A Splash of Diamond:  Fr. Festo Mkenda’s Forthcoming New Book on the Jesuits in Ethiopia

Fr. Festo Mkenda, SJ

I’m sure that when you watch the video of my recent interview with Fr. Festo Mkenda, SJ, you’ll agree that his forthcoming book on the Jesuit presence in Ethiopia, A Splash of Diamond, will be a must-read for all – including former, present, and future students and teachers – who love and admire Tafari Makonnen School.  Fr. Festo, who is on the history faculty of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, devotes a chapter to His Imperial Majesty’s namesake secondary school, which remained for years the Jesuits’ most important ministry in Ethiopia.

Discussing A Splash of Diamond with Fr. Festo during our video interview evoked fond and vivid memories of my tremendously fulfilling three years on the faculty of Tafari Makonnen in the mid-1960s.  It seems only yesterday that Fr. Marcel Gareau invited me to his TMS office to share sage counsel on bringing ancient history to life for my ninth grade students.  And a fond memory of Fr. Paul Beaudry comes to mind.  He is sitting outside his tent with me and fellow TMS Peace Corps teachers Garber Davidson and Randy Sword – at the end of the day at our Boy Scout vacation camp at Lake Langano, glass of sherry in hand, reminiscing about past holiday camps.

Our readers might find interesting my thoughts on the French-Canadian Jesuits who served as TMS administrators and teachers and who are featured in Fr. Festo’s upcoming A Splash of Diamond.  The following is excerpted from my December 2012 post at this blog:

“…..It was easy to forget they were Roman Catholic priests since they wore normal business attire, were addressed as “Mr.”, and never discussed their Roman Catholic faith in the classroom at TMS.  But early in my three-year tour of duty at TMS, it was obvious to me that these were men of God on a single-minded mission:  to contribute future Ethiopian leaders to the country they so passionately loved who were not only superbly educated, but also imbued with a strong sense of public spiritedness.  Looking over my TMS files this morning in my study, I came across the June, 1967 issue of the Tafari Makonnen School Ensign.  In the opening pages, the TMS Director, Maurice Richer, one of the Jesuit Fathers, beautifully defines for the graduating seniors what being educated means:

Your intelligence may be in your hands and in your fingers; in your memories or in your imaginations; in your powers of abstraction or in your powers of  concentration; in your quick minds or in your logical powers of reasoning; in your hearts and intuition or in your sharp analysis of facts; in a scholarly life spent within the four walls of a library or in the active life with the boundless horizon as a limit.

You may have one or many of these traits; but if you don’t live and think for others and in terms of others, if you don’t use your gifts to make others happy, if you always set yourselves as the norms of all things, if you think that you have everything to give, but nothing to receive, to me you will never be able to claim that you are intelligent persons.

……In December 1974 – a time of upheaval in Ethiopia – a Christmas letter arrived at my then-home in Columbus, Ohio, from the last Jesuit Father left in the administration at TMS, Marcel Gareau, who had been an invaluable mentor to this fledgling history teacher in the 1960s.   It closes with this Christmas wish:

From a land where so much is changing nowadays, and where so much remains to be done, we ask that your prayers obtain for all concerned the selflessness we are taught in the birth of the Lord, without which we cannot achieve the peace and order we yearn for.

Sadly, that peace and order would be long in coming.”

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