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Founder of Home for HIV-Positive Children in Kenya Laid to Rest

Father Angelo D'Agostino, the American Jesuit priest who founded the Nyumbani homes and an outreach program for children living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya, was buried Monday. Cathy Majtenyi attended his funeral and files this report for VOA.

Child's Speech: "We thank you God for the gift of our loving Father D'Agostino, for his love and care he took upon us. Reward him and grant him eternal peace and rest. Lord, hear us."

Many of the 100 children living in Nyumbani, which means "home" in Kiswahili, were at the church to pay their final respects to the one they called "father."

"I think he'll go in heaven," said one child. "He was helping us, and sharing with us.

The children, who live in the in Nyumbani home that Father D'Agostino opened more than a decade ago in Nairobi, range from six months to 24 years. Many had been abandoned as babies or small children on the assumption that they would die soon because of their HIV-positive status.

A second home is set to open this week in Kitui, in the eastern part of Kenya.

Another boy living in Nyumbani shares his thoughts about the man he refers to as "dad."

"I have talked to him. He asked me about life, I told him, and he told me some good things about life," said the boy. "And I know one day, one time, I'll achieve what I'm trying to achieve."

Father Angelo D'Agostino, born in Rhode Island in 1926, was a surgeon and psychiatrist by training, serving as chief of surgery in the U.S. Air Force Hospital in Washington for two years. He was subsequently ordained a Catholic priest in 1966 with the Jesuit order, and spent his early priesthood working with refugees in Thailand.

Father D'Agostino first came to Kenya in 1981, sent by his order to set up the Jesuit Refugee Service in Eastern Africa.

It was while serving on the board of a local orphanage that the priest became aware that the needs of HIV-positive children were not being met.

In 1992, he rented a small house in the Nairobi neighborhood of Westlands, and took in three HIV-positive children, one of whom is still alive today. Later on, he moved the Nyumbani home to another part of town called Karen, and grew in leaps and bounds.

In 1998, Father D'Agostino started up the Lea Toto Outreach program, which helps some 2,000 HIV-positive children living in Nairobi's poorest slums. In that same year, he also set up the Nyumbani Diagnostic Laboratory, which offers services to the program's children and health facilities all across the country.

In 2004, the cleric won a landmark lawsuit against the Kenyan public school system for turning away HIV-positive children.

Joseph D'Agostino tells VOA the children were his brother's greatest joy.

"He says that the last 15 years working with the children here in Kenya in the Nyumbani programs were the most fulfilling of his priestly and medical life," he said.

Father Angelo D'Agostino, who died of a heart attack on November 20, is survived by his brother Joseph and his sister Savina, who is a Catholic nun. He was 80 years old.