Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Beatrice Garubanda

By The Rev. Blair Pogue

 

"She was a Christian every single day. To me, she was a saint," said Michelle Chiezah.
 
This coming Sunday, September 25 at the 10:30am service, the people of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in St. Paul will celebrate the installation of a portrait of one of their own saints, Beatrice Garubanda.
 
Beatrice was born in Kazo Town, in Southwestern Uganda. She was a lifelong follower of the way of Jesus, an educator, and a visionary.  Friend and fellow St. Matthew's congregant Michelle Chiezah described her this way: "When I think about Beatrice, I think about a person without borders or boundaries.  She reached out to humanity, regardless of who you were."
 
Beatrice leaves behind a powerful and lasting legacy.  God clearly worked through her in many different ways.  Beatrice passed away in 2005, but "her efforts are still alive.  She still lives on, and is still changing lives through the Blue House," said Chiezah.
 
Beatrice was known for her passionate prayers, her hospitality, warmth, and friendship. She is responsible for helping St. Matthew's become a neighborhood church with a global community. She invited Christian friends and neighbors from around the world to worship at St. Matthew's, and regularly brought a van full of children to church. Said Chiezah, "she connected people across continents and oceans."
 
The Blue House, an orphanage in Kazo Town for young girls whose parents have died of HIV-AIDS, was her brainchild and dream. The idea for this home developed during one of her visits home to Uganda. For the first time, she saw young children who were homeless and living on the streets. Formerly local families would have taken these children in, but the havoc wreaked by the HIV-AIDS epidemic had overwhelmed them.
 
Beatrice dreamed of a home that would not only provide shelter, but a hopeful future for the orphaned girls. She and her husband James purchased land for the Blue House and began providing housing, clothing and meals for a handful of girls. She reached out to the people of St. Matthew's who began to raise funds to help Beatrice support this important ministry.
 
When Beatrice died suddenly in 2005, a group of St. Matthew's parishioners and friends of Beatrice, led by the Holy Spirit, vowed to expand upon the work Beatrice had done and make her dream a reality. With the leadership of many parishioners over the last twelve years including Duke Addicks, Birdie Carter, Marilyn Grantham, James Garubanda, Esther Garubanda, and Pat Owen, friends of Beatrice like Carol and Jerry Roeller, Dr. John Wathum-Ocama and Karen Lilley, and members of the Ugandan Board and community, the Blue House was built and expanded. Under the leadership of Aine Abel, Director of the Blue House, it has become more self-sustaining as the young women learn skills and trades, and those with academic gifts go on to higher education.
 
Beatrice also started a twice-weekly tutoring program for African immigrant children at St. Matthew's, with the help of many St. Matthew's parishioners including Rosa Uy and her husband Warren Poole, who provide dinner for the children.
 
Her portrait was painted by Leslie Barlow, a recent graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and a student of St. Matthew's parishioner Howard Quednau. Leslie is a gifted artist and St. Matthew's is blessed to have one of her portraits. At 9:15am in the Parish Hall, I will be interviewing Leslie about her work as an artist, Beatrice's portrait, and how her identity as a bi-racial woman has influenced her life and art. We will bless Beatrice's portrait at the 10:30am service, which will include music from the Anglican Church in Uganda and sung prayers Beatrice brought back from Uganda and gave to Music Director J Michael Compton. The service will be followed by a reception in the Parish Hall featuring Ugandan foods. We hope you can join us!
 
Special thanks to Arnold Carlson, Mary Ann Evander, and the Art Ministry for their support of this project and leadership in identifying a gifted artist to do Beatrice's portrait. Thanks also to those who worked behind the scenes to get this portrait framed and mounted, and to prepare the church for it: Mike Bartch, Arnold Carlson, Keith Ringold, Bob Evander, and Ed Lotterman. Finally, many thanks to those of you who gave financial donations to help us purchase this portrait! We are still accepting donations to cover the cost of this portrait and its installation, if you would like to contribute, please contact Blair Pogue at rector@stmatthewsmn.org.
 
"That light in her eyes that sparkled so brightly, that was so unforgettable and memorable, that's exactly who she was," said Chiezah.