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Uganda’s first children’s hospital has SD Roots


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SAN DIEGO — A new book chronicles the unlikely — and arguably miraculous — series of events that led to the development of Uganda’s first pediatric hospital.

Holy Innocents Children’s Hospital, which opened in July of 2009, has provided treatment to more than 300,000 children and is believed to have saved tens of thousands of lives.

Local author Clay T. Hoffman wrote “A Pearl of Uganda: The Story of Holy Innocents Children’s Hospital” to memorialize what he calls “an amazing miracle of God.”

It’s a miracle that began in San Diego.

In 2007, San Rafael parishioner Harold “Tom” Thomas had the opportunity to speak with visiting Archbishop Paul Bakyenga of the Archdiocese of Mbarara in southwestern Uganda.

The archbishop lamented that, in his archdiocese, more than 17,000 children under the age of 5 were dying every year from preventable illnesses. When Thomas asked if he could do anything to help, the archbishop replied, “Could you build me the first children’s hospital in Uganda?”

“The Holy Spirit was involved (at that moment),” Hoffman told The Southern Cross, noting that Archbishop Bakyenga had providentially posed that question to “a real go-getter” who almost immediately accepted the challenge.

Hoffman’s book recounts how Thomas and Father Bonaventure Turyomumazima, a priest of the Archdiocese of Mbarara and a frequent visitor to San Rafael Parish in Rancho Bernardo during the summers, made invaluable connections at the University of San Diego.

One day, just knocking on doors, they met Dr. Anita Hunter, a clinical nurse practitioner and then a professor at USD’s Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science. She led a team of six USD nursing students on a two-week, fact-finding trip to Uganda during Lent of 2007 to determine the project’s feasibility and, ultimately, would make about 15 trips to Uganda.

But not everything went smoothly.

Hoffman said that, early in the process, the San Diego-based board of directors that Thomas had formed was struggling to raise funds. Msgr. Dennis Mikulanis, pastor of San Rafael Parish and a board member, recommended making St. Therese of Lisieux the hospital’s patroness and seeking her intercession.

“God heard her prayers, and the hospital is proof of His mercy,” said Hoffman, who dedicated his book to St. Therese.

Under Msgr. Mikulanis’ leadership, San Rafael Parish also emerged as the hospital’s single largest donor. The parish and its members donated $2.2 million toward the hospital.

“If it wasn’t for San Rafael, (the hospital) never would have opened and … grown to what it’s become,” said Hoffman, a former parishioner, who was there when the events recounted in the book took place.

In late 2018, Holy Innocents Children’s Hospital opened a surgery center. An Infant Critical Care Ward opened this year.

The origins of “A Pearl of Uganda” date back about five years, when Hoffman and his wife, Anne, were dining with their friend, Father Turyomumazima. Over the meal, Hoffman reflected on how “amazing” it was that “a swampy, empty field” had been transformed into the site of “a very fine hospital,” and the priest encouraged him to write the hospital’s story.

Hoffman, who became Catholic in 2005 through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, had never written a book before. But he did have writing experience, which began with a series of perspectives pieces and book reviews that appeared in The Southern Cross in 2012 and 2013 and went on to include contributions to other publications.

In his research for “A Pearl of Uganda,” Hoffman estimates that he consulted more than 100 people and even drew from meeting minutes and diary entries in crafting the narrative.

He plans to donate the money he makes from the book to Holy Innocents Children’s Hospital.

“I’ve read Mr. Hoffman’s book, and it’s obviously a work of love on his part,” Msgr. Mikulanis told The Southern Cross. “It shows the deep faith and commitment that we had when we first undertook what appeared to us to be an almost impossible task.”

He added, “I hope the readers of the book realize that anything is possible when we let God be in charge.”

“A Pearl of Uganda” can be purchased through Tau Publishing at or directly from Hoffman by calling (858) 603-3322. The author also welcomes opportunities to speak at parishes and to ministry groups about the hospital’s story.

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