Visit to diocese gives Haitian priest chance to share story, seek assistance

Fr. Bien-Aime’s goal is to build two schools and chapels

ALLOUEZ — Carla Linssen of Hands and Hearts with Haiti admirably describes Fr. Leveque Bien-Aime, pastor at St. Louis King of France Parish in Mirebalais, Haiti, as “farsighted.” Fr. Bien-Aime, who is a monsignor, but prefers to be called Father, has a vision to improve the lives of the people in his community and the surrounding areas.

Fr. Leveque Bien-Aime, pastor at St. Louis King of France Parish in Mirebalais, Haiti, stands next to a board promoting Hands and Hearts with Haiti, a project started in Green Bay six years ago which supports the outreach ministry of Fr. Bien-Aime in Haiti. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“When you are in a place where everything lacks, you should light everything up, but we must have priorities,” he said. “I have two schools to build — an elementary one and a secondary one. I have two chapels to build. I would like to make the people more self-sufficient, providing them the possibility to make money and pay tuition for the kids at school.”

Fr. Bien-Aime was recently in the Diocese of Green Bay to generate support and promote awareness of the needs of the rural Haitian people, especially those served at the chapel of Our Lady of Deliverance in Noyau. His visits in the diocese included the Resurrection Campus of Fr. Allouez Catholic School in Allouez, St. Francis Xavier Church in De Pere, St. Matthew Church in Allouez and St. Mary of the Lake Church in Lakewood where he reconnected with his friend, Fr. Philip Dinh-Van-Thiep, pastor. He also spoke at Aldo Leopold School in Green Bay, through the cooperation of Hilarie Rath-Pribyl, a teacher at the school who has volunteered in Haiti as part of Hands and Hearts with Haiti. An evening gathering at Crystal Coffee in Green Bay was designed to further build relationships with supporters.

For the past several years, students at Fr. Allouez Catholic School (previously Resurrection and St. Matthew schools) raised money by collecting pennies to buy a brick for the new school in Haiti.

“They have done a wonderful job and Father came to visit them to say ‘thank you’ and answer questions,” said Linssen.

Among the student inquiries at the school was the amount of crime in Haiti.

“Not very much,” said Fr. Bien-Aime, who serves the Diocese of Hinche. “There is some in Port-au-Prince, the capital, but not much for the most part. There is no suicide in spite of the tough situation. We are very hopeful people. We always believe that tomorrow will be better than today. That helps us.”

Fr. Bien-Aime last visited the diocese five years ago. Hands and Hearts with Haiti started in Green Bay in 2011-2012. The organization includes members from Green Bay, the Pulaski area and Cleveland, Ohio. Members first met Fr. Bien-Aime at a conference on Haiti. When he was appointed pastor in Mirebalais, they entered into a parish twinning partnership.

“The primary goal of Hands and Hearts is to not only support clean water and economic opportunities, but also education,” said Linssen. “We feel so enriched connecting with Father. Education gives these kids a chance.”

Fr. Bien-Aime believed that the children at Our Lady of Deliverance should not have to wait for a new school building, so he started the school in the current chapel, which needs to be replaced. The school serves students in grades K-4. There are currently 134 students in one room. They range in age from 7 to 15.

“Sometimes we have children 10 or 12 years-old in first grade,” said Fr. Bien-Aime. “What encourages me is (that) they love the school. They are proud of the school. The school has existed for five years. It is the best in town. We need the buildings so the students can be more comfortable. There is a lack of space.”

The cost to complete construction of the school building is $300,000. Livestock is helping to support tuition. Hands and Hearts with Haiti donated funds for goats. Each family in Noyau was given three goats.

“They have to give back two baby goats for each female they received, so we can share with all the people,” explained Fr. Bien-Aime. “Once they give the baby goats, they can keep the rest for themselves. They can sell goats to pay tuition.”

Hands and Hearts hired three people, including a veterinarian, to provide instruction and oversee the care of the goats. A January report showed the program having 133 goats—32 males and 53 females that are of breeding age and 48 that had not yet had babies.

The rural Haitian people farm, but do not produce enough to survive, said Fr. Bien-Aime.

“Agriculture is practiced with rudimentary methods,” he said. “Haiti is a mountainous country. To work the land, the farmers count on rain. When we have much rain, we lose our crops. When we don’t have enough rain, we lose our crops.”

Investing in education will provide young people the opportunity to pursue higher education and vocational training as pathways to employment. In addition to core subjects, the students take classes in art and music. Fr. Bien-Aime would like to see the students return to serve the community as adults.

“It’s my hope,” he said, “but it’s difficult when they have to go elsewhere to find the things they need.”

Fr. Bien-Aime is thankful for the support of Hands and Hearts with Haiti and the people of the Diocese of Green Bay, which he described as a “quiet place, easy to visit and home to devoted friends.” He appreciates the opportunities to continue to build relationships.

“The mystery of our love, our love in Christ, helps us to break down walls,” he said. “We are able to build bridges for a better future.”

To support the work of Fr. Bien-Aime and Hands and Hearts with Haiti, send checks payable to St. Matthew Parish (include Hands and Hearts with Haiti in the subject line) to St. Matthew Church, 130 St. Matthews St., Green Bay, WI 54301