MONROE – Through a nonprofit organization named in honor of his mother, Father Phillip Bloom has spent more than two decades helping the poor in Puno, Peru.
“When I was there in the early '90s [as a missionary], Puno was considered the second-poorest region of the Americas after Haiti,” said Father Bloom, now pastor of St. Mary of the Valley Parish in Monroe.
Puno, a city of about 100,000, is located more than 12,000 feet above sea level, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Most of the residents deal with health issues and struggle to send their children to school, Father Bloom said.
When he founded the Mary Bloom Center in Puno in 1994, his goal was aiding faith, family and children. “These are values most important to my mom,” explained Father Bloom.
After raising six children, his mom became a licensed practical nurse and went to college. Before her death in 2000, Mary Bloom visited her namesake center, which provides medicine, food, clothing and educational scholarships. It also offers a tutoring program for children, a health clinic and fertility education for health professionals and married couples.
Father Phillip Bloom, left, prays with mission trip delegates at the Mary Bloom Center in Puno, Peru. Father Bloom, founder of the center and pastor of St. Mary of the Valley Parish in Monroe, visits Peru regularly, often accompanied by groups of parishioners. Photo: Courtesy Father Phillip Bloom
Father Bloom’s love for the people of Peru began while he was an associate Maryknoll missionary from 1987–94.
According to a history of the Mary Bloom Center, he worked closely with Canadian missionaries Denis and Liane Bruneau. The couple and a Peruvian obstetrician named Luz Marron (who still works there today) offered marriage and family classes to couples and young adults. The program’s popularity led Father Bloom to start the Mary Bloom Center, so the classes and other services could continue.
In 1998, the center moved into new quarters, designed and built by Denis Bruneau on land donated by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. The Vincentian sisters operate an orphanage and school on the same block as the Mary Bloom Center.
The center expanded 10 years later, with the creation of the Major Robert Lindenau Tutoring program. The program is named for Father Bloom’s nephew-in-law, who died in Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Army. Through the program, secondary students are tutored by college-age students, who receive a meal and small stipend for their work.
“They’re real eager students,” Father Bloom said. “They’re anxious and eager to learn and participate.”
The students need the support, Father Bloom said, since some families are tempted to have their children go to work instead of to school. In Puno, students normally complete their secondary education when they’re 17.
Children in Puno, Peru, participate in tutoring programs and other activities offered at the Mary Bloom Center. The center was founded in 1994 by Father Phillip Bloom, pastor of St. Mary of the Valley Parish in Monroe. Photo: Courtesy Father Phillip Bloom
Staying connected to Puno
Father Bloom, who celebrated his 46th year as a priest in December, returned to the Archdiocese of Seattle from Peru in 1994. He served as pastor of Holy Family Parish in Seattle for 14 years and has been St. Mary’s pastor for nine years.
He continues serving as the president of the Mary Bloom Center and tries to travel to Peru each year to reconnect with the Puno community. In October 2017, he returned there to baptize the Bruneaus’ goddaughter and to mark the six-month anniversary of the death of Father Narciso Valencia, one of the center’s longtime supporters.
Sometimes groups of St. Mary’s parishioners make the trip with Father Bloom.
Abigail Jacobo, a receptionist and parishioner at St. Mary’s, traveled to Peru with a parish group in 2012. She said her interest in mission work was sparked while attending the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid.
“I always wanted to do some mission work, so it was perfect,” Jacobo said.
In Puno, she spent two weeks teaching Bible classes to children during Advent. Around Christmas, the group decided to prepare a United States-style meal for orphans living in the adjacent orphanage. They pooled their money and bought ingredients for tomato soup and grilled-cheese sandwiches.
“It just opened my eyes to a different reality,” Jacobo said of her time in Puno. “The stories they told really humbled me.”
The Mary Bloom Center operates with a budget of nearly $70,000. Fundraising can be a challenge, Father Bloom said, but St. Mary parishioners provide financial help, and plans are under way for a May 19 benefit auction at the Monroe parish.
Every day, the children at the center pray for their benefactors, Father Bloom said.
“Somehow,” he said, “God always makes available what we need.”