Haitian Project celebrates diocesan recognition

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PROVIDENCE—The Haitian Project’s annual fundraiser Friday night provided an opportunity for the organization, which began as an outreach project of St. Joseph Parish in Providence more than 25 years ago, to show its appreciation to the Diocese of Providence for recognizing it last year as an Association of the Lay Faithful.

The title gives the organization a status within the church, according to Father Francis Kayatta, pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish, Narragansett.

“It is an official organization of the church, not just a group of nice people doing good things,” said Father Kayatta, who has been involved with The Haitian Project for several years and who offered his expertise as a canon lawyer to the organization in its efforts to be recognized by the diocese.

As an organization of the church, THP is able to engage in an official capacity with the church hierarchy.

The fundraiser, held at the Providence Art Club, featured silent and live auctions and raised $65,000 for the organization, according to Deacon Patrick Moynihan, THP president.

“Tonight, we are here to recognize our mission planted by our original founders, rooted in the original vision and distilled in our charism. Our charism is received, it is lived, it is recognized,” said Deacon Moynihan.

The Haitian Project presented to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin its 2011 Cleary Award, given annually to those whose actions have helped THP in a significant way, as well as a painting by Rhode Island artist Harley Bartlett (See “Artist presents special gift to bishop” on page 7).

Bishop Tobin applauded THP’s mission in Haiti over the last 25 years.

“You should be proud of all the work you are doing. You are making a real difference for the people of Haiti,” Bishop Tobin said.

The bishop spoke about how isolationism can be considered a form of poverty, and that THP is helping Haiti to take its place on the world stage for the right reasons.

“Instead of building walls, you’re building bridges,” Bishop Tobin said.

Although THP is now a national organization, deriving additional support from parishes in Illinois, Oregon and Tennessee, it still maintains a very special bond with the Diocese of Providence, where Charles H. Wharton and other volunteers began offering assistance to the Haitian people as an outreach program of St. Joseph Parish, Providence more than 25 years ago.

The organization expanded its mission, founding the Louverture Cleary School, a tuition free Catholic boarding school for financially disadvantaged but academically talented students from the Port-au-Prince area of Haiti. The school, located in Croix-des-Bouquet, a northern suburb of the capital, is educating 360 students this year. Many volunteers from the organization attended the fundraiser.

Gerry Grabowski, a member of St. Bernard Parish, North Kingstown, made her first trip to Haiti in April.

A registered nurse, she helped to attend to the medical needs of the students at the school as well as with the local Sisters of Charity.

“It’s nice to send money, but you need to see the faces,” she said of her desire to see the program in action.

“The students are amazing; they are gifted,” she added, noting how appreciative they were of the assistance being offered to THP by parishioners and others from the U.S.

She said the students understand how the opportunities being offered to them through their education at Louverture Cleary School are preparing them to become the next leaders, in many fields, of Haiti.

Nelly Doouinard, 25, a former student who is now studying to become a doctor, assisted at the event Friday night.

“It is a very good school, it brings promise,” said Doouinard of the education she received at Louverture Cleary. She will be studying part of this semester at Brown University’s medical school, before returning to Haiti.

Kevin Murphy, an attorney with the Providence law firm Adler, Pollock and Sheehan, traveled to Haiti with his father John Murphy in May. During the visit to THP, Murphy said he and his father were inspired to attend the installation of the new archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Archbishop Guire Poulard.

Murphy said upon arriving in the Haitian capital he was moved to tears at the sight of the intense poverty, but soon shifted from sorrow to hope, especially after attending the first soccer game between students of Louverture Cleary School and St. Luis Gonzaga School, in Port-au-Prince.

It was a sign that life was adjusting to find a new sense of normal.

“I couldn’t believe it was the first time the two teams had played each other. It seemed like it was a natural fit,” said Murphy, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mercy Parish, East Greenwich.

Murphy said he and his three brothers, Jay, Kevin and Daniel will pick up the torch carried by their father in support of THP for so many years and run with it.

“I think the Haitian Project moved my father to involve his sons,” Murphy said. “It was an introduction that led to a spark that ignited a passion.”