Annual mission trips are a labor of love for volunteers

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | May 4, 2016

Group of deacons builds chapel for diocesan mission in the Dominican Republic; trio from diocese assists in Haiti

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]GREEN BAY — For 53 years, the Diocese of Green Bay has provided outreach to the Dominican Republic.

Deacon Jim Lonick of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano recently experienced this mission of mercy firsthand when he traveled with a deacon team in late January to build a rural chapel in the province of Elías Piña on the Dominican Republic-Haiti border.

Deacon Jim Lonick of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano visits with school children at St. Teresa of Avila Education Center, the parish school started by Fr. Mike Seis in the province of Elías Piña, Dominican Republic. Deacon Lonick traveled to the mission with a deacon group in late January to build a block chapel in a rural area. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)
Deacon Jim Lonick of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano visits with school children at St. Teresa of Avila Education Center, the parish school started by Fr. Mike Seis in the province of Elías Piña, Dominican Republic. Deacon Lonick traveled to the mission with a deacon group in late January to build a block chapel in a rural area. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

One afternoon during the two-week service trip, Deacon Lonick and others accompanied Fr. Mike Seis, pastor of two parishes, Santa Teresa in Elías Piña and San Ysidro in El Llano, for Mass in the hills. The group needed to make a stop before returning to the parish center for dinner. Fr. Seis drove 35 to 40 minutes in the countryside to anoint an elderly woman. The woman had suffered a stroke the previous year, but her faith persevered. Every day, suffering from paralysis in half of her body, she walked approximately a mile on a dirt road to a country chapel to pray the rosary in the morning and repeated the roundtrip walk in the evening. Unfortunately, she had suffered another stroke.

“In her home, there was no running water and open doorways with blankets hanging,” said Deacon Lonick. “All the animals were wandering around. Father did the anointing. How amazing that we were able to be there and pray for this family while Father ministers to this person who is dying. It was just beautiful. … He’s there for this woman in her last moments. He drives all the way out there to take care of her. We just stood there in awe.”

Ministry in the rural areas

Fr. Seis, a diocesan priest who serves as the mission director, has ministered in the Dominican Republic for more than 20 years. He serves an estimated 90,000 people in 90 settlements throughout the province. Chapels are built in rural areas to provide a place of worship for those in the farming communities.

Deacon Lonick almost passed on the journey. He was invited on his 2015 ordination day by Deacon Paul Umentum and accepted without knowing the details of the annual trip. He didn’t know if he could afford to be away from work for two weeks. Supported by his wife, Deb, he made the commitment.

A trio of girls, all dressed up, sit on the steps outside a home in the province of Elías Piña, Dominican Republic, where the Diocese of Green Bay operates a mission. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)
A trio of girls, all dressed up, sit on the steps outside a home in the province of Elías Piña, Dominican Republic, where the Diocese of Green Bay operates a mission. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

“I thought to myself, the only thing I can do is be present and available and to do the best I can with whatever I am given,” he said. “I tried to experience as much as I could when I was there.”

The rural area where the group built a new block chapel reminded Deacon Lonick of northern California where he grew up.

Redefining wealth

“The thing that struck me was how rustic and remote it was in that area,” he said. “I was amazed that there was an electric wire. They had electricity, but no running water.

“I saw people with absolutely nothing,” he added. “They live that life and they are fine. I think we try to put too much of our idea of what success and wealth is.”

Deacon Lonick took special interest in the St. Teresa of Avila Educational Center, the parish school started by Fr. Seis.

“The school was amazing. The kids gather in the morning to sing the school song,” he said. “They sing the national anthem. All people going by on motorcycles and donkeys would stop and sing with the kids. I was there for two weeks and I never heard a kid cry.”

Deacon Lonick, who also visited the high school and market during the trip, saw the experience as an opportunity to “trust in God’s will” in his life.

“I just wanted to allow God to direct me to do things I had never done before,” he said. “We were able to pray and talk about the readings for the day and share with one another. A lot of times, two guys would break off and talk about the challenges of our lives, our faith, being deacons. What does it all mean? We always started and ended the day with prayer.”

Center of the community

The chapels not only serve as places of worship, but also as community centers for the people.

“The building is a sanctuary for the people,” said Deacon Lonick. “What I like is that we didn’t do something to make us feel good. We did something that will matter in people’s lives for a long time.”

