Empowering Haitians through leadership development plus assisting with health and economic development.


“In imitation of Jesus and Francis, we have an intrinsic desire to help the poor.  We choose to build a mutual relationship with the people of Haiti.  We wish to accompany them, empower them, and witness with them the love of Christ.” –Vision Statement

History and Purpose

On October 4, Hurricane Matthew took direct aim at Pestel, the mountainous region 90 miles west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where our Sisters have ministered since 2001 causing significant damage.  Sister Fidelis joined a medical team 10 days later and went to treat the survivors.  Read the December issue of our Haiti Happenings newsletter to learn what they found when they got there.

Updates from Haiti

May, 2016

Well, in a few weeks we will be back in the states for the summer.  This month has been a busy one.  Bill Plaza, our missionary friend who comes here several times a year to provide filters, and PVC for cisterns in many of the villages around Pestel, was here with a team of 17 people.  Along with the wonderful work they’re doing of providing clean water for the people, they also come bearing other gifts, and often leave us with gifts to be shared among our people.  They are an incredible blessing for us and our Haitian villagers.

Yesterday I had another eye-opening experience.  A woman came with her tiny infant nephew.  The baby was seriously malnutritioned.  The mother had no milk to nurse the baby, and both she and the grandmother were physically unable to take care of the baby.  I was holding him, and I just couldn’t get over how incredibly tiny that infant was – like a toy doll.  He was such a little miracle, as I told the aunt, but at the same time, my heart broke to see that tiny little newborn already suffering so much.  I couldn’t believe my ears when the aunt offered to give me the baby.  At first I thought she was kidding, but she kept saying it, and finally I realized that she was serious.  I’ve heard of this happening, but it was the first time that it happened to me.  I can’t begin to imagine the depth of desperation a person must be experiencing, to offer to give away their own flesh and blood, let alone their niece’s own flesh and blood.  Our visitors’ had just left some articles for babies, among them some formula and a bottle for newborns.  Sr. Jo prepared some for the baby, and the aunt started feeding him.  Then we gave her money to buy more milk at the pharmacy, and told her to go to the clinic on Tuesday, so that our nurse can begin a program of care with the infant.  I hope she will follow through.  When I get to heaven, I can’t wait to ask God why these little babies have to suffer so much at the hands of adults, who themselves are suffering at the hands of other adults, who make every effort to advance themselves at the expense of the poor.

On a lighter note, this morning I went over to the visitors’ house, and started up the steps, reaching for the railing without looking.  Bad move!  All of a sudden I heard a loud scream – mine!!  I had impulsively put my hand on a rather big, soft “krapo” (frog).  I don’t know who was more scared, me or him.  He didn’t scream, but he swung from the railing to the other side of the step, onto the wall, and down to the floor, just like a chimpanzee!  Then, he sat there on the floor, looking at me with those two bulging eyes.   After that, he went to the corner, and went back to sleep. The last time I saw Mr. Krapo, he was sleeping on the step.  Fortunately, that time, I saw him before I accidentally stepped on him.  These guys love our visitors’ house, especially when it’s raining.  They have a whole cistern to themselves, and they love “singing in the rain”!  Again, thank God for Bill and Renee Plaza, who have provided us with filters to purify the water from our cisterns before we drink it.  This way, everybody’s happy!!!

Before leaving for the summer, I want to tell all of you that the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio, who run this mission, after prayerful reflection and discussion, have made the decision to hand the mission over to another organization, as of June, 2017.  So, next year will be the last year for Sr. Jo and I to minister here.  Naturally, we will miss the people and the animals, but as Sr. Jo has quoted often, “a good missionary will work herself out of a job”.  Sister Fidelis began working with the KPA Leadership team (KPA standing for “Christians Progress Together”) fourteen years ago.  Her dream was always that eventually the Haitians themselves would take on the responsibility of leading other Haitians.  Sr. Jo, with my support, has continued to work toward this goal, preparing our KPA leadership for this very important mission.  As of now, and this coming year, the goal is that more and more, like Jesus with John the Baptist, “they must increase and we must decrease”.  We will continue to help the Haitians to take over leadership in the various ministries of this mission – the clinic, agriculture, and education being the three primary ministries at this point.  Of course, God only knows how things may continue to develop and expand in the future.  Naturally, the Haitians need an organization from the states who will continue to support them financially, as the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio have done.  The search for that Organization whom God has chosen is already in process, and will continue.  Having just celebrated the great Solemnity of Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit) just over a week ago, we pray every day, and trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish this very important goal, one which will affect the people of Pestel and the surrounding villages here for years to come.  Please, continue to support us with your daily prayers.

