By Anne Marie Amacher
Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf raised $32,000 for relief that it sent to Catholic Relief Services.
Since then, the parish has been meeting to discuss what more it can do. The result is a successful effort to help ensure meals for children who attend the parish school at Our Lady of the Rosary in Jean Denis, Haiti.
A group of St. John Vianney parishioners visited the Haiti parish in September, which is about three hours north, northeast of Port-au-Prince, said Ann Wester, head of the Haiti Commission at St. John Vianney. The group met parishioners, attended Mass, walked through the neighborhood and visited the school on a fact-finding mission. “They were so welcoming,” Wester said. “We wanted to see what they saw for their future and help improve their lives.”
When Our Lady of the Rosary’s Pastor Father Jean Solomon contacted the Bettendorf parish in December that it had a grant to feed its school children — both were delighted. But, the grant would not be issued unless the Haitian parish could build a dry and secure storage shed for food and provide a simple kitchen with cooks to prepare the food. And that work had to be done in January, said Wester.
Since the two parishes had been in contact for a while and wanted to do something together, Bishop Martin Amos granted permission for St. John Vianney to send $20,000 to the Haitian parish to make that dream a reality. St. John Vianney’s contribution allowed not only the purchase of construction materials, but provided some people with employment for a period of time.
Father Robert McAleer, St. John Vianney’s pastor, said the money came from a variety of sources at the parish: social action fund, capital campaign refund and the parish budget. Before Christmas, the parish wired the money securely to Haiti and received confirmation that it arrived in the parish account, Fr. McAleer noted. The Haitian parish immediately began construction, Wester said. On Jan. 24, the first meals were served. “Lunch is served five days a week and is cooked by the parents,” Wester said.
The grant that supplies the food is from the United Nations World Food Program, she noted.
Wester said the students now have at least one, filling meal a day. Previously, “they didn’t get lunch at school and many didn’t always have breakfast at home, either.”
“The things that have been done so far are nothing short of miraculous,” said Sarah McCool, a member of the Haiti Commission. “St. John Vianney has really come together in helping to meet the needs of the parish in Haiti. The people in Haiti know what to do and how to get things done; they just do not necessarily have the monetary resources. Getting the school food program started is a wonderful first step towards helping the people of Jean Denis become self-sustaining.”
McCool helped coordinate the visit to Haiti and a visit with Fr. Solomon while he was recovering in Florida from injuries he suffered in the earthquake. She also has served as an interpreter for the two parishes.
St. John Vianney is now working on the next phase of its relationship with Our Lady of the Rosary. “Our parish cannot save Haiti alone,” Fr. McAleer said, “but we can do great things to change the lives of the people day to day.”
The Bettendorf parish’s next challenge is to provide salaries for teachers. So the Haiti Commission is currently looking at ways to raise money outside of parish resources. “We have been busy brainstorming,” Wester said following a Feb. 14 meeting. “We plan to unveil a project during Lent to address teachers’ pay.”
“We have some exciting things planned that will help raise funds,” McCool added. “I think this program presents a wonderful opportunity for St. John Vianney parishioners to get involved and help create a lasting relationship between St. John Vianney and Jean Denis.”
Fr. Solomon plans to visit St. John Vianney the weekend of March 18-21 and will visit at all Masses. Wester said Fr. Solomon has been working on his English, but parishioners who speak French and/or Creole will assist with translations during his visit.