In Your Midst


Summer 2002

From the shores of the biblical Red Sea along the coastline of the North African country of Eritrea to our less historical shores of Puget Sound, Semret Haile Asgada had taken quite a journey. Her first son, Abel Fitwi, now 20, was born in The Sudan where Semret and her husband had fled to escape political unrest in Eritrea. They came to Washington, D.C. as soon as immigration regulations allowed and their second son Robel Fitwi, now 15, was born there.

In This Issue:

Semret and her sons came to Seattle in 1990 after her marriage ended. She had been trained as a nurse before leaving Eritrea, but her qualifications did not transfer between the two countries. Despite this hardship, she was able to find employment with Harborbview Hospital in the housekeeping department.

Semret’s family has been Catholic for generations and she began looking for a Catholic church after getting settled in Yesler Terrace. Her co-workers at Harborview told her about St. James Cathedral and how close it was. Semret enrolled Abel and Robel in the children’s religious education classes and she took advantage of ESL (English as a Second Language) assistance to further her skills in conversational English. Abel and Robel have grown up here: each made his First Eucharist at St. James and Abel was confirmed several years ago. Both have been altar servers.

Semret Haile Asgada and her sons, Robel Fitwi, left, and Abel Fitwi.

It has not been easy for Semret, and one of her concerns was making a move from Yesler to a neighborhood home. She was able to do so several years ago and their home is now in Mountlake Terrace. Despite the distance, there was never any question about coming to St. James!

Abel says he is a “city boy” and loves Seattle. Abel lists friends, movies, and Alki Beach as his favorite things. He is finishing his first year at Bellevue Community College. Abel has chosen a program that will take four years and he will complete a technical course in radiology.

Robel at 6’ 3” made the varsity basketball team as a freshman at Mountlake Terrace High School. Abel says he “pushes” his brother to excel at basketball and if Robel’s dream of a making the NBA comes true, Abel will be his manager. But it is not surprising that Abel has chosen a career in the medical field. Since childhood Abel has had many corrective surgeries on his hip that have required long stays in Children’s Hospital Medical Center and at the University of Washington Medical Center.

Semret says it has been lonely being so far away from her birth home of Adi-Keyih, Eritrea, and family. Semret hopes that one day either her brother or sister will come to live here.

It is hard to miss Curtis Leighton whether he is sitting or standing in a St. James Cathedral pew as his 6'7" frame is easy to spot, as is the broad smile that is usually on this 18-year-old’s face. Curtis “found” St. James Cathedral in his junior year at Bishop Blanchet High School.

Curtis Leighton

Curtis’ family lives on Magnolia Bluff and when it came time for his older sister Kelsey to enter high school, his parents chose Bishop Blanchet although the family is not Catholic. Kelsey, now in graduate school at the University of Washington, liked Bishop Blanchet so much, she convinced Curtis to go there. He has thoroughly enjoyed the school, and his curiosity soon led him to learn more about the Catholic faith. He deliberately chose St. James since it allowed him to distance himself from school and his neighborhood parish church as he made his decisions. He talked with Helen Oesterle, our director of Religious Education, and was enrolled in the R.C.I.A (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) process. Curtis was baptised at the Easter Vigil Mass in April, 2001. At St. James that night were his parents, Julie and Don, and two pews full of his classmates.

At this year’s Easter Vigil Mass, Curtis was the photographer for Helen Oesterle, snapping candid shots of the 2002 Elect as they were baptised, confirmed, and received Eucharist.

Equally well known at Bishop Blanchet High School as Curtis (who was student body president this past year), is his clunky but beloved car, Norma the Champagne Lady, a 1986 gold-colored Volvo sedan. Norma has transported many a student to Blanchet games, movies, or just somewhere.

And no, at 6' 7", Curtis does not play basketball instead, he rows with Green Lake Crew. Between school, homework, sports and work with his dad on construction jobs, he doesn’t have much time left to play. Movies, however, are high on the list of what Curtis and his friends enjoy and since one of the group works for a theater chain and can get them in for 10 cents apiece, they take advantage of this often.

Curtis graduated last month from Bishop Blanchet High School and will enter Notre Dame University in August. We will miss him, but look forward to his visits home to St. James.

Joan McDonell is a parishioner and a member of the Cathedral Development Committee.

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