By Tanya Connor
“Cherlyann and I just felt very proud that we had the bishop … to see the legacy that our daughter” left, Leonard Gengel told The Catholic Free Press this week.
Bishop McManus did more than see that legacy; Mr. Gengel said he blessed it with a Mass he offered for Britney.
The legacy of 19-year-old Britney Gengel, who died in the January 2010 earthquake that devastated parts of Haiti, includes the Be Like Brit orphanage in Grande Goave that her family and supporters built in response to her dream of starting such a place.
“It’s a wonderful place,” where 33 children are getting wonderful care, Bishop McManus said after his recent visit to Haiti. “Every time you sit down, these kids are hugging you, want to sit in your lap … craving attention. … I was just so impressed with the goodness of people … Len and Cherlyann” doing this in memory of Britney.
When Bishop McManus arrived for a two-day visit July 9 with the Gengels’ pastor, Father John F. Madden of St. John Parish in Worcester, the children sang for them.
“The bishop’s a very holy man,” said an impressed Mr. Gengel. “The bishop walked right up with me about four or five feet from the children. He was clapping in time with the music with me.”
“When Bishop McManus and I walked into the Be Like Brit orphanage the children were lined up in the chapel singing, ‘This Is The Day The Lord Has Made,’” Father Madden wrote in his July 14 parish bulletin, before taking time off this week. “Indeed. My eyes filled with tears. … That was one of the most memorable and moving moments of my life.
“When the ‘choir’ switched to ‘O Happy Day,’ Britney’s favorite song, LoveNa, who is about 4 years old, crossed her arms and set her jaw. I guess it was not such a happy day for her. It was priceless. As Brit would say, ‘Fabulous.’
“A relatively short time back Len and Cherylann were sitting in my office to plan Brit’s funeral. There they were on Tuesday sitting in the chapel of the orphanage with their 33 children as Bishop McManus celebrated Mass. It was truly a Mass of Thanksgiving.”
“It was so beautiful to see Father Madden look at these 33 children … because when he was there in January” for the blessing of the newly readied orphanage, its young occupants had not yet moved in, Mr. Gengel said.
“He knew Brit; he loved Brit,” he said of his pastor and his daughter. He blessed her before she left for Haiti. “So to see him three-and-a-half years later to see Brit’s children … it really was a beautiful moment.”
It was also Bishop McManus’ second visit to Haiti. Mr. Gengel said he and his wife invited him, and Father Madden arranged the trip.
The bishop’s first trip was with Sister Judith Dupuy, the Sister of St. Anne who directs the Worcester Diocese’s Haitian Apostolate. They went the October before the earthquake.
This time the bishop saw people displaced by the earthquake, “but he also saw the progress,” Mr. Gengel said.
“Every time you go to Haiti it’s eye-opening to see how desperate the situation is,” Bishop McManus said. He called things like what the Gengels are doing a tremendous contribution.
While in Port-au-Prince, Bishop McManus visited Archbishop Guire Poulard, who was previously the bishop of the Les Cayes Diocese. Bishop McManus had met him as a result of the twinning between the two dioceses. The earthquake killed Archbishop Poulard’s predecessor in Port-au-Prince and destroyed the cathedral there. Bishop McManus said the cathedral is still in ruins and he saw people living in tent-like dwellings up to the cathedral’s remaining wall.
At Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, where Britney died, “we said a prayer for Brit and those who had died there,” the bishop said.
Mr. Gengel said he also showed the bishop the Food for the Poor Fishing Village Britney had been scheduled to visit the day after the earthquake, Mission of Hope International (the NGO Be Like Brit works with) and their joint factory for making earthquake-proof cement blocks.
A visit to mountain people living above the orphanage showed a wonderful group of “Britsionarys” (volunteers, including some from the Worcester Diocese) working feverishly to put a tin roof on a one-room shack before a storm hit, Bishop McManus said. He said the shack, furnished with only a table and two beds, belonged to a family of about seven.
Bishop McManus also celebrated Mass at St. Francois, the Catholic church the orphanage works with, for the orphans, staff, “Britsionarys” and parishioners.
“The children dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ and were extremely well behaved,” Father Madden said in his bulletin letter. “It was a rousing celebration. Bishop McManus celebrated in French. … The Pastor, Father Brice (Simbert) spoke of his excitement about St. John’s becoming a ‘sister parish.’… Father Brice also went on to call Len a ‘prophet.’ …
“The work of Be Like Brit is prophetic. As we know, the charge of the prophets was to remind the people of the way of God; to point out what was not of God in the world; to call them (and us) to conversion and renewed fidelity. Seeing the beauty of Haiti, I could not help but think that God had not created such a spectacular place in order for it to become so poor.
“The Be Like Brit orphanage stands proudly above Grand Goave to remind us what God truly desires for his children. St. Francois stands strongly in the middle of town promising what can be when we work together as God’s children.
It is significant, I think, that the two most beautiful buildings in Grand Goave are the orphanage and the church. We are blessed to be connected with both of them. O happy day – that the Lord has made.”