On January 11, Deacon Patrick Moynihan left Haiti for a routine visit back home to the United States. The following day, the largest earthquake in 200 years struck Haiti, with the principle fault line running through the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
Moynihan spent the rest of the week trying to get back to Haiti and the school whose ministry he oversees. He finally returned on January 15 to what he described as “a hundred years later.”
“My first night back at our school in Haiti was all about reunions,” wrote the Deacon. “Keenly aware that I was with people who had experienced something that would make me a stranger to them for a while, I attempted to learn by osmosis what they had experienced by surviving a 7.0 earthquake. It was dark and words failed, so I settled for touching shoulders and grasping hands.”
Deacon Patrick is the president of The Haitian Project (THP), a Catholic Mission which supports and operates Louverture Cleary School (LCS), a tuition-free, Catholic, co-educational secondary boarding school for economically under-privileged Haitian children.
The organization operates under the motto: "What you receive as gift, you must give as gift." (Mt 10:8) For over 20 years, THP and LCS have “educated and nurtured academically talented and motivated students from the poorest Haitian families to maximize their potential and enable them to work toward building a Haiti where justice and peace thrive,” states their website.
Striking proof of the success of this mission is the fact that following the earthquake, THP was able to send one of its students, who is sufficiently advanced in his medical studies to work in the hospital run by the Missionaries of Charity. Another student preparing to be a dentist was also able to offer her services, accompanied by a few other student volunteers. In addition, the school loaned one of their vehicles to the sisters to use as an ambulance.
Because of their extended presence in the country, the relationships they have cultivated, and the past crises they have worked through, the people of THP and LCS are already able to give what they have received as a gift. In his Saturday update on the organization’s website, Deacon Patrick reported: “We have met with Catholic Relief Services and are going to work cooperatively with them. We can do a lot to help with some of their issues in warehousing and sourcing of food through our business partners. We are also on the list to receive food support. Again, a testament to our charism--we will receive and give.”
The school itself was not badly affected by the earthquake. Only one of the buildings has been deemed structurally unsound, and a host of engineers have cleared the other buildings for use. Despite the assurances, the students still choose to sleep outside. “Who could blame them; life had taught him that buildings can just fall down,” wrote Deacon Patrick in his weekly CNA column.
Classes have resumed at the school, at least partially. The students can choose where they feel they need to be at the moment, but the hope is that many will soon be returning to the stability the school offers. Currently, there are about 160 of the 358 students living on campus.
The city of Port-au-Prince itself is recovering much more slowly. The relief efforts are there in force and are even clogging the roadways, which prompted Moynihan to quip, “If I were president, all relief organization organizers would have to carpool.”
The ruins of the National Palace, the Caribbean Market, the Hotel Montana and the Cathedral are a stark reminder of the fact that no one was spared in the quake.
“Haiti’s landscape changed forever. In moments, thousands of buildings became impenetrable tombs. Sidewalks became makeshift coroners’ slabs. With their history shaken out of them, crumbled national landmarks became monuments to fragility. Worse, friends became memories,” mourned the deacon.
Through it all, the Louverture Cleary School and its friends in Haiti and the United States stand as a beacon of hope. At least two of their alumni are confirmed dead, but an equal number are volunteering their medical services to those in need. Having worked through boycotts, hurricanes and the overthrowing of a government, the school has able to quietly continue through it all.
“There is no doubt that this is a singularly hard time in Haiti. For inspiration, I think about the fact that Haiti has survived all types of disasters, natural and manmade, wrote the deacon. “I pick out old faces in the crowds and say to myself, 'Imagine what he or she has survived'.”
“It is a hard time, but not the end of time.”
More information about The Haitian Project can be found at: www.haitianproject.org/