Father Joseph Kentenich Social Center in Ganfanha de Nazaré

Schw. Cristina Maria Riço Mendes

“People of a Land Where They Live from the Sea” –

that’s how the population of Gafanha da Nazaré, Portugal, 3 km west of Aveiro in the small town of Ílhavo, are characterized. It’s a little village among trees, birds, and fish, surrounded by the Ria de Aveiro, a beautiful beach with a fortress to the southwest and the town of Vagos to the south. The Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary have been working here since 1975.

Families Struggling with Barren Dunes

In this sandy region, patients suffering from leprosy are said to have been left behind in the past centuries. Later, there were so-called “spontaneous internal colonizations” by people who fled to this area from Aveiro and other cities for fear of malaria. After that, the construction of the port, the lighthouse, the shipyards, and the salt works, as well as the creation of the forest plantation, attracted more people. Even today, the long and hard working hours in agriculture on the one hand and the often long journeys in deep waters on the other hand are signs of a vulnerable life for many families. The population is also exposed to social exclusion and cultural stigmas passed on from generation to generation. In order to support the large, needy families, the Father Joseph Kentenich Social Center (FJKSC) was established in an extensive area of land and forest near the Schoenstatt Shrine.

Education for Life

This is a Catholic institution inspired by the philosophical and pedagogical vision of Father Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968). The essential and constitutive elements of this pedagogical model revolve around education for freedom in the sense of the personal ability to decide for the greatest and best. The foundation for this is the formation of a strong personality core.

The pre-school and daycare center with the beautiful name “Garden of Mary” have the distinct task of educating children for life. Simply passing on the cultural heritage is not enough to be able to respond to the challenges of the future. Despite today’s economic difficulties, the FJKSC wishes to contribute to the integral and harmonious education of each child, from a physical, spiritual (affective, social, intellectual) and religious point of view. In this way, the “Garden of Mary” wants to offer a welcoming environment in which, in addition to a high-quality teaching and learning process, the children can experience their early childhood with joy, and where their love for God, the Blessed Mother Mary, and their neighbor can grow.

The facility has a wonderful outdoor area where the children can explore the environment. They are encouraged to respect and care for nature, develop creativity, and activate body and mind. In this way they learn to care for our planet, our “common home.”

In this regard, a mother said: “My children seem happier and freer to me! Entrusting them to this institution was the best thing that has ever happened to them, so that they can grow up protected and happy and make the best out of nature!”

Supporting the Families

Trustful collaboration with the families allows us as Sisters of Mary to be familiar with their needs and hardships. One of the most distressing problems is unemployment, which together with other factors easily leads people into cycles of social exclusion. In addition, today we are confronted with a new kind of poverty due to the pandemic: People with a previously balanced and stable life path are caught in a spiral of problems that they cannot manage without the support of others.

For example, one mother has several simultaneous health issues and therefore cannot go to work regularly. The father also does not have a steady employment. The parents thus live in precarious circumstances in a very small house with their four children. This family’s need for direct support is obvious.

This family, which is only one of many, has no possibility to pay the monthly fee for the daycare. But the children are still able to come, and in addition, they receive a daily breakfast, lunch, and snack. At the end of the day they are allowed to take soup home with them for each member of their family, in order to ensure their daily sustenance, especially that of the younger children. Donated material goods such as foodstuffs, clothing, and shoes are distributed among the families with greatest need.

A Network of Benefactors and Volunteers

Neither the FJKSC nor we, the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, have the necessary financial means to support all families. Therefore we rely on a network of benefactors and volunteers as well as on the good will and creativity of the pedagogical team.

A total of 85 children attend the pre-school and daycare.
The monthly cost per child is 400 Euros.

Every day we give thanks to God for his assistance and ask him for his blessing for all our friends and benefactors.


Keyword: Sozialzentrum Gafanha
Mission Center of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary
Berg Schoenstatt 6
56179 Vallendar

Telephone: 261-6404-311
Email: missionszentrale@s-ms.org
Bank connection: LIGA Bank eG
IBAN: DE10 7509 0300 0000 058920