Tag Archives: haiti

Mission of faith

…Providence Legates experience supernatural spiritual growth in Dominican Republic

“Habemus Papam!” a woman yelled excitedly as she ran down a dirt road in a village outside Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

Father Marcel Taillon and his friends gathered around a television set like billions around the world who watched live on March 13, 2013, as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio emerged for the first time as Pope Francis on a St. Peter’s Basilica balcony.

However, Fr. Taillon, chaplain of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, was far from his comfortable home parish in Rhode Island. He and a group of parishioners who had traveled to the Dominican Republic for mission work sat alongside several local people, most of them poor, in a makeshift home with an open roof as they watched the new pope on a television with a simple wire antenna. Together, they prayed for the new pontiff.

“It was very moving,” said Fr. Taillon. “I’ll never forget that. It was such a great grace for us. We all felt so bonded to the people and to each other.”

Seeing Jesus

Fr. Marcel Taillon holds a newly baptized baby during a mission trip to the Dominican Republic

Fr. Marcel Taillon holds a newly baptized baby during a mission trip to the Dominican Republic

For the sixth consecutive year, Fr. Taillon, pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Narragansett, led a team of more than 20 teen and adult missionaries to the Dominican Republic in April to work for a week at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage for severely disabled children. Many Legates have also taken part in the annual mission.

“If you look into the eyes of these kids, you see Jesus Christ,” said Dr. Richard K. Ohnmacht, a member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter who is also a pediatrician and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University in Providence.

Ohnmacht, the only pediatrician that many of the orphans will ever see, has coordinated free medical clinics in the village’s Catholic parish. Last year, he helped a young father who lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident to obtain a prosthetic and return to work to support his family.

“I’m moved by the goodness of people and how they are willing to help,” Ohnmacht said. “The kids are literally angels. They are without sin. Even though they may not be communicating with us, each of them has something very special.”

The orphanage is part of Mustard Seed Communities, a Catholic non-profit organization that operates facilities in Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Zimbabwe for children with serious physical and mental disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. The apostolate seeks to create loving and caring environments to aid the children’s physical, mental and spiritual development.

“Mustard Seed treats the kids so well,” Fr. Taillon said. “A lot of the kids have a tough history that would make people really sad if they knew some of their stories. But they’re treated with great love and care. It’s really a profound experience of the Christian life.”

Father Taillon said he became involved in mission work after being challenged by a fellow diocesan priest who was involved with a different missionary organization. Hesitant at first, Fr. Taillon assembled a team and discovered that missionary work in the Dominican Republic, while demanding, is personally and spiritually rewarding for everyone involved.

“We’ve really adopted this orphanage and the surrounding Catholic community as well in the village when we go,” said Fr. Taillon, whose parish has donated the Stations of the Cross, a crucifix and other supplies to the local church.

“Fr. Taillon is a very generous person and his parish is very generous,” Ohnmacht said.

Father Taillon has also baptized 33 of the disabled orphans since the village lacks a priest. During this year’s trip, he baptized 13 new orphans. The teens and adults of St. Thomas More Church served as Godparents.

Said Fr. Taillon: “It’s great because we’re able to bring the sacraments to them. One of the big things for our parish is the sacramental bond with the kids.”

Spiritual wealth

Dr. Richard K. Ohnmacht, a member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, holds a boy at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage

Dr. Richard K. Ohnmacht, a member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, holds a boy at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage

Inside the local parish, Immaculate Conception Church, the missionary team also sets up a medical clinic for Ohnmacht (who has made the trip several times) and other physicians to examine villagers. The medical team has provided medicine, vitamins, nebulizers, orthopedic equipment and other medical supplies.

“The first year I went, I basically saw all of the kids,” Ohnmacht said. “They had some health care available to them, so we tried to supplement that with whatever we could — either some medicines or offering orthopedic devices and things like that.

“Virtually every child in the orphanage has some degree of cerebral palsy,” Ohnmacht added. “The vast majority of them are non-ambulatory. A few are able to get around, but without much speed and with a lot of help. All the kids have some mental and developmental issues.”

Ohnmacht and the missionaries have also operated medical clinics in a local school adjacent to a garbage dump. The school — part of the Christ in the Garbage Ministries — educates many of the poor

Haitian and Dominican children who scavenge through the trash. Many of them live in small houses next to the dump.

“On a personal level, you see the goodness in these people. They don’t have a lot of material wealth, but they do have a lot in terms of just their faith,” said Ohnmacht, who also praised the orphanage’s staff for their care, compassion and willingness to improve conditions for the children.

“They work all hours. They don’t complain. They work very hard,” Ohnmacht said. “They certainly don’t have the surgery and the hospitals that we have here, but these kids are extremely well cared for, and that’s such a tribute to the people who work there.”

