Catholic Free Press

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  • Jan
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Connected to Haiti

Posted By January 17, 2013 | 12:55 pm | Lead Story #2

By Tanya Connor

“Now that we can see the fruits of our labor, we’re excited and energized. It’s trying to provide more than a Band-Aid now.”
Dr. John Mulqueen, of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Gardner, was telling The Catholic Free Press Wednesday about his organization’s new guest house, clinic and well for water in Haiti.
Dr. Mulqueen, a Gardner pediatrician, and his wife, Paula, a registered nurse, founded Forward in Health in 2006 with the “simple mission of bringing basic healthcare to the impoverished people of FondeFred, Haiti,” according to its website
With Forward in Health, Dr. Mulqueen said, he goes to Haiti with medical personnel and others who offer their services there. He said his wife arranges the travel, goes on surgical trips, and takes high school students on immersion trips.
The next medical team  – 20 doctors, nurses and laypeople – is set to go for a week in February, he said.
Today’s interns and residents want medical experience in a third world country more than those in the past did, Dr. Mulqueen said.
“They really have a more global view of the world,” he said. “The desire is there. Often what they lack is the opportunity.”
Forward in Health has been taking them to work in mobile clinics set up in a church, school or field, usually at the request of a local priest, he said.
Forward in Health has
been trying to build a clinic, but has encountered various setbacks. The clinic foundation survived the 2010 earthquake, but building it took a back seat as the Mulqueens and their volunteers addressed disaster-related injuries.
Now the goal is to open the clinic’s medical wing by July 1, Dr. Mulqueen said. It is to provide basic medical care, such as managing blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension and addressing acute illnesses, six days a week.
“It’s important for us right now to start seeing patients,” he said, explaining that they are working to finish plumbing, electrical work, plastering and painting. He said the five-year plan includes surgical and dental units and a place for health education. The medical wing will have four examining rooms, a pharmacy, a laboratory and an area for checking in and checking out, he said.         Forward in Health will work with the Haitian director of health in Les Cayes, near FondeFred, to find a Haitian doctor, a Haitian nurse and Haitian clerical staff, he said.
“One of the things we really want to do is start to provide prenatal care,” Dr. Mulqueen said, adding that they want to do HIV testing for pregnant women. Those who are positive have about a 25 percent chance of passing on the virus to their child, but taking medicine can reduce that chance to almost zero, he said.
Forward in Health wants to partner with American and Haitian groups, Dr. Mulqueen said.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to collaborate, because we feel we’re stronger working together, and everyone brings a little something different to the table,” he said.
Forward in Health has rented a three-story building in Les Cayes to house its own volunteers and others, Dr. Mulqueen said. The first floor is for office space, the second for living quarters for the organization’s director in Haiti, and the third can sleep 20 visitors, he said.
The owner is renovating it and Forward in Health is seeking furniture, linens, cookware and dishes, he said, adding that those wishing to donate items should contact them first. Monetary donations are welcome too; it will cost about $200 for a bunk bed to be built there, he said.
The hope is to have the house ready for the first group to use March 26-April 2, Dr. Mulqueen said. That’s when The Winchendon School, a private preparatory school, is to send 20 people, including students and adult leaders, to experience and serve in a third world country.
Having their own guest house will help to fund the clinic and its continued construction, Dr. Mulqueen said, adding that it was frustrating to keep asking for money or raising it through car washes and other events. The profits from what Forward in Health teams and other groups pay to stay at the guest house will be used for the clinic, he said. Previously their teams paid other guest houses to accommodate them, he said.
“They’re not going to be living like Haitians live;” they’ll live much better, with meals, running water, etc. he said of guests who will stay at the Forward in Health house.
Water is something Forward in Health has already begun providing; it paid a Michigan missionary group that drills wells $2,000 for a deep one, Dr. Mulqueen said. They’d gotten estimates of up to $10,000 for a well before, and the shallow wells they had dried up in the dry season, he said.
The new well will provide water for the clinic and is opened twice a day to people in the community, he said.
Preparing for the clinic has been a long, hard struggle, Dr. Mulqueen said, but Forward in Health has been persistent. They have a saying: “If it was easy someone else would have already done it.”

– Those wanting more information or to donate can contact the Mulqueens at or 978-632-7846.

