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February 21, 2018, Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico – The women of Centro Santa Catalina, a faith-community of families struggling together amid the challenges of poverty – have much to be grateful this year as they mark 20 years of existence and growth.
Founded by local community members and Adrian Dominican Sisters Donna Kustuch, OP, and Eleanor Stech, OP, Centro Santa Catalina now stands on what had been the city garbage dump. Today, the faith community sees to the education of children, the faith formation of women, and the daily needs of families. Programs include a preschool and school; a sewing co-op that provides a livelihood for 19 women and their families; the Homework Help program, which serves 150 children per week; and an after-school tutoring program, which benefits more than 200 children and six adults per week.
In a reflection translated into English, the women involved in the Centro Santa Catalina community described their recent celebration. “We started with a procession, symbolizing that we are pilgrims, then we remembered the path traveled during these 20 years of history, contemplating the most important events.” They expressed gratitude for Sisters Donna and Eleanor, as well as for Sister Maureen Gallagher, OP, who has been walking with the women at the co-op and marketing their products in the United States. For more information about their products, click here.
In their reflection, the women noted the support network they have formed through the Center as they move the cooperative and the center forward. “The most important thing is that the community is strengthened by signs of sisterhood – redemption and survival – and is motivated to continue working for itself.”
Through the years, the Center has helped numerous women and their families to become self-sufficient, Sister Maureen explained. With the help of grants and donations, the Center has sent women to school, to finish their high school degree or to earn a degree from the university. Other women are being paid to attend a certification program for teachers’ assistants. The center also provides jobs and benefits for the local women who work in the Afterschool Tutoring Program.
“The Center has been funded mostly by the Adrian Dominican Congregation and grants from American groups or foundations,” Sister Maureen said. “We also have fundraisers and faithful monthly donors from around the United States.” She added that the Center is applying for a foundation status in Mexico to enable them to apply for funds in Mexico.
“A thousand thanks to all the people who support us so that the Center remains possible,” the women of Centro Santa Catalina wrote.
Feature photo (top): Rosa Elida, Director of Centro Santa Catalina, reads a prayer of thanks during the anniversary prayer service.
Left: The late Sisters Donna Kustusch, OP, shown in the photo shown above, and Eleanor Stech, OP, co-founders of Centro Santa Catalina, were honored during the anniversary celebration. Right: Prayer service participants stand around a timeline depicting the journey that they made in the past 20 years through Centro Santa Catalina.
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.