By Anne Marie Amacher
When Father Bill Kneemiller walked into diocesan headquarters July 3 he pulled a heavy suitcase into the dining room. He placed the suitcase on a chair and opened it to reveal more than 400 rosaries made by Haitians as a way to earn money.
Fr. Kneemiller had purchased the supplies to make the rosaries: parachute cords, beads, and crosses from the Holy Land. He sent the supplies with Liz McDermott of ServeHAITI to take to Grand Bois, Haiti, on a service trip there last month.
“We hand-carried the supplies down in suitcases and gave them to the St. Pierre chapter of St. Vincent DePaul Society and its president, Maccene Augustin,” said McDermott, a member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. The St. Vincent DePaul chapter in Haiti was formed with help from the St. Vincent DePaul Society of Sacred Heart Parish in Atlanta. That parish, like Our Lady of the River, is part of the ServeHAITI group.
“The St. Pierre chapter is made up of local community leaders who try to help the poorest, most disenfranchised in St. Pierre — the elderly, single mothers and orphans. They send those who need help to the clinic for medical care (where ServeHAITI volunteers). They provide food, clothing and have even built homes for those who are desperate,” McDermott said.
ServeHAITI has made regular contributions to the society chapter in the past, but the Haitians had been brainstorming to find ways to raise funds for their chapter so they could be more sustainable, she noted.
“Interestingly, one of the things they had asked for was wedding dresses that they could rent out. This past trip I was given a donation of over 50 wedding dresses and veils (brand new, tags still on) from a woman who had closed her bridal store business some years back. She had the dresses in storage and no longer wanted to pay the storage rental, so she gave away the dresses. It was crazy how all the phone calls happened, but definitely divine intervention. The Haitians were thrilled to get the dresses and I have more to take each time I go.”
Maccene and five other society members/volunteers donated their time during the three weeks ServeHAITI was in Haiti in June to assemble 400 rosaries to be taken back to the United States. The St. Pierre Vincent DePaul Society received a check for $1,000 ($2.50 per rosary) from Fr. Kneemiller, McDermott said. He solicited donations from local business owners and friends. McDermott said the money will be used to help provide food, clothing and shelter to the poorest of the poor in St. Pierre.
The rosaries will be distributed to servicemen and women in Afghanistan.
“It’s a win-win,” McDermott said.
Fr. Kneemiller showed off the rosaries to chancery staffers at diocesan headquarters; some of them made donations to the effort. The priest’s next plan is to start a rosary factory that would sew cloth cases for the rosaries in Haiti. He even hopes that some day native items such as coffee beans could be used to make the rosaries.
Meanwhile, Fr. Kneemiller has been in touch with a chaplain in Afghanistan concerning distribution of the rosaries. An office in Washington, D.C., will help distribute the rosaries to different deployments.
Fr. Kneemiller noted that several parishes in the diocese have helped make additional rosaries. “This is just the start.”
As for the sewing project, Fr. Kneemiller said fabric is being donated by Lands End from scraps that are not used. He hopes to be able to get non electric sewing machines for the Haitians.
“I think this (rosary project) is an answer to a prayer for the Haitians.”
Fr. Kneemiller continues to collect financial donations to buy the rosary-making supplies that are sent to Haiti. To make a donation, make a check out to Ss. Philip & James Church and write “special Haiti project” in the memo line. Checks can then be sent to Ss. Philip & James Church, 606 Fulton St., P.O. Box 7, Grand Mound, IA 52751.
For more information, contact Fr. Kneemiller at firstname.lastname@example.org or (563) 321-0124.