By Dr. Tim Millea
For The Catholic Messenger
(Editor’s note: This article appeared in The Pulse of Catholic Medicine, a publication of the Catholic Medical Association. We print this slightly edited version with permission.)
In the fall of 2019, Father Fortunatus Rwehikiza, a Tanzanian priest visiting and studying in our Diocese of Davenport, contacted me. Father Fortunatus had been heavily involved in our St. Thomas Aquinas Guild of the Quad Cities activities during his four-year stay in Iowa. He asked to meet with me about an “urgent” matter. He shared the story of Edmund, a former student of his in Tanzania.
Before Father Fortunatus came to Iowa to do graduate-degree studies, he taught in a Catholic school in Tanzania. Edmund was one of his favorite students — intelligent, attentive and faithful. They spoke frequently about Edmund’s discernment, which ultimately led to Edmund entering the seminary.
Edmund spent about a year in seminary discerning the priesthood but determined his calling was to a vocation in medicine. He had done well in the sciences and had a strong interest in those subjects. He applied for and was accepted to a Catholic medical school in Mwanza, Tanzania. His greatest obstacle, however, was limited financial resources. According to Father Fortunatus, Edmund’s father suffered a stroke some time ago and remains disabled. When Father and I met, Edmund was two weeks away from his first day of medical school and had no money. The “urgent” matter was a humble request for any financial assistance Edmund could possibly receive from those more fortunate: us.
When we discovered that Edmund’s costs would only be $2,200 per year, it seemed possible that we could help. Having made no promises to Father Fortunatus, I immediately sent an email to about 20 guild members, not knowing what reaction to expect. The response was miraculous. Twelve hours after I sent the email, Edmund’s first semester tuition had been donated. Within the first 24 hours, we had the full year funded. After Edmund started classes and realized he needed $300 for a laptop, a brief email raised funds for that as well. Over a short time, donations came not just from guild members but also from other wonderful people, including some not involved in health care at all. The prompting that many felt to help Edmund was strong.
A young man with dreams of caring for his fellow Tanzanians in dire need, with a Catholic ethical and moral foundation, is now pursuing his dream. Our email exchanges with Edmund have assuaged any anxiety we had about sending the money. He is a most gracious and humble young man. My wife, Beth, and I pray that we will someday travel to Tanzania to meet him face to face.
When he learned of the funding, Edmund emailed words of gratitude to his new American friends: “I have to admit that I’m overjoyed and praising the Lord! I would like to express my sincere and heart-felt gratitude to you, Dr. Tim and your friends, for your great generosity, compassion and readiness to guide my way to medical school financially. I should admit that sometimes I felt to give up due to my financial problems but I had to remember that God is still in control. Your financial support is going to make my dream, passion and desire to serve the people of God as a doctor come true. Surely, I feel speechless, I see no words that can possibly express how much appreciation and thanks I have for you because even a simple ‘thank you’ is definitely not enough to tell you how much I appreciate your kind readiness to help me.
Besides, I’m greatly inspired by your careers that are bound with ethical and Godly values. I will never forget the goodness of your hearts, may you be blessed with all the graces you deserve.”
Edmund is now in the second semester of his first year of medical school, which has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools were closed just before his first semester exams were to be held, and the second semester started online. They returned to the classroom with precautions in early June and finally completed their first semester final exams. Despite the hardships and setbacks, Edmund remains a faithful and joyful soul, who regularly brightens our day with his optimistic and hopeful emails, photos and videos.
This experience has been humbling and inspiring for all of us. In this day of online scams and phone swindles, hesitancy to initiate a project like this is understandable. However, when a holy and humble priest and a faithful future physician are the focus, it quickly becomes clear that the Holy Spirit is at work. Everything since then has verified that for us.
As CMA members charged with “forming and supporting current and future physicians” who will be inspired to “imitate Jesus Christ,” this was a grace-filled opportunity to do just that. We see Edmund’s support through medical school as an example of “meeting people where they are.” In a developing country such as Tanzania with medical, secular and cultural challenges, we feel privileged to support a young man of great faith who will be a future physician fully capable of treating his patients physically and spiritually. That is what all of us should aspire to do, whenever God places opportunities to do his will before us.
(Dr. Millea is the president of the St. Thomas Aquinas Guild of the Quad Cities. He is also the Iowa state representative for The Catholic Medical Association and works on two different CMA committees.)