Johannesburg (South Africa). On 1 November 2022, Blessed Laura Vicuña Community of Ennerdal, Johannesburg, of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians of the Province of Our Lady of Peace (AFM), celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Center for the Development of Early Childhood (ECD) Sancta Maria of Fine Town, Johannesburg.

The ECD Sancta Maria Center in Fine Town was informally started in 1993 by the FMA missionaries who came to Ennerdale, of which Sr. Mary Hughes was the pioneer. Initially, the sisters worked in the spaces of the parish managed by Fr. Louis Blundel, which allowed them during the week to use the premises of a prefabricated multipurpose room and to dedicate them to a school for early childhood.

Then emerged the need to provide shelter, education, and nutrition for children whose mothers were looking for a job. In fact, in the informal settlement of Fine Town at that time there were no places dedicated to care, and mothers left their children with the neighbors to walk in search of work. The FMA thus opened the doors to a small number of children whom they hosted in a provisory shelter as a temporary measure.

In the long run, it was deemed unsuitable and the current Sancta Maria Early Learning Childhood was born. Training courses were subsequently established for staff members and was then recognized by the Department of Education.

The Center was officially founded in 1997 and registered with the Department of Social Development in 2005. Sr. Helen Hartnett was the first Director, who was succeeded by Sr. Margaret Sweetney, Sr. Giovanna Pesenti, and Sr. Maria Nguyen. Today it cares for 120 children from various South African provinces and southern countries, who live in the informal settlement. The children are cared for and receive education, food, and above all a healthy, loving, and dignified environment.

Over the course of 25 years, many children have now received an education and, an extension of the Center, is the Don Bosco Educational Projects, a project managed by the FMA and carried out with the Salesians of Don Bosco, for education and the development of needy young people in the area.

One of the collaborators, Gertrude Mazabuko, who worked with Sr. Mary Hughes since the beginning, was present at the celebrations on November 1st, which began with a procession to indicate the path taken in Mornese in 1872 by Mary Domenica Mazzarello and ten young women, in South Africa by 5 young Irish missionaries in 1961, in Ennerdale in 1993, and in Fine Town in 1997.

The Mass of thanksgiving was presided over by the parish priest, Fr. Marian Kulig, Salesian of Don Bosco, Director of Blessed Michael Rua Community of Ennerdale of the AFM Province of the same name, and concelebrated by Fr. Joseph Nguyen, SDB. In his homily, Fr. Marian asked the children: when do we say ‘thank you’ to God? Emihle, 6, replied that we say ‘thank you’ to God every day. Fr. Marian continued the homily by inviting the assembly to express gratitude to God, to the Salesian Sisters who lived and are living the mission in Fine Town, and to all the staff, benefactors, and those who collaborate in the management. After Mass, Fr. Marian blessed the Center.

Afterwards, the party could not be missing, full of joy and enthusiasm on the part of everyone. The President of Sancta Maria ECD Center, Mrs. Bianca Smith, welcomed Sr. Cecilia Motanya, Provincial of the Province of Our Lady of Peace (AFM); Fr. Marian Kulig and Fr. Joseph Nguyen SDB at Chester Brown, Provincial of the Salesian Cooperators (SSCC) of the Southern Region (Lesotho and South Africa);  Mr. Gilbert Swats, Vice-president of the Board of Directors of Don Bosco Educational Projects;  the SSCC Aspirants, Sr. Thao Phi, Daughter of Missionary Mary, FMM;  the representatives of parents;  staff, benefactors, friends, and all the children.

The Director of the School, Sr. Maria Nguyen, recalled the history of the Center and invited the participants to stop for a moment to remember and thank the Sisters, the benefactors who have passed away, and those who are still alive. All the FMA and the people who made it possible to reach this 25th anniversary were also remembered.

The Provincial then thanked the staff, parents, and sisters for all the work done, encouraging the Fine Town community to continue to ensure the development and care of the Center.

The children became protagonists with representations of what they learned during the year, dancing, reciting, singing … In particular, they joined the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the FMA Institute around the world with a dance, in which they expressed the joy of being part of the Salesian Family.

The celebration of the Silver Jubilee continues, with the opening to another 25 years and with the hope that the Salesian charism will continue to grow in South Africa from generation to generation.