some point we’ll have to rename the school St. Fulton Sheen,” said Deacon Dockery-Jackson.

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