An American (Priest) in Togo

The Church brings men and women holiness and addresses their basic needs

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Faith Priests

Fr. William Ryan is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington who, since 2006, has served as a missionary in Togo, a country the size of Maryland, in western Africa. Ryan’s love affair with Togo dates back to the early 1970s when, before he studied for the priesthood, he joined the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps sent him to Togo, and he’s been smitten with the country ever since.

I first met Fr. Ryan in 2022, when he came during the summer to my parish (St. James in Falls Church, Virginia) as part of his “begging tour.” Fr. Ryan makes it back to Washington for part of the summer and, while here, collects resources for his church.

I joined him last week at the home of Mary (Adam and Eve after the Pill) and Nick (Men without Work) Eberstadt in Washington. The Eberstadts have apparently been putting on a fundraising party for Fr. Ryan for years. This year was no different; the next day, October 9, Fr. Ryan flew back to Togo.

His parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe, is expanding. The Church in Togo is growing and Fr. Ryan’s parish itself will now divide into two. Fr. Ryan came with his vicar, a Togolese priest, Fr. Jonathan Togbe. Fr. Ryan is a priest in his 70s who walks with a cane but keeps at it; Fr. Jonathan is a young man, probably in his 30s. Together they testify to the solidarity that is the Church. To me, a parish where you have an older pastor and a young vicar is a sign of the beauty and vitality of the Church’s life, now and for her future.

One thing that has always impressed me about Fr. Ryan is the focus he puts on spirituality. Togo is a developing country where drilling a well for people to have clean drinking water is a big thing. Fr. Ryan gets wells drilled. But he also recognizes that the women who come with buckets to the well are looking for water that is more lasting, water that slakes thirst not for a day but an eternity, water that wells up to eternal life. When he speaks, Fr. Ryan emphasizes that the Church is not there to be an NGO with water, some of which is holy. The Church is there to bring men and women holiness and, since the “glory of God is man fully alive,” that also means addressing people’s basic needs.

The internet has changed the world, including contact with faraway missions. Fr. Ryan maintains a U.S. website (togomissionparish.org) that provides information about the work of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and provides an easy way for those who want to help to donate to their work. Why not check it out — and include them in your prayers?

Speaking of prayer, Fr. Ryan has been helpful to me in providing opportunities to have Mass celebrated for particular intentions. Readers know that, particularly as they are downsized, many parishes in the United States have few daily Masses and, thus, long waiting periods for those who want to request a Mass intention. Fr. Ryan and priests in surrounding parishes in Togo will happily celebrate Mass for your intentions and, in that way, you can help sustain their priestly work in this corner of western Africa. Again, use the contact and donate functions at togomissionparish.org to request your intention and send your stipend.

 

John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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