In mid-April, Peggy Doherty, SHCJ (M. M. St. Thomas) and I were invited by Ann-Joyce Peters, SHCJ (M. M. Domina) to fly to the Dominican Republic to give a weekend retreat in Spanish similar to those we have been guiding twice a year for women from Providence Center. Peggy had been there before, but this was my first visit to which I looked forward eagerly, but with a bit of trepidation.
The experience was unforgettable: enlightening spiritually and challenging both psychologically and physically. I have returned with tremendous admiration for the work of our sisters, the Response-ability Volunteers, and their Dominican colleagues. They have provided an oasis in the batey where the Haitians, who had come to cut sugar cane, have been abandoned when their employers went bankrupt and left the country.
There was nothing there when Ann-Joyce arrived 15 years ago to begin a project under the auspices of the Jesuit FE y ALEGRIA program. Today there is a bright, well-staffed clinic under the direction of Sr. Kathleen King of the European Province. With special attention to mothers and babies, this clinic has helped improve the general health of the area. Beside the clinic is the Montesori School complex, the inspiration of Mary Alice Minogue, SHCJ (M. Grace Mary). Here the youngsters learn basic skills so that eventually that will be able to join the mainstream of their peers in the nearby public school. We had only one day to absorb all this activity, but I hope never to forget the smiling, grateful faces of all we met – in the midst of great squalor. There is much more that I did not see: the Associates who know and love Cornelia Connelly, the women’s workshops, prayer groups, etc.
Fifteen Dominicans (3 men and 12 women) made the weekend retreat, most of them members of the prayer group Ann-Joyce had initiated. We were able to spend two days at a Jesuit Retreat House right on the Caribbean. Peggy and I were pleased by the retreatants’ generous response to the theme, “Growing in Faith, Hope and Love.” We ended on April 18th with the Cornelian Prayer suggested by the Associates. Three final days at the beach gave Ann-Joyce a bit of rest (that she rarely takes) and for me, another view of this beautiful island. The mansions we passed on the way to the shore were such a contrast to the hovels of the batey.
I needed more than three days to sift through all my reactions to this very special visit. The oppressive heat, daily cold showers, frenetic traffic – all of which I found so daunting – are all taken in stride by our sisters and volunteers. More than WHAT they do, I was struck by the love and caring with which they minister to these very needy people. They do so with great joy, giving the Haitians a sense of their worth and enabling willing Dominicans to share in this ministry which is making a difference in people’s lives.
Not content with what they have already done, they have dreams of doing more – building a guest house where volunteer doctors and benefactors can stay, adding another classroom to the school, providing additional medicine and equipment for the clinic. Because FE y ALEGRIA has 72 other projects, it cannot be their chief source of funding. To continue this work and to allow it to grow depends on the generosity of friends. No donation is too small to help with their teaching, healing ministry.