Prairie du Chien priest helps establish Tanzanian hospital

Prairie du Chien priest helps establish Tanzanian hospital

Father Paul Fagan looked at the the Mass service attendees at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church in Prairie du Chien recently and saw not only old friends, but lifesavers. The congregation in the parish he grew up attending has helped him build both hope and a hospital in eastern Africa over the last 48 years.

“It started back in 1974 when I needed a tractor,” he said of his trips home each summer from Tanzania, where he’s used millions of dollars in charitable contributions to build the first medical facility in a community of nearly 200,000 people.

“Last year, we did 102 C-sections and saved so many lives of the babies and the mothers. I would say that’s the highest point of my life in doing work in the hospital.”

Fagan has set up a nonprofit, Roads to Life Tanzania Inc. , in which 98 percent of the money raised goes toward providing health care to an area in Tanzania where residents otherwise would have to drive more than an hour over bumpy and fractured roads to get medical help.

He realized at nearly 85 years old, he needed to plan for a time he might not be available to fundraise personally for the region any longer.

“People say to me, ‘You should slow down,’ but I kind of think I should speed up. I’m running out of time,” he said. “Some things you can retire from, but you can never retire from helping people and saving lives and souls. I just can’t do it.”

His new goals are to build an eye clinic, a dental clinic and a laundry.

“All of our laundry’s being done by hand,” he said. “Can you imagine?”

His efforts at the Songambele, which is Swahili for “move forward,” Health Facility have recently been chronicled by Ryan Skaife, a fellow Prairie du Chien native who grew up near Fagan’s family.

“What you see when Father Paul is in Tanzania is his ability to be able to communicate with anyone,” Skaife said. “In a place that has so much hope, he gives them even more hope.”

Fagan’s appeal throughout Wisconsin this summer and every summer is simple: Whether it’s a few dollars or a prayer, anything is welcome for the people he serves.

“There’s a lot of you, but only one of me,” Fagan said. “If a lot of people give a little, it’ll add up. It has already. I see miracles around me, all the time.”