In Memoriam: Ato Feleke

Several days ago, we heard some sad news. A beloved member of our Ethiopian staff, Ato Feleke, passed away suddenly.

Several days ago, we heard some sad news. A beloved member of our Ethiopian staff, Ato Feleke Shibikom, passed away suddenly. He was 66 years old.

Ato Feleke was no ordinary man. (“Ato” means “mister” in Amharic, and that’s what everyone called him.) An aura of gentleness and confidence always surrounded him.

Trained as a teacher, Ato Feleke was a school principal in Addis Ababa before he joined our staff. He performed a unique task. CNEWA supports thousands of schoolchildren in their studies, and Ato Feleke monitored the Catholic schools in Ethiopia with which we work.

He visited schools, checked on the children and their academic progress. Just as importantly, he spent a lot of time with teachers. Ato Feleke organized many training seminars to ensure that our teachers upheld the high academic standards for which Ethiopia’s Catholic schools are renowned.

Ethiopia is twice the size of Texas. Our 51 Catholic schools are spread far and wide. The trip from Addis Ababa can sometimes take a whole day. But ever the good steward of our benefactors’ generosity, Ato Felleke worried about the cost of using the CNEWA car. Public transportation was slower — but also cheaper. He often chose public transportation. That is the kind of person Ato Feleke was.

Imagine the hours he spent in crowded old buses with his small suitcase! And the countless times that, reaching his destination, he shook the dust from his clothes and walked off toward a school. The children, catching sight of him in the distance, would come running and shouting his name.

I visited dark classrooms with him, classrooms with too many students and battered old desks. I saw him engage the children in songs and quiz them on their knowledge. Ato Feleke was a gentleman who always carried with him a welcoming smile and immense patience. He will be missed by all.

The journey to heaven must have been a good deal easier than his many trips in Ethiopia. I can see it now: Ato Feleke stepping off the bus. Dusting off his clothes. Smiling at St. Peter and saying, “I’m sure you have Catholic schools here … let’s get to work!”

Generous benefactors have pledged gifts in Ato Feleke’s name for Catholic education in Ethiopia.

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