NEENAH — The United Nations reports only 10 percent of Indian children who finish high school go to college, and as a former high school principal in South India, Fr. Savio Samala knew education was the key to ending the cycle of poverty. Thankfully, a parish mission visit led him to someone to help him to fund education efforts.
“He always invites people to India, and I’m not too sure many people take him up on it, but I did,” said June Ingold, the former pastoral associate at Ss. Edward and Isidore in Flintville. “We read a lot about India with bigger cities, outsourcing and all that, but just a few miles from there when you’re in these villages is where reality sets in. You realize how important that education factor is to these young people if they ever want to dig their way out of poverty.”
Fr. Samala and Ingold started the Society of Faith and Catholic Education (S FACE) together, following their Flintville parish introduction, for that very reason.
“I saw the kids who were graduating from my high school, and they didn’t go to college because there was no one to sponsor them because it was more expensive,” Fr. Samala said. With all of the external aid that focuses on elementary and high school students, he said the obvious need was an opportunity for students to receive college education.
S FACE provides Indian Catholic students with sponsorships that cover their college tuition. Fr. Samala said the program grew so rapidly that he knew it was time to take it to the next level. He invited Ingold back to India, this time with her son, Fr. Michael Ingold of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Neenah, for a new proposal in 2006.
“The discussion [of funding a mission center] all started with the advent of Fr. Mike’s entry into India,” Fr. Samala said. “We were exploring our ways, how good we could give faith formation to our kids who are of the S FACE sponsorship program. So we thought that we need to have a mission center.”
Neenah parish involvement
The mission center proposal excited the parishioners of St. Margaret Mary, who Fr. Samala said “jumped at the opportunity to help.”
Their Human Concerns Committee formed “Building Faith in India” to focus entirely on the S FACE Mission Center project.
“Deciding we wanted to help Fr. Samala was a no-brainer and a wonderful way to start,” Building Faith in India committee co-chair Joan Bartman said. “It flew so fast because of the parish always saying, ‘What can we do to help?’”
The parish set out to raise $100,000 between 2012 and 2015, which they exceeded before their target date, totaling $108,159.91.
Bartman said the parish went beyond just giving money, however, by also learning about the people they would be helping.
“When we partner with someone, we very much want it to be an educational effort,” Bartman said. “Everything we did was to try to help our people understand the culture.”
The parish hosted book studies, movie showings, a “Tea and Saris” tea party for mothers and daughters, sponsored India-inspired art contests for children, hung educational posters and maps around the parish and more.
“The book study was really great because the book is broader than just the people of India,” Bartman said. “It makes you realize that, if you educate a woman, what she will do with the children she has will then lift up the next generation, and that’s what we’re trying to do with S FACE.”
Mission center progress
Fr. Samala said, though it has not been easy, the mission center is on its way up.
“In our country, we have a system whereby you cannot build anything on farmland,” Fr. Samala said of their two-acre plot. “It has to be zoned as housing. So we changed it, and it almost took 18 months for me to get it. Though we have owned this property for the last three years, we couldn’t start anything because, if we were to build the mission center without this so-called building approval, then we have to pay 50 percent of the total cost of the land we bought.”
Fr. Samala said zoning was not the only issue they faced. Animals eating the landscaping and a nine-month wait for electricity also delayed the project.
Fr. Ingold said with those issues successfully resolved, he and his mother will return to India Jan. 16 for the dedication of the finished product featuring four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a conference hall, one kitchen and a housekeeper’s bedroom.
“As soon as we complete it, we are going to have a faith formation program for our own children – those who are mainly involved with the S FACE scholarship program,” Fr. Samala said.
Fr. Samala said he hopes the next step will be offering retreats, with the goal of building a small chapel. Long-term plans also include possible medical and dental programming as well as dormitories for students.
“We can’t do everything together,” Fr. Samala said. “It takes time. In India, everything takes time. And there are no machines; we work with hands and legs.”
S FACE student success
Since 2008, Fr. Samala said the program has graduated more than 250 children from college thanks to the sponsorships.
“We have some who are doctors, pilots, nurses, engineers and lots in tech school,” he said.
One student, who Fr. Samala said came from “great poverty,” was offered a high-level engineering position in Germany.
“When they offered it to him, he said ‘no,’” Fr. Samala said. “He told them that he was grateful, but he wanted to stay and work in India to help his own people.”
With the help of the Neenah parish, Fr. Samala said at least 300 students are expected to be served within the mission center’s first year.
To learn more about how you can help, visit sfacemission.org.