Dr. Richard Ohnmacht, holds a child at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage in the Dominican Republic

Dr. Richard Ohnmacht, holds a child at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage in the Dominican Republic

Ohnmacht added that about six or seven former and current members of the Providence Chapter have participated in the mission trip over the years. “Legatus really inspires us to work to better other people’s lives, and I think we’ve really grown spiritually together.”

Father Taillon added that being a Legatus chaplain inspires humility and gratitude for all that he has. “In America, we strive to be independent, and in a place like [the Dominican Republic], you strive to experience a Christian common life — both in prayer and in the way we share our lives together. They have a very spiritual Catholic Christian culture, and we try to bring that back with us.”

The youth who participate in the parish mission often return home with lasting impressions. Many become active in the parish and in college campus ministries.

“It’s a life-changer,” Fr. Taillon said. “First of all, they’re unplugged technologically. They’re not allowed to bring technology. It’s really a retreat as well as a mission trip. We do a lot of prayer and sharing together while we’re there. The Eucharist is the center of our day. We have daily Mass. We introduce the Liturgy of the Hours to them. The effect is really enormous.”

BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

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Two years of misery

Legates help Haiti to overcome the devastating 2010 earthquake, problems remain . . .

Haiti never had a fully functioning electrical system – even before a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the Caribbean island nation two years ago. At night, when Haiti is enveloped in darkness, the only light for most people still comes from small charcoal fires.

Haitians’ healing and recovery over the past two years has come at an equally slow pace. Hundreds of organizations have provided some relief to this long-suffering people. But no group has a blanket solution to a myriad of problems at the national level. All they can do is provide some light in a terrifying darkness.

Hope and discouragement

When Reid Carpenter flies back to Haiti, he notices a few differences since the quake. There seems to be a little bit less garbage. Some structures have been cleaned up. The tent cities are not as plentiful as before.

“There seems to be some change, but I say that very reluctantly,” said Carpenter, a member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter. “I don’t think any corner has been turned. From the standpoint of roads and infrastructure, it is all still rather pathetic.”

With the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 12 quake behind them, Haitians live with a mix of hope and discouragement. Though $9 billion was promised by the international community, only half has been doled out due to political instability and a lack of credible institutions. Recently elected President Michel Martelly has yet to prove himself on the world stage, Carpenter said.

Reid Carpenter and Haitian friends

The Florida Legate has been traveling to Haiti for years as a part of his work with the Leadership Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks cities’ social and spiritual renewal. Their partner in Haiti, the Haitian Leadership Foundation, works to teach civic responsibility and good governance.

Carpenter says the last time he was in Haiti, his heart was wrenched by the overwhelming need — especially among the young.

“My most overwhelming experience was going to an orphanage in Port-au-Prince,” he explained. “This was a building which had been mangled in the quake. It was now a little bit rearranged: 122 kids were living in this structure without running water, toilets, food or adult supervision. They were basically living on their own. It was a grave.”

Carpenter’s Haitian friends begged him not to dwell on fixing what he had just seen because it was just one of hundreds of similar tragedies left by the quake. “You see scenes like this all over the place,” he said. “You can only continue to up the ante for people who are connected to this holocaust for the long haul.”

Sacré Coeur

Haiti’s brightest success story is Sacré Coeur Hospital in Milot —75 miles from the epicenter in Port-au-Prince. The hospital wasn’t damaged during the earthquake and is considered to be the nation’s top medical facility.

Paul and Sherry Durnan

Paul and Sherry Durnan, co-presidents of Legatus’ Long Island Chapter, have been to Haiti several times over the past few years. They’re board members for the Crudem Foundation, which raises money for Sacré Coeur. The Durnans were heartbroken by the devastation and flew to Haiti a month after the quake.

“I couldn’t believe how well the hospital was responding,” Paul Durnan said. “Volunteers came from all over the world.”

Prior to the quake, there had been 85 beds for patients. After the quake, the Crudem Foundation built it up to 475 beds.

“We set up six tent buildings. The tents were given by the Order of Malta. They have floors and are very upscale, with operating rooms. We also set up a prosthetics lab,” Durnan said.

Sacré Coeur is the only hospital in the country run by Haitians. They work side-by-side with volunteer doctors and nurses from around the world. The Crudem Foundation’s board members regularly fund medical teams’ flights out of their own pockets.

Over the past two years, Sacré Coeur has expanded to provide accommodations and food for patients’ families. The hospital has a new maternity ward, residence for doctors, pharmaceutical building and warehouse. It’s also starting a nursing school.

“The whole foundation runs on $340,000 a year,” Durnan said. “We have the best medical lab in all of Haiti.”


