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My Town Grand Haven: St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church set for mission trip milestone in Haiti | Arts & Culture

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My Town Grand Haven: St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church set for mission trip milestone in Haiti
My Town Grand Haven: St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church set for mission trip milestone in Haiti

GRAND HAVEN, Mich.-- A team of parishioners from St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Grand Haven will soon travel to Morne L'Hopital, Haiti to bring much-needed supplies to a school and sister parish Sts. Simon and Jude.

The trip on April 8-14 marks the 20th anniversary of collaboration between the parishes, which are separated by 1,883 miles.  Over the past two decades, 101 parishioners from St. Patrick-St. Anthony parish have made mission trips to Sts. Simon and Jude Parish and other outreach ministries in Haiti to help the poorest of the poor.

"While our focus is education, we support the day-to-day operation of the parish priest and his staff, plus assist in the medical clinic in a complementary way," said Jose Astua, director of mission and ministry with St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Grand Haven.

When the eight-member team from Grand Haven embarks on its April journey, team members will deliver handmade diapers, personal care and medical items, vitamins, books, puzzles, stencils, stickers, math cards, puppets and other English-language classroom supplies to Haitian students at St. Paul Elementary School and parishioners.  the most essential gift the team will bring is its presence.

The Grand Haven contingent will be led by Christine Fojtik, parishioner and chair of the St. Patrick-St.Anthony Parish Haiti committee.  She will be joined by Astua,  parish administrator John Strazanac, nurse Jan Smith, teacher Ruth Rossiter, scholarship coordinator Joyce Bies and two members of the Rossiter family.

"This will be my ninth trip to Haiti.  I feel that I'm making a difference in the lives of students and parishioners at Sts. Simon and Jude Parish by showing them that someone cares and treats them with dignity and respect," said Fojtik.

St. Patrick-St.Anthony Parish has served s an American "twin" to Sts. Simon and Jude Parish in Haiti since August 1995, through the Parish Twinning Program of America.  Sts. Simon and Jude Parish serves 400 families living in the mountains southwest of Port-au-Prince.  The campus includes the church, a rectory with guest house, Ecole St. Paul, medical clinic and community center.  Over the past 20 years, 15 teams have made the trip to Haiti and the parish has partnered with four different priests over the years, experiencing a treasure of continuity with leaders of the church and school.

Ecole St. Paul offers education and opportunity for 350 Haitian children in preschool through sixth grade.  St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish provides for 11 elementary teachers' salaries and special collections over the years have raised funds for the construction and renovation of classrooms, purchase of equipment,  installation of a computer lab, building of a cistern to obtain water and other improvements.

In 2003, with the inception of the Haiti Scholarship Program, St. Patrick-St. Anthony parishioners have also provided hundreds of scholarships, beyond those provided to preschool through sixth grade children, to support students who attend Jean Baptiste Secondary School, plus vocational schools in Port-au-Prince.  The pastor of Sts. Simon and Jude selects the students to receive scholarships and reports on their performance.

"My main goal in making this trip is to visit the school and see how the kids are being educated.  In the entire country, less than 50 percent are able to read," said Joyce Bies, parishioner with St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish and Haiti committee member.

"We believe that education is the key to sustainability for the future of our sister parish in Haiti.  In recent years the elementary school of 350 students has grown to include another 105 in seventh-through-ninth grades.  Our plan is to help create a complete secondary source of education through 12th grade, which will likely see 550 total students at the parish campus in another three years," said Strazanac.

Older Haitian students who have received scholarships for higher level education are becoming the new tier of parish leaders and this is particularly important to the parish family of sponsors in Grand Haven.  St. Patrick-St. Anthony Haiti committee members and parishioners believe this type of relationship and personal development will bring lasting improvements and opportunities to the lives of the Haitian community.

St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish has also forged a tight relationship with Gesu Parish out of Milwaukee for nearly a decade.  They focus their resources on the parish nurse and her clinic, food programs and select capital projects.  In recent years they funded the block wall that surrounds the parish campus and recently provided for a water treatment system.

"While our team is in Haiti, we will visit with Fr. Roosevelt Leriche, pastor with Sts. Simon and Jude Parish.  We will meet with the elementary and secondary school principals to get helpful feedback from them.  We are always eager to see where we can make improvements, like through enrichment programs," said Bies.

"We do three pancake breakfast fundraisers here at our parish in Grand Haven to raise money for our sister parish for mission trips, educational sponsorships and other outreach projects.  Every weekend children place money in a collection basket for Haiti.  The Haiti outreach ministry is the single largest ministry supported by the Grand Haven parish, in terms of financial resources," said Fojtik.

For further information about the parish Haiti ministry, visit the St. Patrick-St. Anthony website or contact the parish office at (616) 842-0001.