St. John the Baptist Church

Former Vietnamese refugee returns to his Canadian “hometown”

 

By Ron Giofu

When Quyen Kam Phung fled Vietnam in the late 1970’s, he would eventually find his way to Canada.

While Toronto was his first official stop, Quyen would soon be sponsored by St. John the Baptist Church, the Basilian Fathers and Father Vincent Thompson and adopt Amherstburg as his first Canadian hometown.

Quyen was one of thousands of people that fled Vietnam after the Vietnam War, after South Vietnam was taken over by communist North Vietnam.

Quyen Kam Phung (bottom row, centre, holding 1979 Windsor Star newspaper article) returned to Amherstburg Dec. 2. Amherstburg was his first hometown in Canada after he fled Vietnam in the late 1970’s. He originally stayed at St. John the Baptist Church and revisited the church recently with his family and reconnected with the church community. Bottom row (from left): daughter Winnie Phung, wife Mary Phung, Quyen, Father Brian Jane, son-in-law James Hiu. Back row (from left): associate pastor Father Seejo John, Mary Ferguson, Bill Ferguson.

“The North came and took control and all of our lives changed,” he said.

Quyen explained that his father owned a painting machine but that was soon taken from him and Quyen went to a friend’s farm and became a beekeeper.

“Then I got a chance to escape,” he said, noting that he actually escaped Vietnam twice. He said his boat was designed for 170 people but actually had 300 on it.

After becoming what was known as one of the “boat people,” his second attempt at escaping saw him flee to Malaysia. His original choices to go were Australia or the United States but it was Canada he would end up in and he arrived 40 years ago. Many refugees didn’t want to go to Canada, believing it was too far and too cold.

As it turned out, Quyen is happy where he landed.

“I’m so lucky,” he said.

Quyen lived 11 months in the rectory of St. John the Baptist Church. He recalled his first job was at a farm even though he didn’t know how to use the farming tools. His first pay cheque was for $70 and he used some of that for medications he sent back to family in Vietnam.

Now a real estate area in the Scarborough area, Quyen said his first job saw him hitch hike back and forth to work.

“I didn’t need a car. I hitch hiked,” he said. “Every day, someone gave me a ride.”

Quyen Kam Phung looks out of the window of the room he stayed in when he lived at St. John the Baptist Church. He came to Canada from Vietnam in 1979.

Other jobs locally saw him work as a janitor as well as at Canadian Tire. He also befriended the Delisle family, whom he said now have moved to British Columbia.

Quyen, joined by members of his family, toured St. John the Baptist Church Sunday morning and he saw his old bedroom in the rectory. While he has been back in the 40 years he has been in Canada, it was his first visit to town since 1992.

“This is my hometown,” he said. “Amherstburg is my first hometown in Canada.”

Catholic Women’s League’s “High Tea” popular with local ladies

 

By Jonathan Martin

 

Columbus Community Hall was filled to the brim with tea, music and very fancy hats thanks to a recent sold out event.

The St. John the Baptist Catholic Women’s League’s (CWL) annual high tea was once again held at the hall, and, as in previous years, the event sold out.

According to CWL president Sharon Barron, all 150 tickets were gone “almost immediately.”

Bernice Deslippe listens to her friends chat at CWL’s high tea event. (Photo by Jonathan Martin)

“That (ticket number) is really all we can handle,” she said.  “We make all of the food ourselves.  We were here until late last night and were back early this morning preparing it.”

The menu featured a variety of sandwich types, scones, desserts and, of course, tea.  Between the wide assortment of refreshments and the incredible variety of hats, the afternoon was certainly one of heterogeneity.

While the women munched, sipped and chatted, Lauren Baillargeon and Allison Brown provided entertainment in the way of country fiddle, ukulele, mandolin, guitar and vocal tunes.

In addition to playing music, 13-year-old Baillargeon does a little bit of fund raising of her own.  Along with her mother, brother and sister, she has raised around $40 thousand in the fight against cancer.  She and her siblings have even earned themselves a nickname.  Together, they make up the Kids Curing Cancer (KCC).

“All of the money I’m making today will be going towards that,” she said. “The money they will be giving me tonight, the CD sales and the tips from the (instrument) case will all be going to it.”

By the end of the night, Baillargeon had added another $778 to KCC’s list of raised sums.

Carol Laing poses for a photo at the Columbus Community Hall. The Amherstburg Catholic Women’s League used the venue to host their annual high tea. (Photo by Jonathan Martin)

All the CWL’s proceeds were donated to Saint John the Baptist Parish and to local charities.  Its revenue came from ticket sales and purchases from an “accessories table,” where attendees could pick up wearable baubles, purses and the like.

