October 14, 2015 // Local

A life made of miracles

Father Andre Sylvestre, a priest from the Diocese of Cap Haitian, Haiti, on a recent visit to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, spoke of the Orphanage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which he operates. There has been ongoing missionary
support between Formula for Life at the university and the orphanage.

By Madeleine Richey

FORT WAYNE — It was in the fall of 1969, in the Haitian countryside near Borgne, that a boy sat down to write a letter to the Mother Superior of Holy Cross order, Sister Denise Thibodeau, asking for help to attend school when his parents could no longer afford to send him. She wrote him back almost immediately, promising free admission to the middle school. She, along with the other sisters, continued to support him financially until he became a priest 33 years ago, a gift that didn’t stop with Father Andre Sylvestre. The boy who wrote to Sister Denise Thibodeau in 1969 is now the pastor of a small country parish in the Diocese of Cap Haitian, but more than that, he is a father to children who have none.

In January 2010, a massive earthquake shook Haiti, destroying the homes and lives of thousands. In February, Father Andre founded the Orphanage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in an attempt to care for the children left without parents in the quake’s aftermath. Currently he is caring for 31 orphans, but even that is not enough. So with the help of students participating in Formula for Life — a student group founded by Courtney Shepard during her time at the University of Saint Francis (USF) to raise funds and collect supplies — under the leadership of Dr. Amy Obringer, Father Andre is building a new orphanage that will be home to 160 children.

Students at USF began by helping fund the day-to-day necessities of the orphanage, such as food and clothing, but three years ago they decided to become involved in the construction of the new orphanage. The relationship between USF and the Orphanage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help began when a nursing student, Amando Pedro, and other students involved with Formula for Life decided to visit Haiti and Father Andre’s orphanage. According to Father Andre, when the students arrived, they fell in love with the children, and that was the beginning of a now long-standing relationship between Formula for Life at USF and the Orphanage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

“They are making a great difference in the life of my orphans. Not only do they give me money for construction, but they also give affection to the kids during their annual visit,” Father Andre says of the students who visit the orphanage each year and dedicate their time and effort to fundraising.

Involvement with Formula for Life and annual visits to the orphanage leave an impact not only on the orphans, but also on the students who are privileged to go.

“As a student entering college or in college you aren’t truly faced with the real world, and Formula for Life confronts you with real life issues in a manner that students can make a difference in lives outside their own,” says Kyle Bobay, a current USF student and active supporter of Formula for Life. “You start out feeling good knowing you are helping these children, then when you visit the children and see the progress as well as the completely different world that they live in, you are left with a permanent mark. Our lives are so vastly different from theirs, yet they are so happy and grateful for all that they have and it really inspires you.”

However, it is often a struggle to provide for so many children. “The main difficulties that I faced when I started the orphanage were to satisfy the basic needs, but providence always helped me to take care of them,” Father Andre remembers. “One of the difficulties I still face is the absence of permanent funds to take care of kids. I still depend on occasional donations.” The pressure is also mounting to complete the new orphanage since their current residence is rented and they are required to vacate the premises by July 2016. Father Andre retains his hope and faith, saying, “It is a very stressful situation, but I believe that the God of the orphans will provide.”

When the new orphanage is completed a group of sisters from the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary will take up the responsibility of caring for the orphans, while Father Andre will stay as advisor and chaplain. But for now, Father Andre remains the primary caregiver, aided by local staff.

However difficult the situation, he remains steadfast in his mission. “My life is made of miracles,” Father Andre reflects, looking back on the letter and sisters who changed his life. “I feel a call to give something back in helping the children who have no one to take care of them. The existence of the Orphanage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a way for me to pay a portion of my debt to God.”


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