Dr. Richard Toussaint

Dr. Richard Toussaint, a member of Legatus’ Dallas Chapter and winner of Legatus’ 2010 Ambassador of the Year Award, has been bringing medical teams to Haiti since the quake. He was one of the first doctors to fly into the country after the quake with a team from Forest Park Medical Center, a Dallas hospital he co-founded. They, too, worked at Sacré Coeur.

Toussaint’s biggest concern moving forward, however, goes beyond medical missionary work.

“What is needed is not just medical work, but work to solve the infrastructure problem,” he said. “The country needs infrastructure. It needs schools, church reconstruction, hospitals, clinics. We need to invest in the future, which is the children. This is why we need schools. With infrastructure, you provide jobs. When you reconstruct churches, you can bring Church leadership back in. You can bring priests and nuns back in.”

As managing partner of a real estate development company called the Neal Richards Group, Toussaint would like to build a school in Haiti. He has the professional background and company to do it.

“This requires the importing of equipment. It requires permits. It requires endowing institutions with operating finances going forward and identifying investments,” Toussaint explained.

Building in Haiti, however, is fraught with difficulties. Permits are very complicated to obtain — and expensive. Most of the roads are in disrepair, so moving equipment is a nightmare.

Corruption and bribery are also problems, according to Cristian Ossa, a United Nations economist who led the U.N.’s mission in Haiti from 1995 to 1997. Municipal officials regularly ask for payment in exchange for contracts, and gun-wielding locals will stop shipments of goods, he said. Most organizations forbid paying bribes, thus halting a myriad of donations and services.

“When you fly over Haiti, you see these hills which are denuded. Then just across the border is the Dominican Republic, which is a jungle,” said Toussaint. “If you think about it too much, you throw up your arms in despair.”

In Haiti, success seems to be measured in painfully small steps. Outsiders are often shocked by the vibrancy of Haiti’s faith communities and the joy exhibited by small children.

“When you look into the eyes of Haitian children, you see Christ,” Durnan said. “It gets to you. For weeks and months afterwards, I couldn’t forget those eyes.”

Carpenter concurs. “Generally speaking, these people live in the midst of nothingness, yet they are singing at the top of their lungs in church, praising God with lots of joy. The kids seem to have been given extra gifts of love and gratitude.”

Perhaps the Caribbean nation’s brightest lights are these faith-filled Haitians who continue to survive and appreciate the smallest things — something that Westerners often forget.

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.


Haiti fact box

Sacré Coeur Hospital estimates that the 2010 quake killed 230,000 people; 300,000 were injured; and 1.6 million were left homeless. A U.S. government report in May 2011 said there were 375,000 displaced persons in Haiti with 66,000 still living in camps.

The quake killed Archbishop Joseph Miot of Port-au-Prince. About one-third of priests died (unofficially). Catholic Relief Services raised $198 million for Haiti, and has spent $130 million. CRS fed 1 million people, performed 1,000 emergency operations, built 10,600 transitional shelters, and registered 1,055 unaccompanied children (430 of whom were reunited with families).

CRS and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops will host a national conference on Haiti in June at Catholic University of America. The event explores best practices in small-scale development work and will share information on earthquake response and rebuilding.

Helping heal Haiti

Legate Dr. Richard Toussaint’s heroic journey to Haiti has inspired many . . . 

cover-oct10When Dr. Richard Toussaint flew to Haiti three days after a catastrophic earthquake hit last January, he was prepared for the worst.

From the air, he and his team saw massive physical destruction. Once they landed and left the airport, the stench of death was everywhere. The medical team’s only hope was that their skills would alleviate some of the survivors’ suffering. The team would spend 54 unforgettable hours on the ground – experiences that still fuel Toussaint’s dreams.

Crisis management

When the earthquake first hit, Toussaint — an anesthesiologist and member of Legatus’ Dallas Chapter — instinctively knew he had to get to Haiti. He spent three days arranging for two chartered jets to carry a team of 32 medical personnel, search and rescue specialists, a reporter and cameraman. The plane also brought medical supplies, food and water.

Most of the staff came from Forest Park Medical Center, the Dallas hospital Toussaint cofounded. Once word of the devastation got out, the pilots and many of the medical suppliers waived their fees.

On the ground, Toussaint’s team set up at Sacre Couer Hospital, one of the only hospitals to survive the quake. Along the route from the airport, they saw dozens of pancaked buildings — collapsed floors stacked one on top of the other. They passed a sign that read: “Thank God USA Marines are here. 2 dead bodies inside.”

Thousands were waiting outside the hospital when the team arrived. Half needed medical help, half needed security. Medical personnel treated patients in the courtyard until the hospital’s ground floor was deemed safe for operations. Toussaint’s team immediately began by separating people into groups from most serious injuries to less serious. They quickly realized that their main work would be amputations and treating massive soft tissue wounds.

