by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven
LEAVENWORTH — Five Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, who recently traveled to Haiti to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a partner religious community, transitioned from Plan A to Plans B, C and then D due to the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew. The good news? Even though the Sisters of St. Anthony of Fondwa experienced damage to their buildings, huts and crops, neither they nor the SCLs experienced any personal injuries.
Sisters Ann Barton and Regina Deitchman, of the Leavenworth motherhouse, and Sisters Lynn Casey, Carol Depner and Katherine Franchett — from communities in Helena, Montana, Denver and Ashland, Montana, respectively —boarded a plane in Kansas City on Sept. 29.
Arriving in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, later that day, they encountered the chaotic traffic of the capital city of 2.5 million where Sister Regina said there appeared to be very few traffic lights.
In the mountainous area of Fondwa, where the Sisters of St. Anthony minister, the SCLs received updates about the ministries. Sisters Ann, Katherine and Regina were also able to meet with the architect who will be designing the new convent for the Fondwa Sisters. In addition, Sister Ann completed evaluations for two grants she had helped secure for the Haitian religious community.
Mass on Oct. 2 was a grand celebration of three-and- a-half hours, which featured local music and talks by a bishop, priests and Sister Simone Achille, co-founder of the Sisters, and Sister Claudette Prevot, current community leader.
But at the reception that followed, news broke that Hurricane Matthew was approaching the island nation with threats of heavy rain and wind and the danger of mudslides in the mountains.
While the Haitians, who live with frequent hurricanes, seemed somewhat nonchalant about this Category 4 hurricane, the SCLs thought it best to return to Port-au-Prince. Father Joseph Philippe, CSSp, another co-founder of the Sisters of St. Anthony, tried to dissuade the SCLs from this quick departure, but later acknowledged the wisdom of their decision.
Their hostess Sister Claudette arranged transportation to Port-au-Prince for the Americans and lodging there. She also had a young Sister accompany and remain with the SCLs. The group experienced outages of water and electricity and felt marooned, but safe, in the guest house that a German couple make available for use by the Sisters of St. Anthony and Father Joseph.
Scheduled to leave on Oct. 6, the SCLs tried for earlier departures, but didn’t make it out of Haiti until Oct. 9. The whole trip had swiftly become totally different than what they had planned.
Even when they arrived in Kansas City, they had a delayed deplaning because there was no gate open to receive them.
To a person, however, the SCLs valued the time in Haiti. Sister Carol calls it a “life-changing experience that will remain etched in my heart.” Amid the poverty and hardship, the resilience of the Sisters of St. Anthony and the Haitians deeply impressed her.
“They just throw up their hands and say, ‘Bad things have happened before. We’ll get through this again,’” she observed.
Sister Lynn was impressed by the passion of the Sisters for their ministry of serving the people of rural Haiti, particularly those who do not have priests in the area where they live. Sister Katherine marveled that this fledgling community has jelled so well in its first 20 years. And Sister Regina found it important that four of the 16 Sisters of St. Anthony are enrolled in the University of Haiti for different programs: accounting, nursing, teaching and sewing.
Sister Ann, who was among the first Sisters of Charity to travel to Haiti many years ago for an immersion experience that introduced the Kansas community to the Haitian Sisters, sees them as a real missionary community.
“They are remarkable,” she said. “They remind me of the spirit of our own community.”
Moreover, Sister Ann is happy that the sewing machine initiative she has spearheaded in the United States is allowing the Sisters of St. Anthony to foster sustainable development among the women of Fondwa, who are learning to become seamstresses.
In fact, while Sister Ann was marooned in Haiti, a booth hosted by the SCLs and friends at a Lansing crafts sale raised $3,000 for the purchase of additional sewing machines for the Sisters of St. Anthony of Fondwa.