St. Augustine of Canterbury Church, Leeds Centenary Book.1905-2005


In the summer of 1998 Fr. Gerry Thornton (curate) and three parishioners Maggie McDaid and Tony and Anne Darbyshire visited Fr. Michael Joseph Kelly in his Parish of St Thomas More in Itaka, Tanzania. On their return they reported back to the parish about the poverty they had seen and the necessity of funding to provide for very basic health care and education. The parishioners of St Augustine’s response was to twin with this parish in Tanzania and pledge to raise £20,000 over the following two years. A Tanzanian fund raising group was formed and with lots of enthusiasm and imagination, Maggie was able in July 2000 to send a cheque for the amount pledged which covered the cost of all the desks and furniture in the new St Thomas More Primary School.

That same month, two more parishioners Maureen Leahy and Margaret Reynolds set out for Itaka where they were given a warm welcome and witnessed how thankful the people were for the financial support they received from their twin parish in Leeds. A further £20,000 was pledged and raised over the next two years.

St Thomas More Parish, Itaka, is in the Diocese of Mbeya in Tanzania, East Africa. Itaka is a village that is a 920km drive, going west from the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, which is on the east coast. The Parish Priest of St Thomas More’s is Fr. Michael Joseph Kelly. He was born and grew up in Leeds and attended St Augustine’s Primary School before moving on to St Michael’s College. On leaving school he followed a calling to the religious life and subsequently was ordained a priest with the “White Fathers”. He also qualified as an architect, a skill that he has put to good use in Tanzania. During the latter part of the 20th century, when there were enough Tanzanian priests to manage the parishes, the “White Fathers” left and Fr. Michael was given permission to become a Diocesan Priest in the Mbeya Diocese. In 1991, his bishop sent him to Itaka to start a parish there.

At that time Itaka was a very small remote village on a hill and Fr. Michael was given a hill opposite the village on the other side of the river, where he subsequently built a Church, a Parish House, a Kindergarten, a Home Crafts school (which has now been converted into a pre-form one where students can concentrate on improving their English and Mathematics before moving up to the secondary school), a primary school and he is now building a Technical Secondary School with vocational training. It is only partly built and the forty pupils who were admitted last year have become form two and these have been joined this year with eighty-four pupils who make up form one.

Ten kilometres away in Bara, Fr. Michael built an agricultural school and dispensary. He believes health care and education are of primary importance in enabling the people to improve their standard of living by learning to do things for themselves. He has drawn up plans to build many more health and education centres throughout the Diocese of Mbeya, but these are dependent on securing adequate funding.

Left: Fr. Michael J. Kelly with the doctor and his wife at Bara Health Centre.

Right: Maggie McDaid and Susannah raising funds at the back of church.