“Three children showed up at our compound,” Toussaint recalled. “A three-year-old girl whose foot needed to be amputated, a five-year-old girl whose forearm needed to be amputated, and an eight-year-old boy who had severe soft tissue injury. These kids were filthy, and I needed permission from their parents to operate.”

As with so many things during a crisis, normal procedure went out the window. The children’s parents had died and there was no one to ask permission from. The boy had brought his sisters to the hospital on his own by wagon. The team gave the children a box of donated clothes they had brought from Texas.

“They were very excited to get these new clothes,” said Toussaint. “They had gone through so much. We kept asking ourselves, ‘Who will take care of them?’”

At one point, the team even considered bringing the children back to the U.S., but legally this was nearly impossible. Leaving them behind as the mission ended was emotionally difficult for everyone.

“It’s so heart-rending,” said Toussaint. “We don’t know where they are. We hope one day we will find them.”

Tragedy and triumph


A member of Dr. Toussaint’s team comforts a child shortly after the earthquake struck in January

Equally distressing was Toussaint’s experience with a French nun. The school where she taught had collapsed, and she said there were still children inside calling for help.

“I went to the school which had four stories pancaked,” he said. “We looked through the ruins and found dead children. We found the corpses of two children embracing. I had never seen anything like this in my life.”

The nun insisted that she heard children, but no one else heard anything. Then it dawned on Toussaint that the nun was in shock, still hearing her students’ cries. Despite the tragedy in front of him, Toussaint returned to treat the injured gathered at the hospital.

Toussaint said he and his team were impressed by the Haitians’ patience as they waited for hours without complaint. Some Haitians volunteered to translate for the doctors. None were paid and none had food. When the team realized this, they shared their own food.

“These people had nothing to give, yet they gave of themselves,” he said.

Throughout their time in Haiti, the team had to constantly think “out of the box.” Limitations on anesthesia forced them to ration or give local anesthesia for situations that would normally require total anesthesia.

A nurse on Toussaint’s team experienced a deep healing while in Haiti. Her son had committed suicide four years prior. She fought with depression for years, but through the team’s work, she found peace.

“She saw other moms who had lost so much more,” said Toussaint. “She hugged me after the trip and thanked me.

“When we came back, we all realized how tremendously blessed we are. It was almost a shock to come back to our culture here relative to the sheer existence of people in Haiti who get up every day trying to find food and water so they can survive another day.”

Some of the staff doctors from Forest Park Medical Center have returned to Haiti in recent months. Toussaint would like to help rebuild the French nun’s school. He has been meeting with Dallas’ Bishop Kevin Farrell to this end.

The U.S. bishops’ conference has also set aside money to rebuild Haiti’s schools. A USCCB delegation went to Haiti in late July to assess the situation. They reported that women and children remain at risk — and reconstruction is proceeding slowly.

“The real future in that country is education,” said Toussaint. “That’s really their only hope now.”

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is a Legatus staff writer.


Rebuilding Haiti

Legate Reid Carpenter (right) with a Haitian friend

Legate Reid Carpenter (right) with a Haitian friend

As Haiti gears up for its Nov. 28 presidential election, serious problems remain. Although nine months have passed since the quake, little of the $5.3 billion pledged to the country has reached its destination because the Haitian government has not provided a convincing strategic recovery plan. Leadership and functioning civil institutions are virtually nonexistent.

Reid Carpenter, a member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter, has been to Haiti numerous times — and once since the January disaster. He has worked most of his adult life helping the poor in cities around the world.

“In every place of poverty I have been to in the past, something works — like an elevator, running water,” Carpenter explained, “but in Haiti, you don’t see that at all. Nothing works. You walk away and your soul is literally exhausted.”

Carpenter notes that whenever he travels to Haiti, the plane is full of people doing something to help rebuild the country. “But what you do not see is anyone with a vision for the country, a well-structured project.”

To this end, the Leadership Foundations of America — which Carpenter founded — is working to assist Haitian leaders. The winner of Haiti’s next presidential election must have the skills necessary to manage a strategic plan to rebuild the nation. Through his contacts in Haiti, Carpenter is backing Wilson Jeudy, the mayor of a Port-au-Prince principality.

“Jeudy is a committed Christian who has shown the credentials and spirit to lead,” he said. Rebuilding Haiti will not be an easy road, Carpenter said, but the opportunities for service — for both Haitians and foreigners — are limitless.

—Sabrina Arena Ferrisi


Haiti quake factbox

Date: January 12, 2010

Magnitude: 7.0

Deaths: 230,000

Injured: 300,000

Homeless: 1 million+

Catholic Relief Services pledges: $90+ million


U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Catholic Relief Services

Leadership Foundations