Children experience the joy of Christmas thanks to donors

By Tanya Connor

Haitian children and parents seemed to forget their problems at a Christmas party made possible by people here.
But problems – such as people eating only every other day – remain.
With these reports, Sister Marie-Judith Dupuy, director of the Worcester Diocese’s Haitian Apostolate, offered both hearty thanks and impassioned pleas.
The Sister of St. Anne, who is Haitian, spoke with The Catholic Free Press Tuesday as she prepared to return to Haiti Wednesday. She said she planned to meet with Bishop Chibly Langlois, the new bishop of the Diocese of Les Cayes, who has met with her and Bishop McManus. She also planned to visit parishes there which have twin parishes here.
This is the year for the Dioceses of Les Cayes and Worcester to renew their covenant, which they do every three years, Sister Judith said. It is Worcester’s turn to host the ceremony, for which arrangements will be made, she said.
“This year I will focus more on twinning,” Sister Judith said. She said she’d like to get 10 more parishes or other institutions here to twin with parishes there. The Apostolate currently has 12 active twinning relationships, she said.
“The sister parishes in Les Cayes are going through a very hard time, with the economy getting worse in Haiti,” she said. Parents can’t afford to pay tuition to parish schools, so parishes struggle to pay the teachers. A pastor said he eats every other day, she said, adding that hungry people seek help from priests, who don’t have enough food themselves.
“I don’t know how to invite the people here to reach out,” she said. “This is misery, dark misery.”
She acknowledged that parishes here are struggling too, but encouraged those considering twinning and those who dropped their twinning relationships to contact her.
“You do not have to do any specific things,” she said. “I would just ask them to consider reaching out to those priests who are eating every other day.”
She said she will gladly come and explain the twinning to interested pastors, parishes and other groups. That will not obligate them to twin.
The idea is to establish a friendship between parishes or other institutions, pray for one another and help in whatever ways possible. Sister Judith said some do projects, others send $300 a month.
“For them in Haiti, what you think is nothing, or is too small for you, is a mountain of blessings and gifts for them,” she said. Givers will be blessed too, she said.
“This is the appropriate time, as we are talking about our Faith in Action,” she said, referring to this year’s theme for the diocesan Partners in Charity Appeal, which supports the Haitian Apostolate, among many local ministries. “This twinning program is the essence of your faith in action in Haiti. You are giving with faith,” which makes faith grow.
Sister Judith also expressed gratitude for another way people here reach out through the Apostolate – by sponsoring Haitian students, for whom she holds the annual Christmas party.
“I would thank them to make this possible for those kids,” she said.
“When I went to Haiti in December, it was so tense because the kidnapping was going up.” People kidnap, steal and kill, especially around Christmas because they know others have money on them to buy things, she said. She said she was afraid when she went to the bank to get money for the Christmas party, but her program coordinator, Jeanove Maitre was with her.
Sister Judith said she sent three buses to bring sponsored children to the party at the University of Haiti in Les Cayes.
“I had altogether 815 kids,” she said. And shoes for each.
“I really would like to thank the benefactors,” she said of the sponsors who sent the requested donation for their student’s shoes and/or something else. “Some of the benefactors, they are more than generous. They helped me with the food, decorations.”
Some sent extra money or other gifts for their students or children without a sponsor. Among gifts she had to give out were items St. Joan of Arc Parish in Worcester donated awhile back, and flutes and 262 dresses from St. Columba Parish in Paxton, she said.
Sister Judith said she had older students help with the gifts. She asked about their families, and they happily told others, “Sister talked to me.”
“For me as an educator, they receive so well any teaching in behavior you give them,” she said. “They just obey. They just get it. I never let pass any little moment to educate people. If it wasn’t for the good heart, the generosity, of the benefactors in the Diocese of Worcester and elsewhere, we would not have this wonderful moment which was filled with joy.”
The shoes were especially important because students started school with their old ones, waiting for Santa to bring them a new pair, she said.
“I had so many kids because, in our culture, when you invite one child, all the siblings will follow,” she said. “How can you tell a child, ‘Don’t enter the party,’ because you know they are coming to meet Santa? At a certain point, I didn’t have enough shoes.” The merchants who’d brought shoes remedied that by getting their friends who sell shoes to come, she said.
Sponsored students were measured first, whether or not their sponsor sent money, and their names were attached to the shoes, Sister Judith said. Then their siblings were served.
The children colored pictures for their sponsors and excitedly decorated two Christmas trees with ornaments they made.
For the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass Sister Judith had arranged, the students changed into their uniforms so she could identify them by school, she said. At Mass they prayed, “Thank you Jesus for Santa.”
“Right after Mass is over, Santa appears” from the shoe room, she said. Parents woke up the children who’d fallen asleep.
“Vive Pere Noel!” the children welcomed him. Those who attended last year’s party must have told the others what to expect, because this year they clapped instead of crying in fear of the big man, she said.
Santa distributed candy. And the shoes.
“One thing that was really touching me … you can see the joy of Christmas in the eyes of every single child,” Sister Judith said. “It seems like they lost all their problems.”

Waiting for children to fill orphanage

By Tanya Connor

“Monday would have been Brit’s 23rd birthday, so we think it’s an appropriate day to start bringing children in.”
Leonard Gengel was talking about his daughter, Britney, and the orphanage in Haiti he built in her name and hopes to open next week.
He and his wife, Cherylann, talked with The Catholic Free Press from Haiti by telephone Wednesday. They were there two weekends ago for the orphanage’s dedication, and back in Worcester last weekend signing their book about Britney and attending a Mass for her at their parish, St. John’s in Worcester.
“We still grieve with you over Britney’s death,” Msgr. Rocco Piccolomini, who helps out there, told them in his homily at that 4:15 p.m. Mass Saturday.
“We can only salute you and tell you you are great people,” a joy in God’s eyes. He and the congregation applauded.
As a college student on a mission trip, Britney was killed in the earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. She had texted her mother her life plans: to start an orphanage there.
So her family formed the non-profit “Be Like Brit,” raising about $1.8 million and building an orphanage in Grande Goave. They’d like to open it to children on Jan. 21, her birthday, but it may take longer.
“It’s Haiti,” explained Mr. Gengel, a Holden builder who has traveled there 39 times to build the orphanage, with others’ help. “You have to have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. But we look forward to the children coming in. My wife and I will be here.” He said their sons, Bernard and Richard, present at the dedication, won’t be back for the opening; they’re in school.
Mr. Gengel said staff are being trained and program director Susan Johnson, of St. Patrick Parish in Rutland, an associate professor of nurse education at Quinsigamond Community College, has been there the last couple weeks.
“We’ll start with five (children) and work in increments of five or six,” Mr. Gengel said. “For every six children you need one nanny.”
Mrs. Gengel said there are so many orphans they could probably fill the building immediately, and they’re talking about inviting more children for an after-school program. She said neighbor children were at the dedication Jan. 5, the anniversary of the last day she saw Britney, as she left for Haiti.
Mr. Gengel said that at the dedication their pastor, Father John F. Madden, led them in the Our Father, and other clergy also prayed. “It was beautiful,” he said. “Our hope is to continue the spirit of Britney Gengel with the children we bring in here. I said the orphanage was built on faith, hope and love: faith in God, hope that we will spend an eternity with our Brit, love of family, love of country, love of God, love of Haiti.”
“I talked more personally about Britney,” Mrs. Gengel said. She said she was very proud of her husband, but they were there because their daughter died.
Father Madden too noted contrasts.
“It was very, very powerful,” he said of the dedication. “It’s a beautiful orphanage; it’s got such a feel to it.” But he said the visit to Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, where Britney died, was hard, a contrast of beautiful and terrible, as was the country itself.
“At one moment I would think that the problems are so large that it is impossible to do anything about them,” he wrote in St. John’s bulletin. “At the next moment I would marvel that the Be Like Brit orphanage will change the lives of the sixty-six children who find a home there.”
“The title of the book is correct: ‘Heartache and Hope in Haiti,’” Father Madden told The Catholic Free Press, in reference to the Gengels’ account of fulfilling their daughter’s last wish.
Saturday the couple signed copies for four hours, instead of the scheduled two, at Barnes and Noble at Lincoln Plaza in Worcester. (The book can be purchased there and through Proceeds go to the orphanage.)
Mrs. Gengel said they finished signing just in time for the Mass for Britney, where Father Madden greeted them, and family and friends touched them with their presence.
She said some friends are collaborating to sponsor an orphan for $400 per month. And three groups have each raised $7,000 to build a family home in the neighborhood (another of her husband’s passions) and plan to go do the building. People at St. John’s want to help the children too, she said.
Father Madden also spoke of future possibilities. While he was in Haiti, Father Brice Simbert, pastor of San Francois Parish in Grande Goave, drove him to his church, with Father Robert J. Lord, the Gengels’ long-time friend from the Hartford Archdiocese, he said.
“We made a connection with him and got to see the church,” Father Madden said. “Because of the earthquake, the church is a tin roof over folding chairs.” But a new church, to replace the one destroyed in the earthquake, is being built.
Father Madden said he expects St. John’s will be involved with San Francois in the future, though his parish’s first loyalty is to the orphanage.