Our Haitian Family | Persons, Places and Things

A photo collage of the late Msgr. Leo Feeney who traveled to Haiti twice.

By Barb Arland-Fye

Haiti holds a place close to the hearts of Catholics in communities throughout the Diocese of Davenport, including mine. When I heard news of the Aug. 14 earthquake in western Haiti, I called my friend and fellow parishioner Liz McDermott, a longtime volunteer with ServeHAITI. The nonprofit organization works to foster health and development opportunities for the people of Grand Bois.

Catholics from parishes in LeClaire, Davenport, DeWitt and other communities in our diocese have spent time in Grand Bois, assisting in the medical clinic, instructing teachers, providing advice on starting small businesses, drilling wells, celebrating Mass and nurturing friendships. The people they meet become family.

The earthquake struck nearly 200 miles from Grand Bois. Liz texted the people she has come to know so well since her first trip to Grand Bois in 2002 and learned that the community felt the tremors but no one was injured or killed. She is grateful, but like a worried mom, wondered how their family members living closer to the quake area are doing.


Liz asked Enise, who is like a daughter, about her older son. The boy was around 3 years old when Haiti endured a devastating earthquake in 2010, from which the country is still recovering. Enise had returned home to Haiti just before the earthquake struck on Jan. 12 of that year. The experience traumatized her son. Today, he is turning to a friend to help him cope, Liz said.

She thinks back to the early years of ServeHAITI, when the late Msgr. Leo Feeney traveled to Haiti twice to volunteer, around 2005 and 2006. He was pastor of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, where Liz and I are members. He encouraged our parish’s partnership with St. Pierre Parish and the people of Grand Bois in collaboration with Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I treasure the time we had together,” Liz said of volunteering with Msgr. Feeney in Grand Bois. “He was such a regular person. He did whatever menial tasks he was asked to do.” A snapshot of Msgr. Feeney cradling babies in his arms during one of his visits left an impression on me. Listening to the stories and seeing the photos of others who made the journey over the years has built up this sense of family for me. Some Haitians have visited here, including Dr. Leopold Bourguoin, MD.

Liz says she thinks Msgr. Feeney’s trips to Grand Bois were transformative. During one, he became friends with Archbishop Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. When Msgr. Feeney died unexpectedly before a big ServeHAITI fundraiser in October 2008, Archbishop Miot was already on his way to Iowa for the event. Archbishop Miot and Father Reginald Joachim of Haiti were among the concelebrants at Msgr. Feeney’s funeral Mass at Our Lady of the River. Two years later, Archbishop Miot died in the massive earthquake of 2010. “We lost a wonderful soul, truly a man of God,” Liz told me then.

Volunteers from other parishes as well as ours were inspired to share their talents and skills in Grand Bois. St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf has also established a relationship in Haiti, with the people of Jean Denis. Political unrest and the coronavirus forced suspension of service trips to Haiti by groups in our diocese. Gang violence continues and with the assassination of the country’s president on July 7, unrest ravages the country.

The suffering is difficult to comprehend, but the Haitians have a proverb for it: “Bondye konnen,” which means, “God knows,” Liz said. Relief efforts are underway (see story on Page 1), but the challenges go beyond recovery from disaster. Liz advises us to continue to “pray, pray, pray. We know prayer works.”

I’m praying for our family in Haiti.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)

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