August 17, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – “We came to a family – a home. I didn’t feel like an orphan.”
That was the sentiment of Alfredo Benitez and other former residents of an orphanage in Haiti during a recent visit with Sister Philomena Perreault, OP, at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse. Sister Philomena, Father Richard Leo Frechette, and other staff members of the Nos Petit Frères et Soeurs (NPFS) “My Little Brothers and Sisters” orphanage in Haiti accepted the 500 young residents as part of a large family.
Sister Philomena was among the group that founded NPFS in 1988; she ministered there for about 15 years, taking special care of the babies, serving as nurse for all of the children, and training the older children to take care of the babies. She then felt called to make use of her training as a licensed practical nurse to serve in the mobile medical clinic in Haiti.
NPFS is one of the orphanages established by Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) International, a Christian organization that founded and runs orphanages in Latin America and the Caribbean. Founded in 1954 by Father William B. Wasson, NPH strives to provide a permanent family and home for children who are orphaned, abandoned, or suffering the effects of living in extreme poverty.
Ten former residents, staff members, and volunteers came to Adrian August 14-15 to visit Sister Philomena and to express their gratitude for the positive influence she made on their lives.
“The house was a love house, and when you come, you really feel the love,” said Nadine Dédé, who, as a resident, was trained to care for the babies and returned after attending secretarial school. She recalled the framed plaque in the orphanage: “Love is an action word.”
“We were big girls taking care of the little ones,” Nadine recalled. “She taught us how to love them, how to carry them, how to feed them and change them. We learned a lot from her.”
Roseline Paul began at the age of 10 to help Sister Philomena take care of the babies. “I was very happy to be with Sister and learn a lot, because she loved our little babies and took care of them.” She recalled that Sister Philomena slept with babies who were crying the hardest to give them comfort and a sense of security.
“She was giving 24 hours a day,” recalled Mary Reed, a U.S. volunteer who had served with Sister Philomena. “She took care of the sickest of the sick. I’d be sleeping-walking and Sister – who was a few years older than me – would be up all night with crying, screaming babies.”
Father Rick, who worked with Sister Philomena in Haiti for years – and who still serves in Haiti – recalled the sacrifice that Sister Philomena made when she switched ministries from the orphanage to medical work. The orphanage was high in the mountains – about 1,300 meters – and Sister Philomena moved to the hot climate of the slums of Port au Prince to work in the medical field.
“We worked off the back of a truck, in very poor areas, bringing X-rays and medicines and taking care of people with tuberculosis, malaria, and diabetes – and so many people with AIDS,” Father Rick said. Because of the political turmoil in Haiti at the time, the medical team also healed people who had been shot or beaten.
Perhaps most heart-breaking of all, Father Rick said, was the number of children who died every day – often five to 10 children -- whose bodies Sister Philomena washed and buried after morning Mass. “They die from malnutrition, lack of medicine for the simplest illnesses, pneumonia, gastroenteritis, malaria, dengue, cholera, tuberculosis – infectious diseases.”
Raphael Louigéne, who worked with her on the medical team, recalled Sister Philomena’s precision in caring for sick children. When she gave out medicine for the children, “she wanted to be sure that the mothers mixed the medicine with clean water so that the medicine wouldn’t be ruined by something that would cause another sickness. Sister was very precise and disciplined in making sure that the children were cared for.”
Sister Philomena’s love for children and diligence in caring for them had a profound influence on those she had served in the orphanage. Many, in turn, have become involved in various NPH programs.
“I gave my service in Haiti, Mexico, and Honduras,” Alfredo Benitez said. “To me, Sister Philomena speaks of kindness and compassion toward human life, as well as simplicity of life.”
For her part, Sister Philomena enjoyed the gathering of people she once had served or served with in her beloved Haiti – in spite of the hardships involved in her ministry there. “I would go back in a minute,” she said. “My heart is still there.”
Read more about Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos and ways in which you can become more involved.
August 16, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – One of the focuses of ministry for many Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates is advocating for social justice in a wide range of issues. Adrian Dominican Sisters from the United States had a special opportunity on August 2 to learn about the justice issues facing their Sisters in the Philippines, members of the Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter.
Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP – Justice Promoter for the Remedies Chapter – gave a presentation on three key justice issues that her nation faces, as well as the responses to those issues by the Sisters of the Remedies Chapter. Sisters Maria Socorro Garcia, OP, and Lourdes Pamintuan, OP also took part in the presentation.
After a brief description of the history and geography of her South Asian nation – made up of 7,700 islands – Sister Antonette explained through words, videos, and slides three key issues facing her nation today.
War against Drugs. After taking office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte launched a war against drugs, in which suspected drug dealers and users are killed by the police without due process. Sister Antonette noted that thousands of people have been killed in drug raids – “mostly poor or simple users,” while the major players in drug trafficking have remained at large. While drugs have been a problem in the Philippines and enforcement of drug laws is an important step, “the issue here is that you don’t just kill people without due process.”
A related issue is the declaration of martial law in May 2017 in Marawi, a city in the southern region of Mindanao as a result of armed conflict between the military, security forces, and ISIS terrorists. Sister Antonette noted some of the results: people killed and wounded in the siege; a greater likelihood of arrest; and the displacement of thousands of civilians.
The re-imposition of the death penalty. About a decade after it was abolished, the death penalty in the Philippines is coming closer to being reinstated. The bill to reinstate it has passed in the House and we’re “waiting for the results in the Senate,” Sister Antonette said.
In response to this violence, Sister Antonette said, the Remedies Sisters have been protesting through their own Walk for Life in their northern region of Pampanga, supporting the Catholic Church’s stance against any policies that oppose the sanctity of life.
“We’re making a conscious effort in our schools to raise the consciousness of the students” on the issue of the death penalty, Sister Antonette said. The Sisters are also involved in demonstrations against the death penalty. Sister Antonette was among a group of Sisters from her Chapter who lobbied against the death penalty at the House of Representatives in January.
Climate Change. “This is the area where our Chapter has been most involved,” Sister Antonette said, noting that the Philippines has already been impacted by climate change. Families are already impoverished in the Philippines, she said, but climate change has added to their burden. “Climate change will severely affect our future growth and put our region at risk.” Her country has already experienced severe typhoons in recent years. Because of the increased temperatures, typhoons and floods will become even more common in the Philippines, Sister Antonette explained.
The Sisters in the Remedies Chapter have been involved in mitigating climate change in a number of ways. Some Sisters have signed the Laudate Si Pledge to respond to Pope Francis’ encyclical on environment by “praying for and with creation, living more simply, and advocating to protect our common home.”
The Sisters have also responded in practical ways: through community farming, work towards zero-waste management, and setting up windmills in two of the Sisters’ communities to generate wind power.
Sister Antonette brought her update on justices issues in the Philippines to Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates in the Detroit and Chicago areas later in the week.
Feature photo at top: Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP, addresses Adrian Dominican Sisters at the Motherhouse about the major justice issues facing the people of the Philippines.