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Out of the Ordinary: A Sabbatical Year in Tanzania

Shannon Hunt, C'19
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts

In his detailed blog, Rev. James Donohue, C.R., has been able to keep the Mount community close to his heart during his sabbatical year in Tanzania.  

donohue.pngTenured Mount faculty members are eligible to apply for a sabbatical once every seven years, and awards are competitive.  Although Donohue is a well-published scholar, until this year he has only had one sabbatical in 23 years of serving the Mount, a fact that illustrates his deep, unwavering, and exhaustive commitment to the university. 

Because sabbaticals release faculty members from teaching for one or two semesters, they provide an opportunity for professors to undertake an extended research or service project. Ideally, participants experience a paradigm shift in their thinking and grow physically, spiritually and mentally. During his sabbatical, Donohue is working on a book with Associate Provost David McCarthy, Ph.D., titled A Vision of Marriage. Drawing on Donohue’s extensive scholarly expertise in sacramental theology as well as his equally broad teaching, sacramental and ministerial experience, this text is designed to appeal to college students as well as lay people wishing to delve into the joys and challenges of courtship, marriage and married life within the context of religious faith and practice.   

In addition to working on the book, Donohue is serving as rector of The Resurrection Formation House in Morogoro, Tanzania. It is home to professed priesthood candidates, students and seminarians, all seeking to do the work of the Lord. Donohue feels blessed to take his sabbatical in Tanzania.  He sees the “tremendous needs on the part of the Tanzanian people, both physical and spiritual” and appreciates the positive involvement of the Catholic Church in providing basic necessities of physical and spiritual life: education, health care, social work and leadership training.  This positive relationship between Tanzanians and the Church has resulted in a high number of vocations.

The young men and women of Tanzania have a strong desire to serve their people. Donohue shares this desire as rector and yearns to export the Mount’s goodness, even in the face of hardship.  Although he and those he works with are aiming toward the same goal of bettering the physical and spiritual life of Tanzania, there have been some bumps during his journey. Communication is a basic aspect of life, but it has been a recurring issue, because Fr. Donohue is not fluent in Swahili. Yet he does not allow the barrier of language to stop him from fulfilling his duties and overcoming difficulties, because he is determined to improve. He has learned the basic greetings of the Tanzanian people and can preside at the Eucharist using Swahili now. And just this week, he was able to make a transaction at the post office without using any English. This fulfills a core purpose of taking a sabbatical—throwing oneself into something out of the ordinary.

While Donohue has experienced a big cultural shock, he believes the experience has done him much good. “Spiritually, it has been a joy to pray with our Resurrectionist seminarians and the local religious women and men each day,” he said. This fruitful prayer has pulled him closer to the poor and his own heart. The extra time that he has on his hands in Tanzania has allowed him to make needed changes in his life and find additional opportunities to help others. One way is to teach English to several people in Morogoro, an opportunity that has allowed both Donohue and his students to peek into each other’s worlds.  Another way is to support the local football club of 30 young men who come from the local village of Tungi. Adapting to the simple-living culture of Tanzania also has encouraged Donohue to reflect upon how he might live differently when he returns to the Mount in the fall of 2020.

Walking has become a new pastime as he walks on average eight miles a day. In addition to helping him lose over 50 pounds, walking has pushed him to reflect and understand that acceptance and adaptation are general life skills.  He was able to make these positive changes, he said, with the “support and help of so many.”  

“For this support and help,” he added, “I will always be indebted.”

Read more about Donohue's sabbatical on his blog.

Shannon Hunt, C'19
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts