News and information from our partners

A call from around the world begins in Cottonwood

Contributed photo
(Above and top, right) Sister Mary Paule Tacke is shown with children in South Africa.

Contributed photo (Above and top, right) Sister Mary Paule Tacke is shown with children in South Africa.

By Theresa Henson

Monastery of St. Gertrude

Teachers are driven by a passion for their subjects and a calling to their students — even if those students are on the other side of the world. This is what happened for Joan Brown, an elementary school teacher from Chatteroy, Wash., when she began to feel drawn to serve in Mthatha, South Africa.

“It’s a mysterious, holy thing,” she said. “I didn’t want to go there but I heard a strong call that said, ‘yes, you are.’” Her husband Kevin encouraged her to keep listening.

Joan, then a mission elder at Colbert Presbyterian Church in Spokane, had been invited to go on the trip as part of a delegation to determine whether a church in Mthatha could form a partnership with the church in Spokane.

The church also supports Thembelihle Home, a foster group home for children who have suffered abuse or neglect, and a school run for these children was in need of volunteers. The school serves the students so that they don’t fall behind in their education. Many of these students “have huge gaps in their learning because of their family situations,” Joan explained.

In 2007, she took her first trip to Mthatha. She visited again in 2008, traveled there with Kevin and their two children in 2009, and returned with Kevin in 2011 as a way to celebrate their 25th anniversary. In 2014 she took a semester off from teaching in Washington to serve at Thembelihle and spent five weeks there in 2015. She took another trip in 2016 and she and Kevin are planning a trip for 2018.

Mthatha is a poor town in South Africa’s poorest province; it is a place known for crime and can be dangerous. Apartheid formally ended in South Africa in 1991, but the country is still struggling to be a democracy. Social services are sparse and inconsistent.

It was on her semester stay in 2014 that Brown met Sister Mary Paule Tacké, a founder of Thembelihle Home and its longtime director until her retirement in 2007. Since her arrival in South Africa in 1952, Sister Mary Paulé had been an advocate for the most vulnerable in Mthatha.

Early on, Sister Mary Paulé helped run a school for disabled children called Ikwezi Lokusa. Soon after, she also helped to start a home for women and their newborn infants who were sick or in need of care. This home would later develop into what is now Bethany Children’s Home. Seeing the need for a similar home for older children, Sister Mary Paulé helped establish Thembelihle Home, for children ages 6 to 16.

Sister Mary Paulé was also born and raised in Cottonwood.

Sister Mary Paule’s brother, Mark Tacke; her niece, Mary Lytle; Joan and Brenna Riggers (also volunteers to Mthatha); and Steve Tacke joined to form a 501(c)3 non-profit organization known as Sister Mary’s Children (SMC) that supports Sister Mary Paulé’s three biggest projects: Ikwezi Lokusa, Bethany Home, and Thembelihle Home. Joan Brown and Sue Tacke later joined them as members of the board.

A dinner dance fund-raiser will take place Friday, Nov. 10, 6 - 9 p.m., at Greencreek Community Hall. There will be live music, baked potato bar, beer and wine, and an auction. Tickets are available at or by calling 208-962-3902.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment


Information from the Free-Press and our advertisers (Want to add your business to this to this feed?)