Haiti Ministry Milestones

1997:  Initiation of the relationship between St. Louis and St. John the Evangelist Center, Gonaives.  Fr. Gerard and Sister Margaret visit St. Louis for the first time.  The Knights of Columbus hosts a potluck dinner in honor of the visitors.

1998:  The first delegation of five St. Louis parishioners goes to Gonaives to visit the Center.  After meeting with Bishop Constant, the greatest identified need is support for education.  Education is seen as the place to build hope.  The St. Louis delegation is overwhelmed by both the extreme poverty and the extreme hospitality of our hosts.

1999:  First shipment, containing a generator, school supplies, bicycles, and furniture is sent to Haiti.

2000:  The second St. Louis delegation visits Haiti.  The first rehabilitation project, a new roof to stabilize the school, is completed.

2001:  The 9/11 tragedy strikes the United States.  Our sister parish sends warm greetings and calls for special Masses on our behalf.  A return visit from St. John the Evangelist is canceled due to security concerns.  In spite of obstacles, generous contributions from the parish enable St. Louis to commit salary support to the teachers on a long-term basis.  Plans for the renovation and expansion of the school are set in motion.

2002:  Serious work on the bricks and mortar side of the school is underway and progresses ahead of schedule.  A well is drilled that serves both the school and surrounding community.  A swampy area at the back of the school is drained of standing water and partially filled to create a play area.  With our donations, Sr. Margaret employed local men and boys as construction workers.  Desks and chairs were welded.

2003:  Teacher formation began with a diocesan summer teacher training program run by Fr. Elie, the Director of Diocesan Education for Gonaives.  The sewing center renovation employed 50 workers all summer and included the addition of a second story with three new classrooms, running water (gravity based) and a sewage system.  A new gas stove and three pedal sewing machines are gifts from the children of St. Louis.  Sr. Margaret and Sr. Colette visit St. Louis.  The end of 2003 saw great political unrest, temporarily slowing progress and limiting travel between the parishes.  Srs. Margaret and Colette are confined to the convent because of political unrest.

2004:  The revolution is in full rage and Aristide flees the country on March 1.  United Nations troops are sent as peacekeepers.  Work on the school continues.  More of the swamp is filled in and the wall around the school is completed.  Bishop Pean visits.  A proposal for professional development of the teachers is drafted.  September 14th, Hurricane Jean strikes and devastates the city of Gonaives.  The recently completed wall holds back flood waters allowing enough time for many to flee to the rooftop of the sewing center.  Sister Margaret uses a satellite phone—a gift from a St. Louis parishioner—to communicate during the flood and to direct relief efforts.  Donations from St. Louis allow Sr. Margaret to employ neighbors, providing jobs and a quick recovery for the school.

2005:  The damage to the school is repaired.  The school gets a fresh coat of paint.  A delegation from St. Louis visits and meets with the teachers and the students.  A stable system for salaries for the teachers is arranged through Fonkoze.  We send a container with 10,000 French books donated by the World Bank along with other supplies for a school and community library.  600 rosaries made by the children of St. Louis are sent to students in the school.  Sr. Colette returns to Canada.

2006:  Fr. Elie and Bishop Pean visit St. Louis.  Sr. Margaret returns to Canada after 23 years in Haiti.  The library in St. John the Evangelist is opened.  Fr. Elie presents a proposal for the future of St. John the Evangelist School.  We fund the cafeteria and replace the gas stove.  We deliver personalized bookmarks to the children of St. John’s made by students at St. Louis.

2007:  A delegation from St. Louis visits.  An order of nuns accepts the invitation to come and run the school.  Score results on the official achievement exam by the Haitian board of education rise from 40% to 79.4% in 2007.

2008:  Four Sisters from Madagascar, members of the Salesian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, arrive to run the school.  Sisters Marianne, Marta, Celestine, and Monique begin their work in Haiti.  Shortly the sisters’ arrival, three storms—Gustav, Hanna, and Ike—dropped torrential rains over Gonaives and flooded the city.  The floods wiped out the retaining wall around the school, washed away many of the houses in the surrounding town, and flooded the first floor of the school.  Over a thousand local residents took refuge on the roof of the school to avoid being washed away in the flooding.

2009:  The Sisters and community immediately began rebuilding after the devastating storms in the fall of 2008.  They replaced the retaining wall with improvements that will make it even sturdier in future storms, repaired all of the classrooms, and added a second story addition to the school where they will store food supplies to protect them during any future flooding.  Nearly three-quarters of the students returned to school.  The Sisters’ work with the sewing center picked up again.  The Sisters began planning for a water treatment system, and solar panels to power it and provide some electricity for the school.   Sisters Marianne and Marta visited St. Louis for Haiti weekend.

2010:  The earthquake in Haiti temporarily delayed plans for installing solar panels and a water treatment system at St. John’s.  The equipment arrived in Port au Prince Haiti in the Fall of 2009 and remained in customs until days before the earthquake when it was delivered to the school and remained safe in the ensuing chaos.  St. John the Evangelist provided for the displaced and wounded that began arriving in Gonaives after the earthquake.  In May, two Haiti Ministry committee members visited St. John’s to oversee the installation of the solar panels, water filtration system, and a satellite dish that will enable the Sisters and students to have access to the internet.

2012:  A new well and submersible pump are installed on the compound.  A bridge is constructed between the roofs of two buildings assuring access to food and water in the event of another flood.  The solar system is supplemented to provide 5 kW of solar production to the compound – making them self-sufficient in both power and water.

2013 – 2014:  Through a grant from the Loyola Foundation, a drainage system is constructed to help remove standing water from compound in the event of normal storms and the compound is now dry within ½ hour of storm ending where previously it could take days.   The project also included the construction of ten keyhole gardens—raised concrete garden beds—that allow the school to grow food to supplement lunches.  Water from the drainage system is pumped into cisterns to water the keyhole gardens, which are maintained by the Sisters and students from the school.  All students in 6th grade pass the National Exams, a great achievement.

2015:  The school will phase in a middle school over the next three years.  Middle school classes will be taught in the afternoon to alleviate an immediate need for new space.  A soccer field is constructed in anticipation of middle school children.

2016 – 2017:  A second story was added to one of the school buildings to provide additional classroom space.  The school was repainted.  The submersible pump and solar panel panel batteries were replaced.  An addition was added to house up to two Novitiates discerning the call to consecrated religious life.