Monday, June 15, 2009


A session at the recent silent retreat held for Associates of St. Mary’s Convent here at Sewanee featured a Power Point presentation about work done by several of the Sisters of St. Mary and a team at an orphanage in Port au Prince, Haiti in November, 2008. Their mission was to help improve conditions at an orphanage for sick and dying children and to deliver and install a water purifying system there. We saw slides of the orphanage and the primitive roads winding through a poorer section of Port au Prince, pictures of the wonderful water purification system that will cleanse the contaminated water of waterborne diseases such as bacteria, protozoa that cause diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, typhoid fever and other illnesses that bring about the demise of 1 in 5 children before the age of five. These children are helpless to change the conditions in this country that is recognized as the poorest country in the western hemisphere and one of the most dysfunctional countries in the world.

The most arresting part of the presentation was devoted to the children to whom the Sisters and the team ministered – some children were smiling, others were expressionless, deformed, and physically and emotionally retarded. However, we did glimpse some plump bodies and smiling faces of those who had recovered their health. All were captured on film…and in paintings rendered by Barbara Hughes, an artist from Sewanee who is also a professor of Art at the Sewanee Theological seminary and who was one of the missioners. One portrait featured a child who is dying of AIDS and blind in one eye – a picture so poignant it would wrench the heart of the most obdurate. Barbara will display the rest of the paintings in a later exhibit, and I anticipate a large response to the portraits. Slides of the children finger painting with Barbara, and their delightful spontaneous expressions, made us feel that inroads are being made into the lives of these sick and dying children. The finger painting picture was a scene of reciprocal happiness.

Eighty percent of Haitians live under the poverty line, and 54% live in abject poverty. The country is in the middle of the hurricane belt and has undergone flooding, earthquakes, and many natural disasters which contribute to the poverty of its citizens. Fifty-five percent of Haitians are illiterate, and 30-40% of the country’s budget is comprised of foreign aid provided by the U.S. and other countries. Haitians were a part of the cultural mix in my native state of Louisiana in the 19th century when a major emigration of refugees from the Haitian Revolution of 1804 occurred, most of these Haitians settling in New Orleans. These “free people of color” added to the Creoles of color community then living in New Orleans, and expanded the community of those who speak French. Several Haitians are mentioned in my Young Adult book, FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE, about the Spanish settlement of New Iberia.

Sisters of St. Mary continue to recruit funds and people to form the next mission to Haiti in either December or March. My Bishop in western Louisiana, the Rt. Rev. Bruce MacPherson, has been a strong supporter of this project and helps make possible the water purification systems and technicians for the trips to Port au Prince. This week, during the silent retreat, he sent word that he is supporting, in advance, the work of the next trip. The Sisters of St. Mary and I have him on our list of “Saints in Mission.” If you’re interested in the project, please e-mail me at

The satellite picture of Haiti is from the following website:
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