As it has since 2015, Our Lady of Mercy parish in Potomac, Maryland designated its second collection for Thanksgiving weekend to enriching the daily nutrition of students at the school of Immaculee Concepcion parish in Milot, Haiti, a town where members of the Federal Association have traveled to volunteer their services for 21 years. Parishioners from Our Lady of Mercy and staff from the nearby Mercy Health Clinic were some of the early core volunteers at the 200-year-old church and Hopital Sacre Coeur in Milot.
On one early mission, Dr. Jim Ronan borrowed a portable cardiac echo machine. When his bedroom roof leaked one night, he was busy with a hair dryer to protect the delicate instrument. Dr. Bill Battle, KM, followed on biannual trips to teach and maintain staff skills toward a modern cardiac echo lab. Dr. Lou Dainty volunteered and spent his time in the OR performing high-level, complicated, later-stage cancer surgery. Dr. Ray and Mrs. Sally Pilkerton worked in the Ophthalmology unit. OB/Gyn physicians Dr. Joe Giere, KM and Dr. Nancy Clark, DM, conducted specialty training sessions in woman’s care offered to the country’s nurses.
A few years ago, the Georgetown Jesuit community, the Visitation nuns, Providence and Georgetown hospitals, all opened their doors to host a select group of visiting Sacre Coeur doctors and nurses here for training. Mercy parishioners organized a welcome Mass and reception for the visitors. Georgetown neonatologists taught elderly lay midwives bulb suction and baby-warming techniques using “Baby Natalie” robots.
Mercy parish members Linda Budney, DM, and Alvina Long, DM, visited and volunteered at Hopital Sacre Coeur along with Msgr. Bill English and Msgr. John Enzler. Other Malta members Dr. Dick Perry, KM, Dr. Joe Swift, KM, Sue DuFour, DM, and Mo Dufour, KM, Ambassador Michele Bowe, DM, and former Federal Association President, Noreen Falcone, GCM, also went to Haiti to volunteer. Dr. Al Fleury brought a complete surgical team volunteering their time for many years in a row.
After the 2011 earthquake coupled with a year of three hurricanes, the Rev. Pere Tijwa (“Little Joy”) of Immaculee Concepcion parish asked our help in constructing a community center. Because of generous donations from Our Lady of Mercy, Little Flower, and Blessed Sacrament parishes, Father Tijwa’s dream of a community center became reality with a hurricane-proof building in 2014. It now serves the 9,000 parishioners, 28 church choirs, ESL classes, overflow school classes, marriage receptions, parish celebrations, and more. In April 2020 a fire destroyed the historic church, burning it to the ground. The community center that our three local parishes built is now the parish church.
Without question malnutrition is embedded in Milot. Dr. Rob Freistat a pediatrician, came back after a recent trip and reported several child deaths. Insufficient nutrition continues. Immune system and cognitive learning development are damaged when nutrient needs are not met. This is an area that Mercy parish, along with the Mercy Malta group, can help mitigate.
In 2015, a written protocol was signed between Our Lady of Mercy parish, the Milot, Cap Haitian vicar general and the pastor who is also vicar general, to work through established banking services of Hopital Sacre Coeur to disburse donated funds. Our Lady of Mercy has annually had a second collection for funds toward adequate nutrition for the students at Immaculate Conception school. The business manager there, Mary Conlon, distributes all donations quarterly. Since 2014 when the original College Immaculee Concepcion school began in four cinder block rooms buried under the community center, it has expanded to include preschool through high school.
The original 41-cent meal of rice, beans, bits of protein and vitamins now must cope with inflation, anarchy and increasing poverty to feed 550-plus students. We know the cost of the meal is now at least 50 cents.