2012 Opus Prize Winner
Father Richard Frechette, C.P.
When one rides for the first time through the streets of Port au Prince, your eye is immediately drawn to the physical poverty that defines the country in most people’s minds. It’s what newscasters have focused on in every report since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake decimated the country’s infrastructure in January 2010 – a moment in time when 300,000 people died in a matter of seconds and nearly two million more Haitians were displaced.
The past twenty-five years in Haiti have provided Fr. Rick Frechette, a Passionist priest and physician, a unique perspective on the life and struggles of the Haitian people. He never denies the physical poverty and its impact on almost every Haitian family, but he spends far more time appreciating and celebrating the richness and spirit of the Haitian people, and their commitment to join him in ministering to each other.
After earning degrees in math and philosophy at Assumption College in Massachusetts, Fr. Rick studied theology at St. John’s University in New York, and was ordained a priest in 1979. He soon met Fr. William Wasson, the legendary founder of the Mexican orphanage Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, and agreed to open a second NPH orphanage in Honduras. In 1987, he again answered God’s call and founded Nos Petits Freres et Soeurs orphanage, French for “Our Little Brothers and Sisters” on a mountaintop in Haiti. The facility today is home to more than 400 orphaned and at-risk children of all ages who receive a kindergarten through 8th grade education – and a great deal of love, trust and understanding.
Fr. Rick’s long-term commitment to the people of Haiti, has allowed him and his Haitian staff to systematically build organic programs in response to people’s needs. The St. Luke Foundation for Haiti today is about so much more than a traditional orphanage. When there was an overwhelming need for healthcare, Fr. Rick went back to school to become a doctor, and over time built three hospitals, maternity clinics, mobile disaster response units, a malnutrition center, as well as street level social service programs. Today, the St. Luke Medical Mission provides 450 jobs, outreach and healthcare to more than 120,000 patients each year.
The St. Luke team organized informal classes for children in impoverished communities where they realized parents were joining together to teach their children to read. The St. Luke School System today includes 29 schools serving 8,000 students from elementary through high school and professional school, all governed by a committee of Haitian professional educators. The secondary school is sponsored by Artists for Peace and Justice, and its graduates now have the opportunity to attend the St. Francis de Assisi Professional School which opened its doors this spring, or to work in the St. Francis Production and Training Center which manufactures cinderblocks and basic commodities including bread, pasta, and peanut butter.
The response of Fr. Rick and his staff to the overwhelming poverty in Haiti is an inspiration. He is fearless in his willingness to accept any challenge and responds to needs on a massive scale, performing each service with hope and compassion. Fr. Rick and his team are devoted to reverently burying the dead and each week travel to the local morgue to intern the decaying bodies of infants, children and adults whose lives were cut short and seldom valued. While Haiti’s current needs are relentless and demand attention, the St. Luke Foundation is also working toward a more promising future by investing in the development of people. When asked about his legacy among the Haitians, Fr. Rick responds simply, “…I hope they remember me as a person who enhanced their lives and their capacity to lead.”
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