PROVIDENCE — Father Francis Giudice, Pastor Emeritus of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral, is being remembered for his longtime advocacy for providing a solid educational, spiritual foundation for orphaned and poor children in Haiti. He died Feb. 5 at the age of 92.
“He did so much for so many people,” said Sue Whipple, director of Providence-Haiti Outreach, which was founded as a non-profit organization in 1997 by Father Giudice and her late father, Pat Pezzelli, a co-founding member of the board.
In the late 1980s, after he was installed as rector of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence, Father Giudice, under the leadership of then-Bishop Louis E. Gelineau, took an ad out in the paper looking for a group to go on what would be the first of a series of mission trips to Haiti.
“My dad answered it and went with him and they became best friends, and that’s how the Providence-Haiti Outreach came to be. They started fundraising to build an orphanage for 50 children and today it’s a school for 700,” Whipple said of the organization, now in its 24th year.
From 1967-1982, when he was appointed cathedral rector, Father Giudice served as assistant pastor of Assumption Parish in Providence. It was during this time that he was also appointed to serve as diocesan Vicar for Community Affairs, where he was instrumental in helping to establish community health centers for the poor in Providence.
Whipple recalls how Father Giudice once told her how he received his mission from Bishop Gelineau to go to Haiti with the purpose of establishing a charitable outreach to help poor children in need.
“These people [that you work with here] are poor, but I want you to see poorer,” she recalls.
After leading several mission trips to the island nation, Father Giudice developed a close friendship with local priest Father Pardo Serge, who eventually became his “trusted agent in Haiti,” paving the way for the founding of Providence-Haiti Outreach.
Among the early plans for development was Pezzelli’s vision for an athletic complex to be built in Marigot, on the southern coast of Haiti.
While Pezzelli sadly passed away the following year, Father Giudice had promised him beforehand that the project would continue to move forward with an orphanage and school named in his memory. The Pat Pezzelli Memorial School opened with two classrooms and 50 grammar school students, with more classrooms added later.
The endeavor has faced its share of challenges — the school was devastated in August 2008 by a series of hurricanes sweeping through the island, followed nearly 18 months later, on Jan. 12, 2010, by the worst earthquake to hit Haiti in 200 years.
Although the school was spared significant damage, food, water and shelter for many in the region were quickly in short supply.
In March 2010, Rhode Island Rocks 4 Haiti and other fundraising events raised nearly $90,000 in much-needed assistance for the people of the area. In April 2010, more than 10,000 pounds of donated food, medical and school supplies were sent by boat in order to get the aid directly to the children of Marigot and the Pat Pezzelli School as quickly as possible.
In March 2011, Providence-Haiti Outreach installed a water purification system for the townspeople when local children became gravely ill from dirty water. The system continues to produce 750 gallons of clean water daily for the town, and enough clean water for all of the school’s 700 students.
It was in September 2011 that Father Giudice retired from his ministry with Providence-Haiti Outreach, passing the reins as director to the late Father Robert Perron.
Whipple, the current director, said Father Giudice was selfless in his efforts to help the poor children of Haiti.
“He gave 100 percent of himself,” she said.
“He did it with a sense of humor. He was just a wonderful person.”
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin was the principal celebrant, and Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans concelebrated Father Giudice’s Mass of Christian Burial on Feb. 11 at Immaculate Conception Church, Westerly.
Father Ray Suriani, who retired in 2016 as pastor of St. Pius X Parish, Westerly, and who was inspired to pursue a priestly vocation after first meeting Father Giudice at the age of 5 at Holy Angels Church in Barrington, paid tribute to his mentor as homilist at the funeral Mass.
“His faith was clearly evident in his charitable works,” Father Suriani said.
“Through the organization he helped to establish, Providence-Haiti Outreach, Father Giudice worked to provide healthcare, education, food, shelter and religious education to the poorest of the poor in that tiny nation. It’s a cause that was near and dear to him, close to his heart.”
He noted that Father Giudice did more to help the poor of Haiti than simply marshall others to provide financial support for the organization. He also provided much support himself.
Father Suriani noted how Father Giudice never took a stipend for himself for all the Masses and services he provided to his parish as a retired priest. He insisted that every check he received be addressed to Providence-Haiti Outreach because he believed so much in the good that the organization was doing.
“He understood the importance of his priestly ministry,” he said. “He found deep fulfillment in bringing Jesus Christ to people in word and sacrament.”
Donations in the memory of Father Francis Giudice may be made to Providence-Haiti Outreach, 125 Scituate Ave., Cranston, RI 02921.