Father Angelo D'Agostino, 1926-2006 was born on January 26, 1926 in Providence, Rhode Island and died at work in Nairobi, Kenya on November 20, 2006. Raised in the Mount Pleasant section of Providence, Angelo was educated at Holy Ghost School, LaSalle Academy, and St. Michael's College in Vermont. He received both an M.D. and Master's Degree in Surgery from Tufts University Medical School, and spent two years as a Captain and Chief of Urology in the United States Air Force. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1955 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1966.
“Father D'Ag,” as he was known among friends, practiced and taught psychiatry in Washington, D.C. during the 1970s and 1980s, before he was called by the Jesuit Order to Kenya--a country with more than one million children whose parents had died of AIDS. Many of the children, often HIV-positive themselves, were abandoned or left to roam through Kenya's big-city slums.
Father D'Ag encountered the needs of Kenya's children while serving on the board of governors for a large orphanage in 1991. When the orphanage began receiving scores of abandoned children who tested HIV-positive, Father D'Agostino suggested the establishment of a special facility for them. The board opposed the idea, so in 1992, he founded Nyumbani( “home” in Swahili) which shelters over 2,000 HIV-positive Kenyan children, from newborns to 23 year-olds. He also established similar programs in Sudan, Ethiopia, Zaire, and Tanzania.
His larger non-profit organization, also called Nyumbani, includes Lea Toto (Swahili for “to raise the child”), a community-based program founded in 1998 to provide outreach services to HIV-positive children and their families in the Nairobi area. Nyumbani also has the most advanced blood diagnostic laboratory in Kenya.
Fr. D'Ag's friends and orphanage supporters ran the political gamut, from former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), himself an adopting parent, to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). In remarks on Father D'Agostino entered into the Congressional Record, Leahy called the missionary priest, “a living saint.” Prior to his death in 2006, he had received three honorary doctorates and several prestigious humanitarian awards.
--David T. Shawrey
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