FARMINGTON---Parishioners at St. Joseph Parish in Farmington and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Jay frequently work together on projects and initiatives, but perhaps no effort is better answering God’s call to serve than the loving commitment the parishes have made to St. Laurent Parish in the Diocese of Les Cayes, Haiti.
The unlikely relationship between Catholics in two rural Maine parishes and a parish located nearly 2,000 miles away began back in 2004.
“The Parish Twinning Program of the Americas (PTPA) ‘twinned’ us with St. Laurent,” said Janet Brackett, chair of the parishes’ Haiti Ministry Committee and a parishioner at St. Joseph. “The opportunity was introduced to us by Fr. Roger Chabot, who was our pastor at the time. We reached out to St. Rose of Lima Parish and invited them to join us. Since then, participation and members have come from both parishes.”
At the start of the initiative, a collection was taken once a month at the parishes in Jay and Farmington to offer aid to their new “sister parish” in Haiti. The collection was taken at the door after each Mass. Soon after, the monthly collection at the doors evolved into a regular second collection in the pews.
“People in both parishes are very, very generous,” said Brackett.
At their own expense, parishioners began to make regular visits to St. Laurent in 2008, and during their time in Haiti, the Maine parishioners would purchase Haitian crafts to sell at holiday fairs, community events, and even local galleries, with the proceeds benefitting the Haitian parish.
As the donations continued to grow in size, so did the list of ideas to help.
“A couple from St. Rose sponsored an annual breakfast with all of the proceeds going to St. Laurent,” said Brackett. “For several years, the youth ministry at St. Rose raised money as part of their Lenten program. After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, we partnered with the local rotary club to do a dinner and silent auction event and, after Hurricane Matthew, we raffled a handmade lap quilt and sold direct trade Haitian-grown coffee as part of a fundraising program.”
In 2013, the Jay and Farmington parishes started to utilize a container shipment program offered by PTPA. Parishioners collect needed items and send them to Nashville, where PTPA is based. The donations are packed in 40-foot containers and shipped to Haiti, where they are unpacked and distributed to St. Laurent and other parishes.
“The first time we did this, we collected items to furnish a small community clinic that we had financed; we sent exam tables, scales, file cabinets, office chairs, crutches, canes, blood pressure cuffs, a hand-held fetal sonograph, and lots of over-the-counter medicines,” said Brackett.
St. Joseph and St. Rose of Lima Parishes continue to arrange the shipments that always include over-the-counter medicines, school supplies, and religious articles.
“One year we sent lab equipment, another year we sent ten laptop computers for the parish secondary school, and sometimes we send prescription medications as well,” said Brackett.
Since 2004, fourteen parishioners from Maine have visited St. Laurent, and three priests from St. Laurent have made the journey to Farmington and Jay.
“I love the fact that we can see the difference our parishes are making in St. Laurent and the mission chapels associated with the parish, a clinic that is operational, run by Haitian health care providers. It is gratifying to see that the three primary schools and the secondary school are thriving, and it’s very exciting to see a fourth primary school taking shape. The Parish Twinning Program emphasizes relationship-building as one of its goals for twinned parishes, and it has been such a blessing to become friends with so many parishioners in St. Laurent,” said Brackett.
The parishioners at St. Laurent are described by those who have visited as friendly and welcoming people who treat their Maine friends like “family.” Their gratitude for the warm assistance is continually matched by increased generosity and love from rural Maine.
“There are approximately a dozen people who are actively involved in the Haiti Ministry Committee, but ‘membership’ numbers are misleading,” said Brackett. “Parish staff and parishioners from both parishes go out of their way to encourage and support this ministry. It is truly a parish ministry.”
One that has brought two parishes in Maine together thanks to a shared mission of helping brothers and sisters in need.
“I can only speak for myself, but the opportunity to be involved in the Haiti Ministry has been a tremendous gift,” said Brackett. “I have gotten to know so many wonderful people in Haiti and in my own backyard. I am thankful for the opportunity to answer God’s call to serve those in need, but it always seems to me that I receive much, much more.”
To offer assistance to the Haiti Ministry Committee at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Jay and St. Joseph Parish in Farmington, call (207) 778-2778. To learn more about the PTTA, including ways to donate to their mission, visit www.parishprogram.org.