A Brief History of the Togo Mission

Before entering the seminary, Fr. William Ryan had served in Togo as a Peace Corps volunteer from January, 1973 to July, 1975 in a well-digging program. It was during those years that the seed of his priestly vocation – and, eventually, his missionary vocation – was sown, as he became convinced that God was calling him to offer to the thirsty the “living water” that Jesus speaks of that will satisfy them forever and bring them to eternal life (John 4). He entered the seminary upon returning home, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. in 1980.

While in the Peace Corps he had become friends with a young Togolese priest, Philippe Kpodzro, who was named Bishop of Atakpamé 1977 and Archbishop of Lomé, the capital of Togo, in 1991. They kept in touch, and Fr. Ryan made several visits to Togo over the years.

Archbishop Kpodzro invited Fr. Ryan to undertake missionary service in Togo, and in 2002 Fr. Ryan received permission from the Archbishop of Washington to serve as a priest on loan to Togo. Knee problems delayed his departure until July 2006, but during this time the mission center was built with funds that he raised and sent. This building includes living quarters for priests, parish offices, a classroom, a large storage area for items shipped by containers from the U.S.

For the first few months Fr. Ryan lived at the Archbishop’s residence in Lomé and studied Ewe, the local language. Then in November of 2006 he moved to the village of Atchanvé, which had been chosen as the site of the new mission parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where Fr. Ryan would be the founding pastor. The mission center was inaugurated on November 11, 2006 at a Mass concelebrated by Archbishop Kpodzro and Archbishop Michael Blume, the Apostolic Nuncio (papal ambassador) to Togo and Benin. Archbishop Blume was one of the few American nuncios in the world. The occasion drew thousands from villages in the surrounding area. The date was providential because it was the Feast of St. Martin. Fr. Ryan had served as Associate Pastor at St. Martin’s Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland which is now the sister parish of the mission parish in Togo.

Atchanvé is located about 2 ½ hours north of Lomé. The mission encompasses a large rural area of more than three dozen villages. It takes about 1 ½ hours to drive from one end of the parish to the other over very bad roads. There are 13 “secondary stations” in the parish – villages where a lay catechist leads the people in prayers on Sundays and offers baptismal preparation and faith formation.

In November of 2008, three Togolese nuns from the Institut de Notre Dame de l’Église arrived at the mission and took up residence in a convent that had been built for them. One Sister serves as director of the St. Paul Medical Clinic, which opened the following month. Another serves as Principal of St. Martin’s School, a new Catholic primary school that opened its doors to kindergarteners and first graders in September, 2009, with plans to build classrooms for second through sixth grades, one grade per year, as these students move up. The third Sister serves as parish secretary and accountant, and is involved in many other activities as well.

To go hand in hand with its evangelization efforts, the parish has undertaken development projects in its villages such as wells, the health clinic, chapels and schools. This is essential, because when the mission began there was essentially no infrastructure in place to meet the human needs of the villagers or to enable the Church to carry out its pastoral service.

Each year Fr. Ryan returns to the U.S. to give a report to St. Martin’s Church in Gaithersburg on the progress of its sister parish in Togo, and to seek help from others for the many projects of the mission.

For further information and photos on the history and background of the mission, click on the Slide Show link or the Mission Reports link.

 

For information on the story of Fr. Ryan's missionary vocation, click here