Passionist priest tells parishioners of Haiti work - Catholic Courier

Passionist priest tells parishioners of Haiti work

PITTSFORD — When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti Jan. 12, 2010, Passionist Father Rick Frechette was torn. He was on a rare trip to the United States, visiting his mother, who was dying from cancer. As a medical doctor in addition to being a priest, he wanted to help his mother manage her pain medicines in her final days.

Yet he had spent much of his life in Haiti, serving the poorest of the poor, and he ran a Haitian pediatric hospital and numerous social-service facilities.

"I had no idea of the devastation, but I didn’t want to leave because I had been away from home for 30 years," recalled Father Frechette May 19, when he spoke with the media and the St. Louis Parish community.

Soon it became clear that the earthquake’s damage had been widespread, and Father Frechette had to decide whether to stay or go. He knew that if he left his mother’s bedside, he would not see her again. Yet his mother urged him to go back to Haiti.

"I’m one person," the priest recalled his mother telling him. "Look at what’s going on there. You have to go and help."

With that, Father Frechette said goodbye and tried to search for a way back to Haiti to be with those he had served through the organization Nos Petits Frères et Soeurs (Our Little Brothers and Sisters), which operates orphanages, hospitals and a range of other social services for orphaned and abandoned children and children with disabilities in Haiti.

During his trip to St. Louis Parish, the priest recalled those days after the quake, and he told St. Louis School students and parishioners how NPFS has used the money it has raised through many fundraisers, including annual ornament sales, corn sales, and general fundraising and tithing by the parish. The parish and school have raised more than $100,000 since the 2010 quake for NPFS.

In the latest fundraising effort, third-graders from Susan Kiseleski’s class presented Father Frechette with a check for $330, which they made by selling handmade bookmarks for 25 cents each. The amount raised was to be matched by a parishioner, parish staff said.

"I was really surprised how much money we made," said third-grader Clare Adams, who came up with the idea for a bookmark sale with classmate and friend Lucia Lanahan.

"We felt like we were making other people happy," Lucia said.

During his visit, Father Frechette asked the students if they still had bookmarks for sale. They did, and he said he would buy one and put it in his Bible.

Father Frechette also spoke about the aftermath of the earthquake, which complicated his return to Haiti. The country’s rudimentary infrastructure was in shambles; roads were crumbled and the main airport in Haiti had shut down. Instead, he flew to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

There he searched for a way to cross back into Haiti. He was able to get help from a friend: famed tenor Andrea Bocelli, who had long supported his organization. Bocelli called in a favor with the president of the Dominican Republic.

"I was flown in to Haiti in the presidential helicopter, if you can believe it," Father Frechette said. "Everybody wondered who the heck I was."

Hours after the earthquake struck, he was back in Haiti at his organization, where he went right to work — and kept working around the clock for days.

People were trapped in the organization’s buildings, and rescuers had to look for them. Once the rubble had been searched, he had to call to tell the parents of two young American volunteers that their children had been killed during the tragedy.

Additionally, new services had to be set up to help serve the thousands of injured people who were flocking to the NPFS facilities. For instance, although NPFS operated a hospital for children, after the quake it was overwhelmed with adults seeking help, due to the collapse of other hospitals in Haiti, Father Frechette said.

The organization, which has operated in Haiti for 25 years, set up a makeshift triage and medical facility outdoors on the grounds of its pediatric hospital, which meant it was able to preserve the inside of its building for surgeries and the many amputations of crushed limbs. The hospital also had never done maternity care, but began offering the service to help the laboring mothers who sought their help. NPFS also began providing medical care to the displaced and prosthesis to child amputees, took in 226 children, and began offering outreaches to orphaned and homeless children.

Father Frechette celebrated countless funeral Masses, and mourned the many thousands of friends he had lost, including Port au Prince Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, who had offered weeks before to celebrate the funeral Mass for Father Frechette’s mother. The archbishop perished when he was thrown from a balcony by the force of the earthquake.

"Who would ever have thought that he would go first," Father Frechette mused.

Haiti continues to rebuild, the priest said, and he noted that its people need help with both their immediate humanitarian needs and with building a stable economy.

"The people need jobs; they need work to solve their problems," he said. "In the meantime, it’s really important that people don’t give up on Haiti, and people should help organizations they trust."

Some organizations in Haiti have attracted criticism for tardy disbursements of humanitarian aid donated in the wake of the earthquake. Father Frechette said some of the aid has been held up by organizations’ requirements of political stability before it is disbursed, while other aid has been slowed due to the lack of infrastructure.

In contrast, aid to NPFS is put to use immediately, although the organization has to contend with many of the same infrastructure issues as other charities serving in Haiti, Father Frechette said.

"We’re starting at zero all the time: no water, no electricity, no roads," he said. "It’s very difficult."

EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on Nos Petits Frères et Soeurs, visit www.friendsoftheorphans.org and click on Haiti.

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