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Malawi priest comes to Milford

By MICHELLE DELANEY, Globe staff reporter

Sitting there bundled up in a collared shirt with a sweater overtop and a jacket on, Father Francis Makwinja is especially layered for what seems like a typical, if not oddly warm, fall day in Milford. Iowa’s chilly autumn weather is quite a shock for Father Francis considering his hometown is in Malawi, Africa.

“Finding myself here, it is very strange to see the sun shining while at the same time it is very cool,” said Father Francis.

Father Francis was born and raised in Africa in a devout Catholic family. This helped him make the decision that the seminary was the right path for him. He has been a priest for 14 years now.

The story explaining how he came to Milford is over two years in the making. Before coming to Milford to be St. Joseph’s pastor, Father Tom Flanagan spent 15 years in missionary work with the Opus Spiritus Sancta communities in Africa, India and the Philippines.

“I enjoyed my time working in the missions and when I came back to the diocese and could no longer be in the mission countries, I said to myself that I would help raise awareness for the missions no matter where I am,” said Father Tom.

Keeping his promise to himself in mind, Father Tom began the process of bringing Father Francis to Iowa. The course involved getting permission from Bishop Walker Nickless and the Diocese of Dedza in Africa. Father Francis also had to finish his current job and all of the paperwork had to be approved to obtain his Visa.

“Since the process took quite some time, I kind of eased into the idea of coming here. I was nervous only about the weather and how I would adapt to it, but I felt at home with the idea,” Father Francis.
Father Francis arrived in Milford on Nov. 4 and has been settling into his new parish and way of life.

Malawi is among the world’s least developed countries, and as Father Francis explained, the people are poor and life is quite simple. With Father Francis coming to work in Milford, he is able to allot a portion of his salary back to his diocese.

He will be in Milford for two and a half years and Father Francis is already hoping he can extend his stay for another two and a half years.

While in Malawi, Father Francis spent about eight years teaching in seminary school. He would have to travel every weekend to outstations. He noted the vast change in coming to a parish where everything is centrally located.

Since he has an extensive amount of experience teaching, Father Francis plans on teaching some religious education and helping with the adult faith formation.

“I hope that he will continue to broaden our perspective about the larger church, the missions, life in another country and how the church is in another country. Father Francis gives us an opportunity to learn about the larger world church,” Father Tom said.

At the moment, Father Francis has been settling into his new surroundings and the parish has been celebrating his arrival. On the weekend of Nov. 19, the Rosary/Altar Society had an official welcoming for Father Francis where the parish was encouraged to meet him.

In addition, St. Joseph’s took up a second collection to send back to Malawi as a financial gift to the Diocese of Dedza and to show the parish’s gratitude for sending Father Francis to them.

“I received a very warm welcome, this helped me to adapt easily,” said Father Francis.

He is very eager to start learning about the parish and seeing where he can help and bring in his skills and expertise. Father Tom and Father Francis will both be presiding over masses and daily parish functions.

As one can imagine, life in Iowa is immensely different from life in Africa. While Father Francis noted that he misses seeing children, women and even some men dancing during the liturgy, he is enthusiastic to start his work here in the United States and bring a different perspective to St. Joseph Parish.

“I think, with Father Francis here, the parish will gain a greater understanding of the church, the world and our responsibility as Catholic Christians to support the bigger church,” said Father Tom.

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