Deacon Lonick’s one complaint about the trip is that Elías Piña is the “noisiest place I have ever been in my life,” but he does see the positive in the late night activity in the community. “The noise is a nonstop celebration of life every night,” he said.

Mission work in Haiti

The mission in the Dominican Republic has opened other service opportunities for people of the diocese. Karen and Jerry Rickert of St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton formerly served at the diocesan mission. In 2011, they began working with Dominican Sr. Maria Marciano, a missionary in the Dominican Republic for 22 years, who now focuses her work in Haiti. The Rickerts and Julie Vargas of St. Joseph Parish in Wautoma, traveled to Haiti in February.

“(Sr. Maria) is just phenomenal,” said Karen. “She is involved in so many projects and works with so many people, including the Haitian government and the Jesuits. One project for this past year was building an agricultural center. It’s an educational center for men, women and children to teach them how to grow potatoes, cabbage and peppers; how to take care of the land.”

A construction crew, made up primarily of deacons, gathers on the work site of the new block chapel they built in the Dominican Republic in late January-early February. Wood chapels in the rural areas are deteriorating and being replaced with block structures. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)
A construction crew, made up primarily of deacons, gathers on the work site of the new block chapel they built in the Dominican Republic in late January-early February. Wood chapels in the rural areas are deteriorating and being replaced with block structures. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

Jerry installed bathrooms in the center. He later found out that Sr. Maria also wanted showers.

“The shower is needed for the workers, and for some of the people, this may be the only place they are able to shower,” said Karen. “It’s not necessarily what most people consider a shower. It may be a hose where water comes out.”

Building projects

The first year the Rickerts worked with Sr. Maria, of the Dominican Sisters of the Rosaries of Monteilles, they helped build a school. The next year, they assisted with the construction of a community center and the third year, five houses were built for families. Vargas serves as the translator on the trips. Karen describes herself as the public relations person.

“I invite myself into people’s homes,” she explained. “I find out what they need and what I can bring down the next year. When we built the houses, I brought down plates, pots and pans.”

An important need is electrical power strips, she added. Phones are very inexpensive in the country. “Sister had a generator with a power strip and there were six phones plugged into it,” said Karen.

They also address immediate needs. During the recent trip, Karen recognized the rough condition of benches in a church.

“I thought to myself, ‘I have to paint these benches.’ So I bought paint,” she said. “I started painting the pews and pretty soon the kids wanted to take over. They were all smiles.”

Sr. Maria’s other building projects are a processing plant for fruits and vegetables; lagoons; fish ponds; a three-story school in Tiroly; another community center and a bunkhouse. Her outreach goes beyond building projects.

“She is caring for eight orphans,” said Karen. “Their families have walked out of their lives.”

Among the people

A larger group was supposed to make the trip in February, but having only three joining Sr. Maria had its benefits, said Karen. It provided plenty of opportunities to interact with the Haitian people. They primarily serve the mountain people near the Dominican Republic border.

“I’m often asked how we can communicate with the language barrier,” said Karen. “Just by the body language, we communicate very well.

“This was the best year we’ve ever had,” she added. “We spent more time with the people. We got to understand them and they got to understand us. You are working through Christ.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]

Catholic Foundation collecting items for D.R. mission, Haiti

ALLOUEZ — The needs are many in the missions in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, so the Catholic Foundation, in cooperation with the Diocese of Green Bay, will be shipping a large container filled with items.

During their visit to Haiti in February, Karen and Jerry Rickert of St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton recognized several needs firsthand. They helped purchase picks, a jackhammer and a new cement mixer for projects coordinated by Dominican Sr. Maria Marciano. Karen, who is serving on the support committee for the shipping container project, said that anyone can help.

“I wish I could expand the list,” she said. “Your pots and pans may have dents, but the people can use them. Clean out your cupboards. Maybe you can sew. Tennis shoes are a big need. If you get new shoes, donate your old ones.”

Monetary gifts are always appreciated. Deadline for items is Sept. 1. The drop-off location is Melania Hall on the Diocese of Green Bay campus in Allouez.

Questions should be directed to: Agriculture: Deb Wegner-Hohensee, parish planning director, (920) 272-8286; Parish Nurses: Mary Armbrust, Pastoral Care and Ministry coordinator, (920) 272-8300; all other inquiries: Cindy St. Aubin, World Missions coordinator, (920) 272-8192.

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