From March 12 – 20, 2017, Sisters Mary Ellen Gondeck, CSJ, and Sue Torgersen, CSJ, and associates Judy Iantosca and Brooke Whitten along with her three daughters, traveled to Haiti to check in on Mission Haiti, Inc., a U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph initiative which sponsors 10 girls from elementary through secondary school and beyond. They were joined by sisters and associates from several different St. Joseph communities, and Shelley Butler, a Mission Haiti board member from the Twin Cities.
The focus of the trip, which was sponsored by Mission Haiti, Inc., was to check in on the sponsored girls and the Companions of Jesus, the Haitian congregation who sponsor Annunciation School where the 10 girls are being educated. Six of the girls are in 5th grade, four are in the 4th grade.
The group visited Annunciation School (grades 1-6) and College Coeur de Marie (grades 7-13), both in Leogane, Haiti. Mission Haiti also supports several students on the college level at Notre Dame University of Port au Prince.
“College Coeur De Marie, the secondary school that we visited, has risen from the rubble of the 2010 earthquake largely due to the generosity of the Generous Promise Grant Fund, the U.S. and Canadian Federations of Sisters of St. Joseph, Caritas Germany and of course Mission Haiti,” said Sister Sue Torgersen, CSJ. “We continue to work together with these great partners in ministry to address critical situations in our world – a great example of how we demonstrate our mission of unity!”
The group spent an afternoon with the students on the playground dancing, blowing soap bubbles, taking pictures, and just enjoying being together. “It was delightful to have some of the women from the Village of Jesus which is on the same property as the school join us,” said Sister Mary Ellen Gondeck. “It was especially fun to see the girls interact with the other young women who traveled with us as they were closer to their age.”
At College Couer de Marie, the group spent time with the students there, who were eager to greet them and talk about what they were learning. “While they spoke with us about learning, algebra, science, history and more, we wanted to learn of their hopes for the future,” said Sister Sue. “Hearing their dreams for their futures – teaching, accounting, nursing, and doctoring – was hopeful, but it was also painfully clear that while an education will benefit them in many ways, choices and opportunities in Haiti are limited.” At present, only 2% of Haitian students go on to a university.
At the University of Notre Dame in Port-au-Prince, the group got a chance to network a bit on behalf of the Mission Haiti program. They met Sister Alta, President of the Companions of Jesus, and the executive secretary for Monsignor Andre who is President of the University – good contacts both as the program tries to move on to the university level.
The group also traveled to Santa Chiara, where they visited a home started by Gerry Straub, a Secular Franciscan, former network television producer, author, teacher, lecturer and documentary filmmaker, who has spent time in some of the poorest countries in the world. He and his wife Ecarlatte have opened their hearts and a home to those most in need around them. The home is a refuge to 48 young children whose parents often have no other choice but to take them along to work in a very crowded market, or lend or rent them out for the day to a family where they work an entire day for a bowl of rice in return. “Seeing the faces of the children in this home, who range in age from 6 months to about 11-12 was a delight,” said Sister Mary Ellen. “Gerry and his wife not only provide food and shelter for the children, but also offer hope and a place for them just to be kids.”
To learn more about Mission Haiti, Inc., click here.
If you would like to help support Mission Haiti and the sponsored students, contributions may be sent to U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, 6400 Minnesota Ave., St. Louis, MO 63111. Checks should be made out to U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph, and please note “Mission Haiti” in the memo line. Thank you for your support!