By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — Following several years of planning and help from St. John Vianney Parish, students in Jean Denis, Haiti, now attend class in a new school building. The Bettendorf parish collaborated with Hands Together of the Palm Beaches in bringing the project to fruition.
Five members of St. John Vianney’s Haiti Connection committee and their pastor, Father Jim Vrba, attended dedication of the new school, April 23, in Haiti. Committee members in attendance were Mark and Nancy Blaser, Ken and Cathy Miller, and Ann Wester. The committee’s dream to help build a new school for its sister parish, Notre Dame du Rosarie, has finally come true, Wester said.
The two parishes began their relationship in 2010, not long after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. Since then, St. John Vianney has made six medical missions, provided daily school lunches for students, paid teacher salaries, bought a tiller for the farmers’ coop and planned for the new school.
Construction started in 2014. “It has been a slow process at times,” Wester said. Ken Miller emphasized that construction was done by the Haitians and not by the supporting parishes.
The dedication was “an emotional time for many of us,” Wester added. “Although I had seen the progress of the school in the past few years, seeing the completed, beautiful school brought tears to my eyes.” She recalled the poor condition of the original school when she first visited in 2010.
“So dark and dreary, no ventilation, and when it rained the roof leaked and the ground flooded so school could not be held on those days. I didn’t know how anyone could learn in that environment. Thanks to the generosity of the people of St. John Vianney and Hands Together of the Palm Beaches, the work of the Haitians and God’s eternal grace and love, the school is our dream come true.”
Fr. Vrba said the old school looked “as though it was built centuries ago: no electricity, wooden benches, one blackboard per room, tiny windows with wood shutters and wooden doors. This new building leaps the community into the 21st century.”
The dedication started inside the church with speeches of gratitude from Father Jean Solomon, pastor of Notre Dame du Rosaire, and the school’s principal and students. The children sang a song in Creole and the English speakers in turn sang “Immaculate Mary.” Everyone processed to the new school, named Our Lady of Fatima.
Bishop Yves-Marie Pean, CSC, of Gonaïves, Fr. Vrba and Father Tom Lafreniere of St. Paul of the Cross in North Palm Beach, blessed the school building, classrooms and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The bishop cut the ribbon, signaling that the school is ready for students.
The school has nine classrooms, from preschool to sixth grade, a room for the teachers and the principal, and a 36-computer station classroom. The school also features solar panels, LED lights and fans in all of the rooms. It is bright and cheery, Wester said. “This is truly an environment conducive for learning. This school was designed, built and will be staffed by Haitians. It was a collaborative project with St. John Vianney, Hands Together of the Palm Beaches and the Haitians.”
Fr. Vrba said the bishop conveyed how much love the groups have given to the community, “and also the love that is returned.” Fr. Vrba said he thought it was appropriate to celebrate the dedication during the Easter season. “It is a rebirth of the parish and community. It is hope for the present and the future. It is resurrection.”
He thought Deacon Bill Rich of West Palm Beach, who preached at Mass, summed up the dedication well: “It is not the people of Jean Denis, nor the people of St. John Vianney, nor the people of West Palm Beach that we are celebrating today. It is the entire body of Christ!’”