“The generosity of our women is amazing,” said Barron.  “They’re very involved both within the church and in the larger community.  They have very big hearts.”

If the recent event was any indication, they also have very big hats.

Pasta dinner held for Hope of St. Joseph Shelter in the Congo

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A pasta dinner fundraiser was held in Amherstburg for a shelter in the Congo with the priest who runs it formerly being based at St. John the Baptist Church.

The shelter was started in 2006 by Father Donato Lwiyando, who the Amherstburg community recently bid farewell to as he is now back in the Congo. Despite Father Donato leaving Canada for his homeland, the social justice committee at St. John the Baptist Church is still moving forward in raising money and awareness of the African women’s shelter.

Mary Beneteau, a member of the social justice committee, said she regularly corresponds with Father Donato and he arrived back home safely.

Father Donato Lwiyando is back in the Congo but the social justice committee at St. John the Baptist Church is still raising money for his Hope of St. Joseph Shelter. They recently held a pasta dinner at the Columbus
Community Hall. (Special to the RTT)

“It’s a little more dangerous there than it was when he visited in the summer,” said Beneteau. “He has to be in before dark. It’s not safe to be outside after dark.”

However, Beneteau said “the girls are fine” and were thrilled to see Father Donato when he returned to Africa.

“He’s getting to know the kids. There are many new ones,” said Beneteau. “He’s happy to be there. He’s been spending time with the girls and his family.”

March is “Month of the Woman” in the Congo so Father Donato has gone shopping with them and purchased fabric for new clothing. He still stays in touch with people locally, including Beneteau, via Skype, Facetime and text message.

“I hear from him every two or three days, at least,” said Beneteau.

While he has built the shelter, Beneteau said Father Donato still dreams of building a school in the Congo. In the meantime, he will work at the shelter fixing beds and doors and trying to provide the girls with blankets and a television.

The St. John the Baptist Church social justice committee held a pasta dinner recently to help Father Donato’s shelter in the Congo. Starting front row left: Rose Shaw, Rose Beneteau, Harry Beneteau. Back row (from left): Larry Allen, Mary Beneteau, Marc Beneteau, Susan Monaghan, Christina D’Aloisio, Ralph Orsi.

Beneteau added electricity is “irregular” in the Congo as it is only available to citizens a few hours per day. A calendar sold through St. John the Baptist Church has provided for solar panels, which helps give the shelter even more access to electricity.

Father Donato sends his love and best wishes to the Amherstburg community, Beneteau added, as he enjoyed his time in the community.

Anyone wanting to purchase a 2018 calendar can call Beneteau at 519-736-6263. The cost is $10.

To donate to the shelter or to sponsor a girl, people can make an e-transfer from their financial institution to stjoseph@hopeislife.ca or mail or drop off a cheque payable to Hope of St. Joseph Shelter, 273 Fryer St., Amherstburg, ON, N9V 3G7.

For more information, visit www.hopeislife.ca.

Community bids farewell to Father Donato

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A beloved local priest is heading home to Africa but is leaving with positive memories of his time in the area.

Father Donato Lwiyando has left for his homeland of the Congo with his last day in Canada being Tuesday. Father Donato spent six years in Canada with stops at churches in Windsor and London before coming to St. John the Baptist Church in Amherstburg as associate pastor. His most recent church was Good Shepherd Church in Lakeshore. He also spent time assisting those of African origin in the area.

Upon his return to the Congo, Father Donato will look after the Hope of St. Joseph Shelter he founded.

“I have the shelter and I need to take care of it,” said Father Donato. “We have 40 girls living there in the shelter. I think it’s a good time for me to go and take care of those girls.”

ather Donato Lwiyando visits with parishioners from St. Jerome Church from Windsor during a farewell party March 4 at the Columbus Community Hall. He leaves March 6 to move back to the Congo.

Women and children both live in the shelter, with the shelter being a safe haven for the women who have suffered rape and abuse.

Father Donato said he has enjoyed his time in Canada and made many friends during his time in Amherstburg but it was time to go back to Africa. He said he started thinking about returning in February 2017 and made his decision in January 2018.

“I love the community of Amherstburg. I love it very much,” he said. “I had to choose between friends who are OK and friends who are suffering. I chose those who are suffering.”

Father Donato will also be a parish priest and also hopes to return to teaching in the seminary in the Congo. He will also try and help provide medical treatments to those in his homeland.

“When I went home to the Congo, I found people dying of sicknesses that could have been healed,” he said.

Father Donato’s time in Canada also saw him assist with the Spanish-speaking population near Sarnia. He would visit at least twice per month. He was also involved with other groups that helped spread love and peace in the area.

“I will miss the people. I really love the people of Amherstburg,” he said. “They were very, very kind. I will miss their smiles.”

