To Liberia, with love: Community pitches in to help war-torn country

Pictured, from left, are Ron Schilling and Jim Notter of Superior Express in Waterloo with Sister Raphael Ann Drone and Mayor Tom Smith. Recently, 14 barrels were packed with books for the long trip to Africa. Schilling and his crew loaded the books and sent them to St. Louis, where they will go by ship to Liberia after arriving in New Jersey.

The African nation of Liberia is forever linked to this area through tragedy, but one local nun is making more positive memories there with assistance from the community.

Last week, 14 barrels of used textbooks and other teaching materials were packed at the old Waterloo fire station on Main Street and loaded on a Superior Express truck for shipment to St. Louis, then to the east coast before being sent by boat to Liberia.

Sister Raphael Ann Drone has been collecting books to send to Liberia since last summer. Many books disappeared from the Liberian schools during years of warfare.

“I began collecting unused textbooks and teaching materials from schools in this area, mostly for primary and elementary level, but some schools sent middle school and high school books as well,” Sister Raphael said. “Also, there is a smattering of college level books and quite a number of library books included.”

Helping the war-torn Africanย  country is nothing new to Sister Raphael or her religious community.
In 1970, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ — Catholic sisters who operate out of the Ruma Convent — were asked to help serve the people of Liberia through education and health care.

Sister Raphael served in several Liberian schools from 1971 to 1988, and intended to return following a two-year break.
But in 1989, a civil war broke out, and in 1992, five Sisters from the Ruma Convent were killed. Two of them, Sisters Joel and Shirley, both from the Kolmer family in Waterloo, were among those murdered.

“Another, Sister Kathleen McGuire, was my first cousin,” Sister Raphael said of that sad time.

The Adorers of the Blood of Christ did not return to Liberia until 2009, when three nuns — including Sister Raphael — went back for a short visit to consider whether and how they might still be of service to the people.

Sister Raphael returned in 2010 as a lay missionary with the Society of African Missions, completing a two-year stint working in education with both youth and adults.

In January 2014, Sister Raphael was in Liberia again as she planned to serve another two-year stint. But the Ebola virus took hold of the country and forced her back to the U.S. after only six months.

“And though I spent months in New Jersey to assist in the gathering of funds and protective/health materials to send to the Liberian people, my return to Waterloo last June left me, I thought, with a few more months to fulfill my contract of service,” she said.

So, Sister Raphael thought of the idea to collect used books to aid in education in the country she feels so deeply about.

Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic School in Waterloo donated books, materials and finances for her project, and Immaculate Conception School in Columbia assisted with dictionaries, Bibles and other books. The Prairie du Rocher School, with the help of Waterloo resident Judi Horrell, offered dozens of boxes of books.

Sister Raphael contacted Father Gareth Jenkins, her former pastor at St. Dominic Parish in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, Liberia, who is “more than delighted” to receive these books.

“Since he and the other pastors in the area have connections with 80-some smaller schools of all religious denominations in outlying villages and towns, there will be no problem finding enough use for the books and materials,” she said.

Barrels were used to store the books rather than boxes, Sister Raphael explains, because the barrels can be reused for collecting water in Liberia.

The total cost of this project is about $4,200, she said, with $2,000 collected. Sister Raphael thanked Ss. Peter & Paul Parish and School, the Knights of Columbus, friends, community, and family for the financial help. Additional assistance is also appreciated.

“I would also like to acknowledge the generosity of Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith for allowing use of the old fire station, Kenny Kern and Joe Trankle of Superior Express for trucking the barrels from St. Louis, Ron Schilling and company for gracious support and transport services to St. Louis and on to a warehouse in New Jersey,” she said. “I understand that the ship will leave in early-mid March.”

There are no Sisters serving in Liberia now, but their presence is eternal.

“When we were there in 2009, one man told us that we would always belong there because our Sisters’ blood was in their ground and we couldn’t take that back, he said,” Sister Raphael said. “Liberia will always be our home. It does feel that way.โ€

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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