A Catholic sister’s lifelong journey leads her to found a nonprofit focused on Africa

With a master’s degree in social work and a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy, Antoinette Temporiti spent 30 years counseling individuals and families. She specialized in working with young adult victims of sexual abuse and loved her career.

But a trip to Africa in 2004, when she was 54 years old, set her on a new path. Today, Sister Temporiti (a member of the Catholic religious order Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, based in O’Fallon, Mo.) heads up MicroFinancing Partners in Africa, a nonprofit she started in 2006.

“I was eating lunch one day and realized, ‘The cost of this sandwich could help an African family start a business,’ ” she says. “I had to do something to give back to Africa.”

Lifelong Fascination

That mission got its start on the Hill, the Italian-American neighborhood in St. Louis where Sister Temporiti grew up. Her parents ran a corner store, and every Saturday she helped box leftover food to donate to convents in the area. One group of sisters did missionary work in Africa, which sparked a fascination in her with “all things Africa.”

Antoinette Temporiti Antoinette Temporiti

Antoinette Temporiti

Age: 63

Home: St. Louis

First/primary career: Psychotherapist/Catholic sister

New path: President of MicroFinancing Partners in Africa

Why this path: “Many Africans are full of joy and resilience, even in the face of extreme hardship, and I wanted to give them a way to lift their families out of poverty.”

But it wasn’t until 2004 that she finally set foot on the continent. Taking a sabbatical from work, she made a seven-month overland journey from Cairo to Cape Town, South Africa. Part of a group of 21 mostly young backpackers, Sister Temporiti traveled more than 10,000 miles in a truck and slept outside every night, visiting 18 countries along the way.

“I fell in love with Africa,” she says. “It was more than I ever hoped.”

Taking Action

Soon after returning to the U.S., she decided to devote her energies to Africa and seized on the idea of microfinance: making loans to families and small businesses with little or no access to traditional financial services. The organization she started, MicroFinancing Partners in Africa, raises grants for select microfinancing organizations that, in turn, lend the money to African families. So far, MPA works with three organizations: Jamii Bora, the largest microfinancing organization in Kenya; the Cow Project in Uganda; and Bukoba Women’s Empowerment Association in Tanzania.

“I was new to microfinance, so I realized I could best contribute by raising funds for organizations that were already helping people,” says Sister Temporiti. She visits Africa a few times a year to oversee how the groups are using MPA’s grants.

Her organization has four part-time staffers and 15 volunteer board members; as

president, Sister Temporiti runs much of the day-to-day operations. She closed her therapy practice to focus on MPA, but continues to work one day a week supervising new therapists. Since 2006, MPA has

raised more than $1 million from individuals, religious communities and corporations. “We organize galas, trivia nights, dinners and other events—whatever works to raise funds,” Sister Temporiti says.

“When my grandmother came to America, someone gave her a small loan to open a grocery store, and that store supported my family for several generations,” she says. “What we’re doing with MPA is no different: We’re just giving people in Africa the opportunity to provide for their families.”