Date: June 28, 1963
Location: Seattle, WA
By: Larry Anderson
Newspaper: Catholic Northwest Progress
You might say the Turkana Desert in Kenya isn’t much like the Pacific Northwest. The temperature in March hits 130 – above 100 by 10:30 in the morning. It takes 22 hours for a truck to travel 170 miles, if you’re lucky, and possibly six days if there are breakdowns. The natives, until the missionaries arrived, ate nothing but goat milk mixed with camel’s blood. And for flying, it’s pretty rugged. The country is deceptively dangerous because it all looks the same from the air. And if you try one of the airstrips put in by the British during the Mau Mau uprising, it may have a 20-foot anthill in the middle.
But it’s not all bad. That’s what Jerry Fay and Bud Donovan from the Seattle area found when they were in Kenya earlier this year. The two Catholics saw the work of two St. Patrick’s Fathers and three nuns of the Medical Missionaries of Mary among more than 100,000 natives in 36,000 square miles. The missionaries have set up six missions and one of them – Lorogumu – have a school and dispensary. The priests and nuns, who have been in the Turkana Desert since 1961, are giving the natives food first. Then they give them medical attention and education. Then comes the work of the souls.
The food and medical attention is at the heart of the reason for Fay and Donovan’s help in Kenya. Fay is assistant chief pilot and Donovan is a pilot for Pacific Northern Airlines (PNA). They had become aware of the need for moving supplies faster in the Turkana. Long trips by truck, Jeep or car were taking too much time. A light plane seemed to be the answer.
The two pilots got other Catholics and non-Catholics interested and raised about $11,000 through the Seattle archdiocesan office of the Society for the Propagation of Faith to buy A Piper Super Cub for the missionaries in Kenya. At first they thought finding the money would be the toughest part. That was easy, compared to keeping track of the airplane once it had left the United States. The Navy – through Operation Handclasp – put the plane aboard an attack transport and it was due to dock in Naples February 16. Donovan, who lives in St. Philomena’s Parish in Des Moines, arrived in Naples in early February. He immediately learned that Naples is a big port and it was difficult to learn when and where the plane would be when it arrived.
Finally, Donovan ran across a Captain Dowd, who was captain of the port for the U.S. Navy and had served at the Sand Point Naval Air Station in Seattle. Captain Dowd gave Donovan these welcome words: “You go to Addis Ababa and we’ll take care of everything here.” Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, was to be the next stop for the plane. The Air Force would handle the Italy-to-Ethiopia lap. The attack transport carrying the Cub finally arrived in Naples March 3. She had been delayed by urgent Navy business. By this time Donovan had arrived in Addis Ababa and was checking facilities for assembling the plane so it could be flown to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.
Fay, who lives on Mercer Island in St. Monica’s Parish also had arrived in Africa and he and Donovan went to Nairobi to see what they could do about expediting things. They talked to the British Civil Air Board and the U.S. consulate. They also sent a telegram to Washington’s Senator Jackson. This latter action seemed to be a profitable one. And things began to move more rapidly.
“Matters we thought were going to be major problems turned out to be relatively very simple,” Fay said. “One example was maintenance. This one really had us worried. But we talked in the Wilkins Air Service in Nairobi and learned it was able to provide all the maintenance and parts that would be needed.”
“We also thought airstrips would have to be put in. But we found them already built in most areas. They had been put in by the British. This was a real break, even if it meant knocking down a few anthills.”
But there was still waiting. Donovan went to Nairobi in early March to make more rounds to try to learn the whereabouts of the Super Cub. Meanwhile, Fay went to Lorogumu – over a so-called road in a Volkswagen. It was a 170-mile trip and Fay and his driver – the Rev. Liam Doyle – were lucky to make and made it in seven hours. There Fay had his first look at the vast groups of mud-and-brush huts that reminded him of igloos. And the lean, dark-brown natives.
“We had no trouble traveling in the area so long as we had one of the priests with us,” Fay said. “But we wouldn’t have liked to try it without them. These Turkana natives are the most feared of any in Kenya. But the missionaries seem to get along without trouble.”
Fay stayed only three days in Lorogumu because of the supply of food and water. “The water situation is particularly bad,” the pilot said. “The water is got by boring holes in dry stream beds. It is a long process of filling gourds and then barrels and taking the water to the mission site. The water then is boiled and filtered so it can be used for drinking.”
The day Fay returned to Nairobi and rejoined Donovan, they received word that the plane would be in Addis Ababa March 16 – the next day. Fay had run out of time and had to return shortly after he got back to Nairobi. Donovan carried on – flying to Addis Ababa to go to work assembling the Super Cub. However, he had to wait until it arrived March 23.
“It arrived in a big crate on Saturday,” Donovan said. “I had to wait until Monday to get stared on it. But I had it together by Wednesday night. Thursday I took it up for the first time – and it felt good to be finally flying again.”
Donovan flew about 130 miles south of Addis Ababa to check on fuel facilities – which he found to be scarce.
“After I had made a landing in a deserted area near Lake Awassa, one of the plane’s tires rolled off,” Donovan said. “I walked nine miles before I found a radio station so I could report that I was all right. I then walked back, fixed the tire and flew back to Addis Ababa.”
Donovan later flew from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, about 700 miles. After straightening out customs problems, he flew to Kitale, the town nearest the mission territory in the Turkana Desert. By the latter part of April Donovan was flying supplies into the mission stations and giving the priests and nuns as much information on the plane as possible. He flew some 80 hours in three weeks. Both Fay and Donovan now are home. But the plane is being used for training Rev. Thomas Ryan, one of the St. Patrick’s Fathers. A Medical Missions of Mary nun, Sister Mary Michael Terese, has been training in the east and will go to Kenya soon. She visited Seattle last week.
Donovan and Fay saw much progress in the Turkana while they were there. New buildings for healing and teaching the natives were nearly completed. Greater food and medical supplies reached six missions. “We were convinced that air transportation is the only answer to the mission-supply problem in Africa,” both pilots said. “We can see where this small effort of ours proved this. And we hope we will be able to get this message across in this country to those who have a means to supply the air transportation.”
Fay and Donovan have set a splendid example themselves by contributing generously in money and time. Both took time from their work and families to make the trip to Africa – and paying their own expenses. During their travels they also visited Rome and talked with Cardinal Agaginian, prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The two pilots also attended and audience held by the late Pope John.