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Nuns feel Haiti’s pain

Haitian Sisters relieved to finally hear from quake-ravaged homeland

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org LEAVENWORTH — The shockwaves from the Jan. 12 Haitian earthquake didn’t topple buildings in Kansas, but they really hit home for two women religious at the Sisters of Charity motherhouse here.

That’s because Haiti is home.

Sister Melicia Singleus is from Port-au-Prince and Sister Myrlande Moise is from Cote de Fer. They are members of the Sisters of St. Antoine, Fondwa. The two Sisters arrived in the archdiocese in August 2009 to begin a year of english language study at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan.

Images and stories from television and the internet left them worried and numb.

“I see [the destruction] on the TV and Internet, yesterday and Thursday night, and I cry, because I see it. I feel very, very, very [sad],” said Sister Melicia.

They were cut off for more than a week from their bishop, chaplain, and superior. They only knew that Fondwa was in a zone with significant damage.

Fondwa is a small community located south and west of Port-au-Prince. Their small order, which was begun in 1996, was in the process of building a motherhouse. The order has six professed Sisters, four postulants, and two novices.

“I think it is very bad, because Fondwa is in the mountains,” said Sister Myrlande.

Sister Myrlande received a brief message from her youngest brother, who lives in Port-au-Prince, through a grandmother living in Miami. She had no idea how her brother managed to make this contact.

Finally, the two Sisters reestablished direct contact with their community on Jan. 20. The news was bad, although it could have been much worse.

Their motherhouse, school, and clinic (which was attached to a radio station) were destroyed. Their guesthouse and orphanage were badly damaged. Four people were killed: a novice, an orphan, and two men who worked at the school. One Sister had a broken leg, which was later set in a cast by a visiting medical team.

“It could have been worse,” said Sister Katherine Franchett, SCL, treasurer of the Sisters of Charity, “School was out at the time the earthquake hit. It wasn’t night, so the orphans were outside playing. The Sisters were working in other places.”

The orphan who died was a two- year-old named Jude. He had nearly starved to death when he was brought to the Sisters as an infant. The Sisters of St. Antoine nursed him back to health. “He was very special to all the Sisters,” said Sister Katherine. “When he got older, he would have gone to the orphanage, but he was too young.” Now, the 11 members of the Sisters of St. Antoine and the 60 orphans they care for are living outside under tarps and tents.

One of the Sisters of Charity managed to make contact with the group, Priority Placement for Physicians. It, in turn, has contacts with Heart to Heart International. Heart to Heart representatives went to Fondwa and brought medical supplies and water. They made arrangements to fill a surviving cistern with water for the next six months.

Sister Judith Donner, a Sister of Humility from Pennsylvania, had been working in the Fondwa clinic, and she managed to get to Port-au-Prince to make contacts and get supplies.

“She arrived two days ago with two trucks filled with supplies and food, and two great big tents,” said Sister Katherine. “She brought volunteers with her. She also has been able to arrange a helicopter with more supplies to be dropped later.”

Doctors from Heart to Heart have made two trips to Fondwa, and the organization has promised to keep in touch with the Sisters.

Haiti needs food, water, and medical help now, but it also needs much more help later on, said Sister Melicia.

“Someone can give you food and you can eat, but after you finish eating, where are you going to sleep?” she said. “What are you going to wear? and the children — where will they go to school?”

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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