All in the family

Abandoned children are achieving their dreams, thanks to supporters in Kansas


by Joyce A. Mitchell

LEAWOOD — Good fathers try never to forget their children’s birthdays, so it is not surprising that on Aug. 15, Father Gilbert Aranha phoned halfway across the world — from Leawood to Mysore, India — to wish Manju a happy 21st birthday.

Manju entered his life as an 11-month old in 1988, when her widowed Hindu mother came to the newly ordained priest, accompanied by Manju and three more children, all under the age of 5.

“Help me,” he remembers her pleading. “If you do not, I must take them to the lake and drown them and myself.”

Father Aranha placed the older two children in private homes for about three years, then found orphanages to care for them. He helped the desperate widow with money to care for her younger children until he could also find places for them.

Thanks to benefactors in Kansas, Manju and her siblings would become the first residents of the James P. Keleher House of Love or Prema Nilaya, which opened in 2003. One year later, Prema Nilaya purchased a house and, in 2007, rented a second house, to care for 23 children who are orphaned or abandoned.

“Most of my friends who help with the House of Love are from here in Kansas,” Father Aranha said.

Manju, now 21, is the eldest in the photographs that Father Aranha displays. She is in her final year of nursing school, he explained, and will soon be on her own.

Without Prema Nilaya, becoming educated would have been only a dream for Manju.

“These children who are orphaned and abandoned have lost a lot in their life,” he said. A five-year-old boy is just learning to speak because his single mother locked him up for hours during the day while she went to work.

“A four-year-old girl has heart problems that were beyond her family’s means,” he said.

Despite the tragedy of their personal stories, however, the children do not look at all like poor orphans, said one benefactor.

Father Aranha agreed. Thanks to donors like those at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood, he said, his orphans are living a middle-class Indian life. They have nutritious meals, computers and Internet access, and they attend private English-language schools.

“Instruction in English opens up the whole world to them,” said Father Aranha. “Only the middle class and rich people can afford to send their children to English schools.”

Additional instructors teach classical Indian dance and music, Western music and guitar, and art.

“It is expensive to send them to college, to nursing school,” he said. “I wish I could take more children, but I am not able because I have no funds.”

This spring, Prema Nilaya celebrated its fifth anniversary. Father Aranha hesitates to call himself the orphanage’s founder, preferring to refer, instead, to the House of Love as his family. It has certainly become a family affair: His own brother and sister are among the teachers.

Often the children’s mothers are poor widows who work in the homes of wealthy families and cannot keep the children with them.

Some of the staff at the home are the very women who first brought their children there because they could not care for them.

The home is named for the archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, who established an account for Father Aranha’s cause. He originally met the archbishop in Rome while pursuing a doctorate. At the time, Father Aranha had 11 children back in India, scattered between homes, schools and orphanages.

After his doctoral studies in 2002, Father Aranha was sent to the Kansas City archdiocese to help at the tribunal office and to serve as associate pastor at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe. Archbishop Keleher, now retired, invited him to a celebration and asked Father Aranha to tell the group about his work.

Father Aranha arrived in Leawood on July 5 to preach a weeklong mission at Curé of Ars. He also assisted at Church of the Nativity in Leawood and at the archdiocesan tribunal office until returning to India on Aug. 25, where his parish of 150 families is struggling to complete its half built church. Construction costs have skyrocketed some 300 percent, causing the parish — comprised primarily of poor families earning a couple of dollars a day — to halt the work.

Donations for the children’s home may be made to the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas (memo: JPK House of Love) and mailed to: Most Rev. James P. Keleher, Archbishop Emeritus, 12615 Parallel Pkwy., Kansas City KS 66109.

Leave a Reply