St. Bernadette in Prospect, Ky., is more than 1,500 miles away from St. Louis de Gonzague in Bonbon, Haiti, but the relationship between the churches and their parishioners is strong.
“We include them in our weekly intentions at Mass,” said Ellen Creely, St. Bernadette’s Neighbor Care Coordinator. “They’re always very top of mind for us.”
In addition to weekly intentions, St. Bernadette has monthly Haiti Ministry Committee meetings.
The relationship has existed since St. Bernadette was founded in 2008 through the Parish Twinning program and consisted mostly of monetary gifts, according to Bob Glaser, a St. Bernadette parishioner and member of the church’s Haiti Ministry Committee.
That changed in 2016 when administrator pro-tempore Father William Fichteman suggested they visit the parish to see where the money was going. Glaser, Father Fichteman, two parishioners and a Parish Twinning representative made the trip that January and made connections that are still strong today.
“I communicate with Father (Jean) Bernadin (Paul) on a weekly basis,” Glaser said of St. Louis de Gonzague’s pastor. “He sends texts through WhatsApp and pictures of the progress. … If anything happens there, I usually know about it within a day.”
When Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti later that year on Oct. 4, 2016, it destroyed much of Bonbon, including the school building and church. St. Bernadette facilitated funding to rebuild the church and make repairs to the school, Glaser said.
Then in August 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck, bringing more devastation. Although the church survived with no damage, the school and rectory buildings were deemed uninhabitable.
“We sent money to rebuild the school,” Glaser said. “It’s the tallest building in Bonbon, it’s two stories. They built it with rebar and extra support to make it sturdy.”
Now the focus is on rebuilding the rectory.
Building materials have nearly doubled and the structural damage was worse than expected. What was slated to be a $26,000 project according to a September 2021 quote is now closer to $40,000. Additionally, Haiti struggles with gang presence, its politics are unstable and there’s a gasoline shortage.
“The situation is a fluid thing,” Glaser said. “It’s day-to-day in Haiti. You never know when the next storm or problem will come up.”
Creely said the students have struggled with staying inside the school building for fear it will fall down with them inside.
“They had aftershocks for a month and every time one happened the children ran outside because they thought the school would fall down,” she said.
Glaser finds their resiliency astounding given what they’ve been through.
“It’s heartbreaking when you see it,” he said. “How poor they are. It amazes me how they can show up to church every week and have hope.”
The Haiti Ministry Committee helps not only in times of crisis, but also in ordinary times. In 2019 it gave St. Louis de Gonzague a micro-loan to start a chicken business with the intention of “helping them fish rather than just feeding them,” Glaser said, referring to the adage.
St. Bernadette has also funded a parish vehicle, and students at the parish’s St. Mary Academy collected school supplies to send down.
“We’ve done some video messaging between our students and their students,” Creely said. “Our whole parish is involved with their parish.”
Not even a language barrier inhibits them. Father Paul speaks French and Glaser English, but with the help of technology they communicate pretty well.
“We use Google translate for everything,” Glaser said. “When Father Bernadin (Paul) visited, he stayed with me. I would talk into my phone, translate it for him, and then he would do the same.”
“We’ve maintained this relationship, it’s a real partnership, a real success story,” Glaser said. “It’s a partnership where we’re trying to help them help themselves.”