Fr. Angelo D’Agostino, S.J., M.D.
Born into a large Italian family and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, Fr. Angelo D'Agostino was not only the American priest who founded Nyumbani, but also an Air Force veteran, a medical doctor and surgeon, and a licensed psychiatrist. He received his undergraduate degree in chemistry and philosophy from St. Michael's College in 1945 and his medical degree from Tufts University in 1949. He also received a master of science degree in surgery from Tufts in 1953.
Known to friends and family as "DAG," Angelo served in the Air Force from 1953 to 1955 as chief of urology at Bolling Air Force Base. After attending a retreat with the Knights of Columbus, he decided to enter the priesthood in 1954, although the Jesuits at Georgetown University asked him to take a year before making a final decision. According to his brother Joe, "the Jesuits couldn't use a urologist or kidney stone specialist, so they told him to go into psychiatry."
After a psychiatry residency at Georgetown from 1959-1965 and further work at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, DAG became one of the first American Jesuits to be trained as a psychiatrist. While in the nation's capital, he set up the Center for Religion and Psychiatry, and taught at the Washington Theological Union.
He was ordained in 1966 and thus began the next chapter of his remarkable life.
In his own words:
"I visited mainland China in 1978, with a group of medical men, where there were rumors that the Society might be invited to reopen the Medical School in Shanghai. Thus, I volunteered for such a post. After a year, I received word from the Provincial that Fr. Pedro Arrupe, who was Superior General of the Society of Jesus at the time, was calling for volunteers to work in Thailand with Indochinese refugees. The Provincial then asked that I consider this assignment. I suspended the practice and teaching obligations in Washington, D.C. for one year and I set off for Thailand as a director of a medical facility at a refugee camp there.
After one year when I was about to return to the United States, Fr. Arrupe chanced to come through Bangkok and spent a couple of days with us. I shall never forget his August 6th homily on the anniversary of the Hiroshima atom bomb drop. After Mass, he had dinner with us and revealed that he was considering starting the Jesuit Refugee Service in Africa and asked if I would consider coordinating that effort. I responded by saying that my leave and professional obligations ran for one year and that I was obliged to return. But he suggested that it would be only for a few months. Well, it was a few years later, when the Refugee Service was well developed and in good hands, that I moved on to other fields. The two years spent as Coordinator of the Jesuit Refugee Service were frantic, challenging and very rewarding. The sum total of it was that programs were established in Sudan, Ethiopia, Zaire and Tanzania. Coordinating the efforts of wonderfully generous Jesuits from Belgium, India and Canada, while using Nairobi as a base, I was able to establish programs in these various countries only because they were manned by Jesuits who volunteered their services living in extremely difficult and trying situations.
Returning to the U.S. for some time, I was able to resume practice and teaching. I found the experience sterile compared to the work that I left in Africa. So in 1987, I returned to Eastern African and was given the work as a Superior of a Retreat House, which was in need of expansion and refurbishment. When that was concluded, I resumed the general practice of psychiatry with some teachings of pastoral psychology. It was during this time that I served on the Board of Governors of a large orphanage. The orphanage was receiving abandoned children who were testing HIV+, so I suggested that a special facility be made available because of their needs. Unfortunately, the Board did not agree. When I did some research, I found that there were no such facilities in the country. The Minister of Health, who is now the President [Daniel arap Moi], was very encouraging and strongly suggested that something be done. With such a stimulus and encouragement from a variety of well-wishers, we did embark on a program which, ultimately, resulted in the opening of the Nyumbani home for HIV+ abandoned children on September 8, 1992."