- Catholic Review - https://catholicreview.org -

Parishes, medical teams and individuals keep giving to Haiti

Protesters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, clash with security forces Oct. 4, 2019, during a demonstration to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise. As Port-au-Prince began its fourth week of paralysis due to serious social unrest, the Haitian bishops’ justice and peace commission called on Moise to step down. (CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters)

SECOND IN A SERIES: Throughout 2020, the Catholic Review will explore the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. In this second edition of the series, we explore comforting the afflicted.

The patience of Job is required of the poor of Haiti – and those attempting to alleviate their suffering.

Its side of the island of Hispaniola was already the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere in January 2010, when an earthquake killed tens of thousands.

Corruption, deforestation and foreign occupation had already contributed to systemic dysfunction, exacerbated since the summer of 2018 by unrest that forced many schools to close and thwarted most visits by volunteers from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Deacon Rodrigue Mortel is technically retired from the archdiocesan Missions Office but still very much involved in its work in his homeland. In an early December blog, he wrote that natives had taken to describing it as “Country Locked.”

“If only schools were allowed to reopen so our school children could have their daily meal!” he lamented, a prayer that was answered in the affirmative.

In addition to parish involvement, the archdiocese’s presence in the Diocese of Gonaïves, north of Port-au-Prince, includes a band of veteran dentists who were there as recently as last August, and an intrepid woman who traveled one more time to the nation Jan. 8.

Amid State Department warnings, canceled trips and delayed returns home, all illustrate the resolve and resourcefulness required to help in Haiti.

Parish partners

Father Jean Mérat’s 2017 visit to St. Joseph, Odenton, included time with, from left, Kathy Gauthier, Jane Heil, Kathy Grey and Janet Pinedo. (Courtesy St. Joseph, Odenton)

While several parishes sponsor independent outreaches in Haiti, 20 are in the archdiocesan Missions Office’s parish partnership program. They provide spiritual and monetary support to parish schools, paying the bulk of teachers’ salaries and providing the children with at least one meal a day.

According to Gary Grey, chairman of the Haiti Ministry at St. Joseph in Odenton, it sends approximately $65,000 annually to St. Peter Parish of Poteau. In addition, volunteers from the parish in western Anne Arundel County rebuilt and added a second story to its “dilapidated” school, dug a well during a cholera epidemic, and bought a Toyota Tacoma truck for the parish.

It’s been several years since Father Jean Mérat, the pastor, visited Odenton, and wiring funds to rural pastors has become problematic.

“When the country gets back to normal,” Gray said, “there’s going to be a huge need for triage.”

St. Ann in Hagerstown, meanwhile, is preparing for a Feb. 27 visit from Father Alexis Robinson, pastor of St. Claire in Dessalines, its parish partner. Every  Lent, he comes to Washington County to  speak at several Masses and expand his practical knowledge, which is vital in the developing world.

St. Ann in Hagerstown’s outreach to the children of St. Claire in Dessalines in 2018 included from left, Matt Rohan, Jaya Smith and Zoe Mutchler, all graduates of St. Maria Goretti High School. (Courtesy St. Ann, Hagerstown)

“His parish wants to provide young people with a way to make a living,” St. Ann parishioner Jim Gullace said. “When Father Alexis is here, he spends a couple of days at vocational technical high schools, and shops at Home Depot. He travels light, and keeps his winter coat here.”

Dental clinic

For the second straight summer, the archdiocese will not send a youth/young adult group to Haiti. That 2018 effort was delayed getting home, as roadblocks became part of protests. Since then, according to Catholic News Service, “Workers could not get to their jobs, farmers were unable to send products to urban markets, and sick Haitians could not reach hospitals.”

Nonetheless, Jim Taneyhill went to Haiti for the 27th time in August, not only to check in on St. Michel D’Alleye in St. Miche, the parish partner of St. John the Evangelist, Long Green Valley, in Hydes, but to man the dental clinic he started at The Good Samaritans School in St. Marc, a Deacon Mortel initiative in his hometown.

Jim Taneyhill works in the background at the dental clinic he founded in St. Marc. (Courtesy Lewis Libby)

“It’s one of the best (dental clinics) in the country, said Taneyhill, an alumnus of Loyola Blakefield who is not prone to exaggeration.

For that, he points to Lewis Libby, one of four other Baltimore-area dentists who rotate into St. Marc to volunteer at the clinic.

Libby is a parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, alumnus of Calvert Hall College High School in Towson and, like Taneyhill, Loyola University Maryland.

In September 2018, a trade conference took him to San Francisco, where he talked up a salesman from the Desereau Health Company. That led the California-based company to donate two pediatric chairs, one adult chair and an industrial-strength dental vacuum to the Baltimore effort.

“We had been faking it, with stuff from a (hardware store),” Libby said. “They donated $45,000 worth of equipment, and followed that up with paying for the shipping to Florida and spare parts. We brought our own dental technician to St. Marc, who donated his time, to install the equipment.”

The Baltimore dentists treat 150-180 children each time they visit Haiti. The group includes Charlie Morris; Barry Murphy, another alumnus of Loyola University Maryland; and Kevin Murphy, who did his undergraduate work at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis.


Be Not Afraid

Gail Grady has been volunteering in Haiti since 2010. (Courtesy Gail Grady)

Gail Grady made her first trip to Haiti in 2010, on a fact-finding tour with Holy Trinity Church in Glen Burnie, now the anchor of Christ the King Parish, which still sponsors Haiti’s St. Laurent Parish.

She made her most recent trip Jan. 8, to a medical clinic south of Port-au-Prince, and to hopefully check in on old friends in the Diocese of Gonaïves.

In between, Grady spent three years in Gwomòn, first as a volunteer with the Religious of Jesus and Mary, an international congregation of religious women. She later became the interim country director for Mercy Beyond Borders, which was founded by a Sister of Mercy.

As a middle-schooler in New Jersey, she became intrigued by the Peace Corps and “the desire to do international aid.” That empathy was reinforced by her parents, who would drive their children “over the George Washington Bridge and into the Bowery,” so that the poor were not invisible to them.

“I’ve always been aware of the less fortunate,” said Grady, whose permanent residence is in St. Francis de Sales Parish in Abingdon, which also has a sister parish in Haiti. “From the first presentation on Haiti I heard from Deacon Mortel, I was moved.”

Grady, who turns 66 in April, marks her birthday with an online fundraiser for relief efforts in Haiti. She came home April 2019 to help with two small grandchildren, but found she couldn’t stay away.

On her initial visits, she relied on a French-speaker from Holy Trinity to help translate, but went on Skype to learn Haitian Creole.

“I’m tremendously drawn to Haiti, and enjoy being with the people,” Grady said. “Whatever Haitian people are doing, they will stop, sit down and talk with you. I wanted to do that without a go-between.”

Read more “Works of Mercy” stories here.

Email Paul McMullen at pmcmullen@CatholicReview.org