Father Donato hugs a St. John the Baptist Church parishioner (right) during his farewell party at the Columbus Community Hall.

Adding he will always remember how he was welcomed to the area, Father Donato stated that he will always remember Amherstburg’s generosity.

“The people of Amherstburg are really, really generous,” he said. “I will miss that. I have very, very good memories of this community. I felt very loved, very welcomed. I will never forget them.”

Father Donato also spoke highly of St. John the Baptist Church priest Father Brian Jane.

“He has been very friendly, very supportive and very human,” Father Donato stated. “May God bless him.”

While Father Donato has gone home, fundraising for the Hope of St. Joseph Shelter continues. A pasta and salad dinner will be held at the Columbus Community Hall March 18 starting at 4:30 p.m. The cost is $10 and all proceeds will go to the shelter.

From humble beginnings, seamstress continues to help others

 

 

By Jolene Perron

 

“My life mission is for the love and helping of all people.”

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and raised in Windsor, self-motivated Pamela Murray has had a unique background.

In her younger years, Murray explained she was always involved in dance, and had a love and a passion for entertaining. She loved finding new talent to showcase. She was fresh out of Bruno’s School of Hair Design in Toronto and had just moved back to Windsor when an automobile accident changed her life forever.

“In June 1989, my life changed forever with a horrific car accident resulting in me now being a right leg amputee,” explained Murray. “My desire to do hair professionally and all the hours of hard work was over, but I remembered my love of sewing.”

Since she was a child, Murray had loved to sew. With the help of a friend from school, she started a business plan and learned how to use a computer. She said that was the beginning of her business, Rastafari Dynesty Designs By Dorcus.

“I had very little skills and I opened my first shop on Wyandotte Street in Windsor in 1995,” said Murray. “My first fashion show was in the parking lot of St. John Church, very humble beginning. My shows were very unique and for all ages. We showcased African clothes with live drumming, models and dancing. We did shows in Michigan and as far as Toronto. My love of people and seeing pure joy wanted me to go further. I had a calling.”

Pamela Murray stands with her most recent project, a car seat from a classic car, which she has completely reupholstered from fabric seats to vinyl.

Murray explained she wanted to join the masses and make a difference. She gave up her Canadian rights, packed her bags and travelled to rural areas of third world countries. This is where Murray explained she “met some of the greatest people.”

“These people are hidden and even forgotten about,” said Murray. “I would teach the children basic life skills, help with homework and ethics for work. Things that we don’t even think about, and often taken for granted, like being able to read and write. I would then take the same people young and old and train them. Who wanted to be drummers, who wanted to dance and who wanted to be models, I trained them all. I was teaching them to operate sewing machines. These students were starving to learn and their teacher was ready.”

Murray explained she visited many places by invitation and was always well received. She said everyone she met loved Canada and dreamed of seeing how great our country is. Some of her greatest memories were in Jamaica where she was involved in many shows and her designs were worn by a number of professionals and artists from their music industry.

“They loved me and my endless hours at the sewing machine making and designing school uniforms,” explained Murray. “They would call me a factory because I would work late into the night sewing. Everything that was earned was given back to the community.”

Her most memorable moment was her show, “Santa Claus Comes to the Ghetto,” where, through sponsorships, she was able to provide music, food, drinks and even Santa. The children at the show had never seen Santa Claus. Murray designed the suit and all of the elf clothes, and even had gifts purchased by the sponsors.
“I would do these shows for fund raising for community development,” said Murray. “I raised funds to build school washroom to homes for the elderly.”

Murray adopted five children after their mother died. She put them through school, and raised them to be adults, some of them even have children of their own. Murray said leaving them was the hardest part about returning home, but she had always dreamed about returning. When she came home with just one single suitcase, she didn’t intend on staying.

“I’ve been doing so much for others that I had forgotten about myself,” said Murray.

“I felt instant comfort and the people are so warm and friendly and always willing to offer assistance. I came with one suitcase and now I am living like a Queen because of all the kindness and generosity with the people of Amherstburg and St John (the Baptist) Church.”

Murray lives to serve her current community now, doing clothing alterations, making drapery, pillows and interiors all out of her King St. home. She said there’s nothing she can’t do, and encourages anyone to call her at 519-713-9051 for anything they may need. Since she’s been home, she made friends with Jennifer and Brent Sousie who she said helped to direct her to a whole new level of sewing. Murray even does car seat upholstery, she said she has her friends to thank for it.

“Whether I am in my wheelchair or on my crutches I will work very hard for the people of Amherstburg. I also offer to teach sewing in a group environment,” said Murray. “I have a common sense approach to sewing and I can show how easy sewing can be and I want to share my very special gift.”