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“Like a Mother Teresa”: Priest recounts one woman’s heroism

Carol McBrady AFCZ Zambia


Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 07/06/23

A priest from Minnesota speaks about his experiencing working with Carol McBrady, whose mission gives a family life to children in Zambia.

We’ve written before about the incredibly inspiring story of Carol McBrady, founder of Action for Children Zambia (AFCZ).

Much as Mother Teresa cared for sick people in Calcutta, McBrady works tirelessly to provide homes and a family life for children who live on the streets.

Now we’ve had the chance to talk to someone who volunteered with AFCZ and got an up-close look at what McBrady has built.

Father Sam Gilbertson of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis happens to be the son of McBrady’s cousin. 

“I knew about her mission work when I was growing up,” he told Aleteia. “I had always wanted to visit Action for Children Zambia since I was young.”

Fr. Gilbertson and a seminarian friend visited Carol McBrady, founder of Action for Children Zambia.

When he found out that he was being sent to Rome for his studies to become a priest, he felt it was a great opportunity to finally make the visit. “Zambia is still far away from Rome but closer than the United States!” 

The experience was even more moving than he had imagined. “I was blessed to see firsthand all the incredible work that is accomplished through the love of ‘Mama’ Carol and all those who are dedicated to her mission,” he said. 

He spent some days with her younger children and afterwards led a retreat for the older boys. Fr. Gilbertson was also able to do some street ministry with Carol. He played games with the kids, prayed together with them, celebrated Mass, and shared in their daily lives. 

Fr. Gilbertson and a seminarian friend visited the homes of Action for Children Zambia.

The joyful atmosphere at the AFCZ homes was such that he felt “words fall short” to describe it. He said:

Some of these children have been through a great deal of trauma and suffering. They have been abused, neglected, and discarded by society. Yet, I saw them thriving and living life with joy, a palpable joy that only comes from love. This life that they now live where they can eat three meals a day, attend school, graduate, attend university, and create a life of their own is only possible because of the vision, dedication, and love of Mama Carol. 

McBrady has built an atmosphere of love, acceptance, and challenge to grow at AFCZ. And as the children grow up, they recognize all she has done for them.

“When I was speaking with the older boys, now men, who were some of the first that Mama Carol found and helped on the streets, they spoke with such love and dedication of all that Mama Carol had done for them,” Gilbertson said. “They voiced that they would not be where they are today if it wasn’t for her and her unconditional love.” 

Carol McBrady with a group of children from Action For Children Zambia.

One thing that stood out to Rev. Gilbertson is how McBrady is truly breaking the cycle of poverty.

“She voiced to me that ‘if I do not break the poverty cycle for these kids that I am working with, then I have failed,’” he said. “She has not failed. She has done exactly the opposite. She has broken the poverty cycle and has given her children a chance at a completely new life. Amazing fruits are evident and continually being borne.” 

Fr. Gilbertson praying with a group of AFCZ children.

One of the nights, Gilbertson helped Carol feed those currently living on the streets. Witnessing her love in action left a powerful impression on him:

She was instantly recognized by the children and a large crowd gathered to see Mama Carol and hug her. The children and young men and women lined up and asked for our prayers, and Mama Carol fed them. She was like a Mother Teresa in action. She sang, she laughed, she brought joy to them. I know that she would have taken them all in at once if she was able to. However, for that night, her smile, songs, joy, and love were enough for them.

Fr. Gilbertson joined Action for Children Zambia in ministering to children who live on the streets.

Gilbertson hopes to return some day to Action for Children Zambia. “Until that time, I will support them with my prayers and resources and pray that all consider doing the same,” he said. “Mama Carol’s work and all those dedicated to her mission at Action for Children Zambia are transforming and saving lives in the most concrete and tangible ways that I have every witnessed. This deserves support and encouragement from all who are able!”

If you would like to support AFCZ’s work, you can donate, host a fundraising event, volunteer, or just stay in touch here. As a small, private organization, AFCZ receives no funding from the Church, the government or larger organizations. And of course, your prayers are a great help to AFCZ!

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