St. Francis de Sales Parish, Knights of Peter Claver help reunite
Liberian parents with 5 of their 8 children

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

The Jan. 21 flight from Brussels landed at 3 p.m. at J.F.K. Airport in New York, and five young people came trudging through the terminal, each with a single suitcase. Sarah Kettor could only cry, “Thank you God.”

James, 20, Baindu, 19, Amelia, 17, Marie, 13, and Mark, 11, were five of her eight children. She hadn’t seen them in six years.

“I’m just so happy to see my kids. They grew so big. They were little when I left them,” she said.

Their journey had begun the previous morning in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and some were wearing shorts and T-shirts, unaware that the January climate in the East Coast of the United States is significantly different than that of Liberia where there are but two temperatures – hot and hotter.

Fortunately for the children, Paul and Paula Harvey, who accompanied the parents to New York, quickly had them bundled up in donated coats, scarves, hats and mittens for the final leg of the journey to their new home in Southwest Philadelphia.

The Kettor family saga began in 2003, when James Kettor Sr. won a lottery entitling him to a visa to migrate from poverty-stricken and civil war-torn Liberia for a new life in the United States.

He could only scrape up enough money to come himself, but his dream was to bring over his entire family. After a few months he was able to send for his wife. The two settled in Philadelphia and set about earning enough money to send back for the support of their children, who were with an uncle, and also to assist other needy relatives.

But after sending back money there just wasn’t money left to bring the children over.

In the end it didn’t take a village, but it did literally take an entire parish and other generous people to raise the funds to reunite the Kettors.

James and Sarah Kettor were members of West Philadelphia’s St. Francis de Sales Parish, where James joined the Knights of Peter Claver, the mostly African-American Catholic fraternal organization. Last year he mentioned his problem to his brother knights, and they took up the cause. So did the Ladies of Peter Claver.

Several fundraisers were held, according to Peter Claver Grand Knight Paul Harvey, but the funds needed were really beyond the means of the tiny fraternal group. More help started coming through other parishioners, spearheaded by Doug Brintnall and his wife Pia Nicolini.

Assumption Sister Francis Joseph, who does social outreach in the parish, enlisted the help of Susan Small who, through work at Villanova Law School, had expertise and contacts in the immigration field.

Notices were sent to several other parishes that provided generous donations, and a Sunday collection at student Masses at Villanova University added to the pot.

“I worked alongside (Immaculate Heart) Sister Alice Daley who coordinated everything, and we also contacted the New York office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM),” Small said. “The IOM got us deeply discounted airfare, and they worked with the children through the process.”

A first fruit was realized in November when Elizabeth, 22, the eldest daughter, was able to come to America. Now that James, Baindu, Amelia, Marie and Mark have arrived, only older brothers Joseph and John are still in Liberia, pending completion of further paperwork.

“I can’t believe it. I’m so happy,” James Kettor Sr. said. “St. Francis de Sales will be the church of my family. They reunited us and they are our father and mother in America. I appreciate what was done for my family. They gave us the strength and support we needed.”

As for the kids, after a few weeks, the adjustment to a new land is going well.

Mark, who is attending St. Francis de Sales School, has new friends and although he had never seen snow before, declared “I like it.” Also, he added, “America is a good, kind country.”

Marie, who is also attending St. Francis School and some day would like to be a lawyer, said she is getting used to the cold. “I’m happy here, and I’m happy to see my parents,” she said.

Amelia hasn’t found a school yet, and although she misses her friends in Monrovia, she said, “I can call them on the phone.” Most important, she added, “I’m so excited to be here with my parents. I missed them for six years.”

James Jr. hopes to be enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia soon, and his dream is to someday be a surgeon. He enjoyed the trip over but concedes on the flight to Belgium he was a bit nervous because he’s never been on a plane before.

On the flight to America he was repeatedly offered pizza, which really didn’t look appetizing, and he refused it. Now, a few weeks later, it’s become one of his favorite foods. “I love it,” he said.

Even if he misses his African friends, this is more than compensated for by being reunited as a family. James Jr. knows he is fortunate.

“Many people want to come here, but it isn’t easy to do that,” he said. “America is a country of opportunity. If you are serious you can become anything you want. I love America and the opportunity that has been given to us.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.