January 29, 2010

The ties that send

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *

Thanks to “Der Spiegel” and the “Wall Street Journal,” the world now knows that one of the nation’s top bankers is behind this missionary. I hope that makes Mr. Obama think twice before he rolls the phrase ‘fat cat banker’ off his tongue again. But, the fact is that there are also a polyglot teacher, a Ph.D. plant biologist, a creative fifth grade teacher, a well known landscape architect, a Silicon Valley chip designer, an amazing engineer and   single mother and two amazing parents behind this missionary. I am from a family of eight children, not two.

My oldest sister lives in Holland. She speaks her third language better than I speak my first. This came in handy just yesterday when I wanted to know the gist of what the “Der Spiegel” journalist had written. German is outside of my reach. No translator could have made me feel more comfortable since she is the only one that could include in the synopsis that she was proud of her little brother. She was kind of enough not to say, “Proud of my little brother who spilled peachapple juice on my wedding dress I just finished sewing.” But, I did.

My oldest brother answers every question I throw at him. There is no doubt that he is smart, but that is not why he can answer every question. There are plenty of smart people who cannot or will not answer your questions at 9 PM on a Friday night.  They are too tired from using their knowledge all week to answer their own questions. My brother, on the other hand, just cannot pass up the opportunity to share his knowledge with those who want to know.  You don’t get rich from that, but you enrich a lot of people’s lives.

My second oldest sister left an easy job in the city with the kind of company that can make you rich to go back to teaching. She talks about elementary school kids like groupies talk about their favorite rock stars. She knows her students’ personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and quirks like baseball nuts know their favorite players stats. She has always been good at making others feel special. If I do, I learned it from her. 

My next brother tells reporters that he grew up on farm to in order to keep his fame in landscaping grounded. He didn’t, by the way, unless two goats, a dog and several cats constitute agrarian life. He did, however, start landscaping yards at an age when most kids settle for just mowing them. Long before I adopted St. Francis as a patron, he taught me the phrase “conspicuous consumption” and the evils of it. He has a nice house now, which is nestled in a crazy garden that reminds me of his hair, always long and disheveled like a lion’s mane when he was younger. But, what I remember most about his house is that it is filled with friends’ artwork which he has purchased to support just that, the arts.

My third oldest brother just reminded me how important family is. Learning that we were about to take our kids back into Haiti, which is clearly still in the midst of suffering its worst tragedy, he didn’t say, “How amazing.” Always clear headed, he offered to keep our kids at our home or his until we were sure that Haiti had begun to turn the corner and avoid the cliff. If we had given the kids a vote, they would have gone with his plan. But, payoffs in the form of steaming hot Dutch Baby pancakes had been uncovered, so their vote was disqualified. 

That brings me to the banker. A lot has been written about him already.  What hasn’t been is that he taught me a golden rule. It is ok to be treated well as long as you treat others better than you are treated yourself. Maybe that is the secret to being at the top and being respected. Sure, because of his economic status, it is easier for him to buy the groceries for meals at our big family gatherings than it is for me, but what matters is that he also does the cooking, the clean up and asks if you liked it.  Mr. Obama, you may want to take note of how this particular cat has had nine lives.    

My Irish twin sister has always seen me through, even when I wrecked her car. Most recently, she used her connections to the engineering world to find us a structural engineer with seismic experience to clear our buildings.  I love her for that, among many other things. She also asked if she could keep our kids for a bit. But, she was just as quick to note the importance of solidarity to our mission.        

It may be difficult for my family to accept that we have brought our kids back to Haiti in the midst of the largest natural earthquake disaster in modern times. But, it cannot be a surprise. Clearly, I come from the kind of family that sends, not binds.

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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