Cedar Falls parishioners visit Haiti

By Laura Dobson

Special to the Witness

CEDAR FALLS – This March, a delegation of seven from St. Patrick Parish in Cedar Falls visited the church’s sister parish, St. Jean Bosco in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. The goal of the mission trip was to assess the current status and needs of the church, school and medical clinic and to provide a helping hand while there. The group took suitcases of school supplies donated by St. Patrick Catholic School and faith formation families, a few supplies for the clinic and fun items for the children.

The two parishes participate in the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas (PTPA), which matches up Catholic parishes in the United States with needy parishes in Haiti.  Haiti, which is predominantly Catholic, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. St. Patrick Parish has been paired with St. Jean Bosco for 30 years, and a group from St. Patrick last visited 16 years ago. Monetary donations are wired quarterly and are earmarked for teacher salaries and the medical clinic.

The travelers on this trip included a nurse, a high school and junior high French teacher, three students and two other adults. Theresa Patterson of PTPA and a French-speaking friend, Liz Cude, accompanied the group from Cedar Falls. Patterson is 77 years old, and this was her 121st trip to Haiti. “She was a great resource, and she knew so many people,” said Claire Rollinger, one of the students. “It was great to have her along.”

St. Jean Bosco Parish is basically a gated compound with a church, parish hall, rectory, clinic and school.  “We went in with the intention of helping to build things or paint,” stated Rosie Guerrero, youth ministry coordinator and trip participant-
coordinator, “but Father Dubois, the priest, mentioned there are certain regulations we have to check with the city on, and he prefers we do it as a team. So instead of we Americans just coming in and fixing everything for them, he prefers we work alongside them as a team, or support them in doing it, which makes sense.”

“If we were to help as a parish, the parish hall could use some paint touch-ups and probably a new roof,” stated Guerrero. “The restroom area at the primary school could also use some repair. ­Father Dubois hopes that an extra room can eventually become a technology lab. Wi-fi is spotty and the electricity sporadic, but finding a way to get Wi-fi to the school would give students the opportunity to learn in different ways,” noted Guerrero.

The visitors enjoyed attending Mass at the church. Just as at St. Patrick, the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass is popular with families. The school children wear their uni­forms, the others are very dressed up, and the children do all of the ministries except for Communion. The services are very upbeat and last about two hours despite the heat in the unair-conditioned sanctuary.

Students only go to school until about 1 p.m. because of the heat. The school children were taking exams while the group was in town, but they did interact during breaks. Rollinger remembered that “because you are so different they just wanted to swarm you. They wanted to touch you. They wanted to hug you and be around you.”

The children are taught French in school. “The language barrier was difficult at times, but Father Dubois taught us some words,” stated Rollinger.  “There were different ways that you could foster connections with people.” She went on to explain that music was a beautiful way to connect.

The group stayed in the rectory, sleeping with mosquito nets and using Deet all of the time. Most of the time there was no electricity, but showers were generally hot. Rollinger noted that her favorite thing about the rectory was the morning. “There were so many people involved in the church ministry who wanted to take part in singing,” she said. “Sometimes you would wake up at five in the morning and there would be a church choir practicing. If you didn’t wake up to church music you would wake up to chickens fighting.”

The group found it interesting that the priests have side jobs because they do not make much money, but they also use those jobs to provide financial assistance to the parish. Father Dubois inherited a banana farm, and he sells bananas to help the parish and assist with teacher salaries. “The preschool is new, and he really believes in education,” reported Guerrero. “So instead of putting the responsibility on St. Patrick to pay the teachers, he asks the parish to pay some, and he helps by paying them with his bananas.” The associate priest does carpentry work and presented each visitor with a personalized, handmade wooden sign as a thank you for the visit.

Arlene Prather O’Kane, the nurse from St. Patrick, noted the clinic needed a new microscope and otoscope for the small exam room. Prather O’Kane did help with patients while there, seeing many people with hypertension, diabetes, reflux and arthritis issues. Almost all had parasites from the water. “If patients can pay, they pay,”  she said. “If they can’t, they don’t. Lab work might be a $1.50, which is a lot to them.” The pharmacy does not keep a lot of drugs on hand, and what they have is locked up. Prather O’Kane said she worked well with the doctors. “We got along great with Google Translator,” she said.

The mission trip group has made a list of potential repairs and other items the parish might be able to help with. The Haiti Committee will begin the task of deciding where to go from here. “It has been so long since we’ve been there, it was more of a trip about assessing needs than it was about doing work,” said Rollinger. “They are very loving. It is a different culture, and it was wonderful to be a part of it.”

Dobson is marketing coordinator for St. Patrick Parish in Cedar Falls.



A team from St. Patrick Parish, Cedar Falls, departed March 9 for a long overdue mission trip to Haiti to visit their sister parish. The team of four adults and three students took note of needed repairs and suggestions from the priest and assistant priest (pictured here). Back: Rosie Guerrero, Alexa Balong, Clare Rolinger, Elaina Loyd, Jesse Woods, Father Frandy Descieux, Arlene Prather O’Kane and Theresa Patterson. Front: Sophia Woods and Father Jacque Henri Dubois. (Contributed photo)