Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Returning Home

The last several weeks have been exceptionally difficult for me and my family. I received a phone call the evening of April 6, 2019 which started a series of events that will never be forgotten. My son-in-law called to inform me of the death of my 28-year-old daughter, Anna. 

It was a blessing that our Director of Lay Mission-Helpers Association, Janice England, was in Ghana visiting SAGISS, the High School at which my fellow missionary, Diane Yonga and I serve. Diane and Janice were of great support. Janice immediately started to schedule my travels back to Pennsylvania, while Diane’s arms were there to hold me as the tears flew.

Support from the entire Diocese of Damango was immeasurable. The very morning after the call, Bishop Peter Paul, and Head Mistress Pauline arrived at my home. Condolences were given and the rosary, one of the most cherished prayers of the Catholic Church, was recited. Later teachers arrived to give their condolences and sit with me in silence. The girls at SAGISS seemed a bit uncomfortable in showing their feelings, not knowing how to act, but those whom I associated with on a more personal level were very supportive. I felt the love of the entire school around me.

The first two weeks back in the United States was a blur. My sister, Barbara Spencer, stepped in even before my plane landed in Pittsburgh and started arrangements for the Memorial Service. The Mass, celebrated by Father John Sedlak at St. Florian Church, United, PA, was beautiful. My sister read letters from her two daughters, Anna’s cousins with whom she spent her entire childhood. The eulogy was given by me. I felt it important that those attending hear what a beautiful, creative, intelligent and talented woman my daughter had become. I also felt it important that everyone know how hard Anna fought, but lost, her battle with mental illness, a disease that can affect anyone, no matter how smart, talented or beautiful they may be. Anna’s suffering was unbearable, therefore I asked the congregation to pray with me that Anna be comforted in Mary’s arms while she waits to meet or Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

Many ask of me “Now what? Are you going back to Africa?” My response is a definite “Yes, I am going home.” In a few short months, St. Anne’s Girls High School in Damango, Ghana, has become my home. I miss the girls. I miss them running after me as I leave my office for the day asking to carry my purse and computer case. I miss attending Mass with them every Tuesday and Friday morning, watching as they sway, clap and sing to the beat of the drums. I miss the goats and pigs walking with me every morning as I trek to the office. I miss going to town and having the children run up to shake my hand, and the young boys wanting to carry my bags, never accepting the coins I try to give them for their assistance. I miss the smiles from the vendors when I buy their bread, apples, onions or garlic.

This Sunday, May 12, 2019, Mother’s Day, I leave for my trip back to St. Anne’s in Damango, Ghana, Africa.  I can’t wait to be HOME!


  1. While this has been a very difficult time for you Karen, I have cherished our time together. Your beautiful Anna will be remembered for the amazing young woman she truly was all of her life. She is at peace now and you can return to your new home knowing that she is with the Lord, our Jesus Christ. You will continue to make a difference in the lives of those you touch and they will make a difference in your life. May the Lord be with you.

  2. Dear Karen, Thank you for sharing this tribute to your daughter and for witnessing to Christian hope by the way you respond in faith to your daughter's passing. It sounds like Ghana has truly become your home. Safer travels!

  3. Hello Karen,
    I remember learning a little about Anna when we were together at the formation house last fall. I am so sorry to hear she has died. I can't imagine your heartbreak. I am grateful that Janice and Diane were with you when you received the news. I know there will be much grieving ahead, but may you also know peace and healing and hope.

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Coming Home

Although not mandated to leave, Lay Mission-Helpers (LMH) recommended that we missionaries return temporarily to the United States until...