RENTON – After Noel Ramos returned from visiting a Catholic school in Haiti, he felt even more blessed by the resources he has teaching at St. Anthony School in Renton.
“All they have are blackboards, but they are eager to learn,” said Ramos, who teaches eighth grade. “Education is so powerful, and the kids in Haiti understand that.”
Ramos was part of the sixth delegation of parishioners from St. Anthony Parish to visit their sister parish, Ste. Anne de Hyacynthe, in October 2017. The annual trip is a part of a twinning relationship, coordinated by the Catholic organization Outreach to Haiti, that began in 2012.
Ste. Anne de Hyacynthe is located about 40 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the capital city, in a mountainous region where residents don’t have access to plumbing or electricity, said Tim Searing, chair of St. Anthony’s Standing with Haiti committee. The Ste. Anne parish school serves 230 children from kindergarten to ninth grade.
St. Anthony donates about $3,000 a month to support Ste. Anne’s parish and school expenses, such as salaries for teachers and meals for students, Searing said.
“If we make a difference in the students’ lives, they can help their family and themselves to a better life,” Searing said. “What a gift.”
Collecting coins to live out the Gospel
In April, St. Anthony renewed the Parish Twinning Covenant during a visit of Ste. Anne’s pastor, Father Josue Seide, and Father Frank Rouleau, director of parish twinning for Outreach to Haiti. The parishes, Father Rouleau said in an email, “are building bridges of faith, coming together in solidarity and communion.”
“Our Haitian brothers and sisters at Ste. Anne’s receive help to educate their youth while they give us the witness of their great faith,” Father Rouleau said, “trusting in God, despite all the misery, turmoil and poverty in their lives.”
Second-graders at St. Anthony School in Renton receive a blessing from Father Josue Seide, right, pastor of St. Anthony’s sister parish, Ste. Anne de Hyacynthe in Haiti; and Father Frank Rouleau of Outreach to Haiti. The priests visit the Renton parish and school each spring. Photo: Courtesy St. Anthony School
During their annual spring visit to St. Anthony’s, Fathers Seide and Rouleau celebrate Masses and visit the school’s classrooms. Ramos said the kids love asking the priests questions about Haiti’s weather, Ste. Anne’s school and, of course, the students there. Father Seide always tells the St. Anthony students, “They’re kids just like you guys,” Ramos said.
St. Anthony School also collects school supplies, socks, toothbrushes and soccer balls for their sister school. This year, the school’s annual coin donation contest raised about $3,000, said principal Michael Cantu.
“Having a sister parish allows kids to know firsthand how they can make a difference individually and as a group,” Cantu said. “This shows them how we can live out the Gospel call to help others, and that the church is worldwide.”
‘A faith that’s really palpable’
The school kids aren’t the only ones who experience that connection to a bigger church.
“You are reminded that the Catholic Church is universal,” Searing said of his visits to Haiti as a delegate in 2016 and 2017. “They say the same Mass in the hills of Haiti.”
Jane Wraith, who coordinates the parish committee’s fundraising efforts, said the trip was a great faith-building experience for her. “The faith of the people at Ste. Anne’s gives you a sense of what’s really important,” Wraith said. “They have a faith that’s really palpable.”
Second- and third-grade students at Ste. Anne de Hyacynthe School in Haiti share a room but have lunch at different times, which is a distraction to learning. The Standing with Haiti sister parish committee at St. Anthony in Renton is considering a project to add a dividing wall in the classroom. Photo: Courtesy Tim Searing
After returning from their trip, delegates are encouraged to share their stories in the parish bulletin and at the annual dinner that raises about $25,000 for the sister parish effort. After Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in October 2016, the parish also collected more than $30,000 to help Ste. Anne parishioners rebuild their homes, restore crops and replace livestock, Searing said. The aid was important because many of the parishioners are subsistence farmers.
“They eat what they grow.” Searing said. “If they don’t grow, they don’t eat.”
For Wraith, the relationship with Ste. Anne’s is about much more than financial support. “You fall in love with the people. They are so welcoming and generous with their love,” she said.
“You go there thinking you’re going to fix something,” Wraith added, “but they give us so much more than we give them.”
Learn more about the St. Anthony-Ste. Anne sister parish program.