Felician sisters on front line of Haiti relief

(L to R) Annette Jean-Philippe, Sr. Marilyn Minter and Sr. Julitta Kurek pack medications and other supplies, assisted by Jean Phillipe Desire.

Nine years after Felician Sisters Marilyn Minter and Inga Borko arrived in Haiti with one suitcase and a guitar between them, they have helped thousands of Haitians get an education, gain job skills and receive healthcare. In the wake of the recent earthquake and tropical storm, which killed at least 2,200 people, they are sending crucial supplies to those most in need.

The nerve center for donations is at the Felician Sisters of North America provincial house in Beaver Falls, Beaver County. There, Marcia Wallander, chief mission advancement officer for the Felician province, has stockpiled supplies, which she will load into a van on August 30 and personally drive to the Felician community in Lodi, NJ. Sisters there will sort it all into barrels and put it on a ship bound from Newark to Haiti.

No matter the obstacles the sisters face, “they truly believe that nothing is impossible with God,” Wallander said. “Their sense of grace and humanity is like nothing I’ve ever seen. They walk in God’s light.”

The Felician mission is in Jacmel, which escaped earthquake damage only to have many homes seriously damaged by the subsequent tropical storm. Sisters Marilyn and Inga returned to the United States to organize relief for Jacmel and the Les Cayes earthquake zone.

The Felicians were founded in Poland by Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska, whose motto was “serve where you are needed.” After the Haiti earthquake of 2010, the quest to find “the greatest need” took Sister Inga and Sister Marilyn from a convent in New Jersey to Haiti.

The bishop of Jacmel gave them a room in an earthquake-damaged parish. There, they began learning Creole from street children.

“We don’t assume that we know the needs of the people,” Sister Inga said. “We wanted to be a ministry of presence and to enter into a relationship with the people and get to know them. It was important to walk the streets, to go to people’s houses, to talk to them and get to know their lives.”

Five boys came to their door and said they were hungry.

“At that point all we had were granola bars, but we shared them,” Sister Marilyn said.

That led to Mother Angela’s Kitchen, with serves hot meals. Next, they realized that most children were on the streets because they couldn’t afford school supplies and uniforms.

The sisters set up “Pay It Forward,” a sponsorship program that provides the school fees and supplies while requiring participants to help in the food ministry or to tutor younger students.

Their ministry principles are empowerment, sustainability and independence for the Haitians, but they say it all depends on Jesus.

“Christ really takes care of his poor,” Sister Inga said. “When we wanted to send someone to school and didn’t have the money to send them, the money appears the next day. Exactly the sum we needed to send this child to school.  God provides. God wants us to take care of the poor.”

 Graduates from Pay It Forward can progress to Madonna University, a Felician school in Michigan with an online program for Haitian students.  

One day a high school student told the sisters he wanted to become a doctor. With their support, Dr. Tchery Louis is finishing his residency at a Haitian hospital and is directing the sisters’ efforts to assist in the earthquake zone.

He told them that the greatest need is clean water, so the Felicians are supplying simple filtration equipment to Les Cayes, which has the worst damage.

“We are forming a group to go from Jacmel to Les Cayes, where they will teach the women how to filter the water,” Sister Inga said.

The best way to help the sisters send help where it is needed most is to donate funds at www.FelicianSistersNA.org/give  or to send a check made payable to FSNA to Felician Mission: Haiti, 871 Mercer Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, with Haiti Mission in the memo line. Young adults who want to volunteer to tutor Haitian high school students in English via Zoom can also contact Wallander at 724-944-9814 or mwallander@feliciansisters.org.

The Felicians in Haiti blog at www.feliciansistershaiti.com.

Editor’s note: Bishop David Zubik is asking all parishes to take up a special collection the weekend of Sept. 18-19, 2021 to support the efforts of the Bishops Emergency Disaster Fund to provide direct emergency aid to Haiti.