September 16, 2009 // Local

Unique POMS fund mission work

Father Rick, also a doctor in mission in Haiti, poses with an order of poms.

Father Rick, also a doctor in mission in Haiti, poses with an order of poms.

By Kay Cozad

FORT WAYNE — Have you ever wanted just a bite of something sweet but not the whole dessert? If so, poms are for you.
Poms, an acronym for Passionist Overseas Mission Sweets, is the name Karen Robertson has dubbed her delightful bite-sized hand-dipped cakes. The unique recipe is an original from the longtime baker and the fruit of her baking has become her labor of love.

What began a while back as a friendly gesture has turned into a windfall for a mission priest in Haiti. Robertson, active member of St. Charles and St. Peter parishes, and her husband Jim made regular donations to the Passionists Missions after hearing one of their priests speak at a Mass in 2002. With each donation she wrote a note and soon she was corresponding with the staff of the Passionists Missions’ office in Pennsylvania.

As Robertson became more familiar with the mission of these devoted priests through newsletters, one particular priest, Passionist Father Leo R. Frechette, touched her heart. Father Rick, as he is known to all, has served in Haiti for 22 years, first as priest and after a few years of study in New York in the 1990s, supported by his religious order, a doctor of osteopathic medicine as well.

Father Rick’s commitment to serving the poor is evidenced in his involvement in supplying clean water to the natives of the area, as well as attending to over 30,000 children and adults at the country’s only free pediatric hospital and outreach clinics he established and oversees there. In addition to his medical ministry, Father Rick ministers to the Haitian children in the street schools as well as over 500 orphans, many of whom are physically or mentally challenged at St. Helene, the orphanage he established in a mountain village.

Karen Robertson, right, works with helpers Bill Hess and Sheila Johns to make poms, bite-sized cakes dipped in chocolate. Poms, Passionist Overseas Mission Sweets, sales benefit Father Rick’s mission work in Haiti.

Karen Robertson, right, works with helpers Bill Hess and Sheila Johns to make poms, bite-sized cakes dipped in chocolate. Poms, Passionist Overseas Mission Sweets, sales benefit Father Rick’s mission work in Haiti.

His belief in the sanctity of life inspires Robertson as on Thursdays Father Rick gathers the bodies of the babies and children who have succumbed to the many diseases, such as AIDS and tuberculosis, or the starvation spreading throughout Haiti, and wraps them gently for burial in paper mache coffins crafted by the locals there. The funeral ceremonies include a procession with a band up the mountain to the cemetery. Robertson prays every Thursday at the area abortion clinic and says, “I always think of Father Rick and his respect for life.”

Robertson admits she has sent all extra funds to Father Rick for several years. She says she “began begging” through Lenten newsletters to friends for additional donations and was humbled to receive close to $3,000 for the Haitian cause. Recently she began praying fervently for a way to make more money for the doctor priest who has sacrificed so much to help so many. “For the last six months, I’ve been praying to the Holy Spirit to tell me what to do,” she says.

Her answer came at a restaurant where she offered her tasty treats as gifts to the wait staff there. One of the waiters requested the cakes for his girlfriend and when Robertson delivered the dozen cakes the grateful server paid her $10.
“The money went right to Father Rick,” says Robertson, adding that orders soon started coming in prompted by word of mouth and she has collected almost $8,000 from her poms sales.

Father Rick traveled recently to Fort Wayne to speak of his mission in Haiti at Masses and Robertson was thrilled to finally meet him in person.

Two friends who had the opportunity to meet Father Rick were soon at Robertson’s side assisting her with kitchen duty. Sheila Johns says, “Once I heard the stories and the importance of the mission I wanted to help.” Bill Hess agrees saying, “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to maybe make a difference. It’s not hard and it’s so much more fun when we do it together.”

Robertson says she couldn’t do it without her two friends and the neighbor who bakes the cakes for her. She adds with conviction, “You can’t just have anyone help. They have to be like-minded people, quality people.”

The baked cake is crumbled and mixed with a secret ingredient, rolled by hand into bite-sized balls, dipped in chocolate and decorated with sprinkles. She offers several flavors from chocolate to banana.

The orders are packed in custom boxes that are handcrafted and beautifully wrapped from mat board scraps Robertson uses from her job at a framing company. All proceeds go to Father Rick and his missions. Ingredients are purchased by Robertson or donated by friends.

Who has been supporting Father Rick through the purchase of these wonderful little treats? Parishioners, friends, restaurant staff and so many more. “Jacob Meyer, a seminarian, loves them,” says Robertson. “He will be our poster boy,” she adds chuckling.

Robertson has been baking for events for area parishes, baby and bridal showers and teacher gifts since April and hopes to bake poms for as long as she can. She was delighted to have the opportunity to meet with Father Rick a second time in Scranton, Pa., where she and her baking team sold the poms at a novena conference. It was there that Father Rick introduced her to two Haitian women who wished to learn the art of baking poms, a skill that would offer the women the opportunity to make a living in Haiti selling their poms to the local bakery.

Her hope for the future of poms is to have local restaurants place regular orders, all for the people of Haiti. And though this kind hearted, dedicated woman has never touched the faces of the children Father Rick ministers to, she says, “We’re called to serve all nations, not just here. This is how I can help the people of Haiti. … Each pom is a prayer.”

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