April 2016

This month I had the sad experience of going to the home of two of our children in our little school, whose dad, age 28, died suddenly the day before.  In Haiti, there is no embalming, so the person must be buried the same day, or the very next day.  There are also no autopsies, so the  family will never know what really happened.  When we were at the house, we went into the little thatched room where the mother was sitting on a mat on the ground.  She said that she saw him before he went down to Pestel for market day,and never saw him alive again.  There were people everywhere  in the yard around their house, and along the path leading to their house.  People continued to come and go all week long.  Our little school reopened the day after the funeral.  The two children didn’t return until the following week, and according to their cultural tradition, they cannot wear their rose colored shirt/blouse for about six months.  They’ve been taking turns getting sick a lot since their dad died.  The teachers do the best they can to be of support to the children, but life for these little ones will be very difficult.

Since I’ve been here in Ferye, I have learned quite a few things about farming and farm animals, which I never knew.  Recently, as I went up the steps to the front door of our visitors’ house, I discovered something sitting on the porch which I’d never seen there before – an egg! A couple days later, I went up on the porch again, and discovered two eggs, hidden behind a bucket.   Then, Sr. Jo discovered an egg on the floor in the outhouse.   She left it there, only to discover a black hen sitting on the egg later that day.  We also found an egg on the ground among the trees in our yard.  When I was speaking with  Loubert, one of our KPA leaders, who is also a farmer, he explained to me that sometimes hens will just lay their eggs all over the place, unless you make a nest for them. Although our little black hen did make a nest at one point, and has one little chick following her around, she continues laying eggs on our porch, and we continue to enjoy eating them.  The other day I walked onto the porch just as the little black hen was leaving, and discovered another little gift – still warm.

Although it is the rainy season, this month has been the rainiest one I’ve experienced since I’ve been here.  We’ve had to cancel school, meetings, ESL classes, and work plans quite a few times because the ground has been too slippery and muddy for people to walk or drive their motorcycles up from Pestel. In particular, there is a hill in Ferye that is dangerous even when it’s not raining, and absolutely treacherous when it is.  We’ve had many serious accidents happen on the way up that hill. They have been having very serious problems  In Port-a -Prince, too, because of the rain. Just recently,homes were destroyed and a family was drowned, when a landslide caused their home to collapse on top of them. The good news, of course, is that cisterns are full, and people have enough water to drink, cook, wash themselves and their clothes, water their gardens, and care for their animals.  Hopefully, “si Dye vle” (God willing), mother nature will balance out for a while, and not head right from too much rain to too little.

March 2016

At the beginning of March we had a group of visitors from Ohio Dominican University in Columbus.  Dr. Steve Shoering, an orthopedic surgeon who teaches at the university, and Dominican Sister Margie Davis, Youth Minister, accompanied a group of 17 students.  One was preparing to be a doctor, six were training to become physician assistants, and the others were going to become teachers at various levels.

During the five days they were here, they set up clinics in different villages around Pestel.  As with other medical groups that come, the lines were very long.  One of their clinics was on the island of “Gran Kaymete”.  That’s the poorest of all the sections surrounding Pestel.  Our people were very, very grateful for their help, and I’m sure our young university students had an experience which will forever enrich their lives.

The Feast of St. Joseph (March 19) is very special here because our main parish in Pestel is named for St. Joseph.  Many of our people walk many miles each way to get down to Pestel.  They celebrate the feast with a special Mass and lots of Haitian food.  Sr. Jo and I were not able to go down because our jeep is still not working.  However, we will have prayer together.  Lately, I’ve been trying my hand at baking for special occasions such as this.  I’ve been very successful at box cakes.

One day I decided to make a pie, and Sister Jo, a very proficient cook and baker, helped me.  I wrote down all the steps so I could try it again at a future time.  Well, today was the day. I took out my recipe and got started.  As I got the ingredients together, I remembered we had no Crisco, so I decided to substitute oil instead. I thought about asking Jo, but I didn’t want to wake her up since it was Saturday, and she had a chance to sleep later.    After I poured in the oil, I realized that it wasn’t a good idea, because now everything was too liquidy.

However, I managed to compensate in other ways, and as I slid the pie pan into the little oven, It looked “pa pi mal” (“not too bad”), if I said so myself.  I put it on a low heat, and began washing the dishes, feeling pretty good about my new accomplishment – until the fire!  I looked over and saw the little oven lit up inside like a firecracker blazing on Fourth of July!!

Being the calm, level-headed person that I am, I knew exactly what to do.   I screamed “JO, THE OVEN’S ON FIRE!!!”  She came running out in her nightgown and bare feet, and got the fire extinguisher!!  Well, the pie was a goner, but the house, and the little oven were saved. In addition to that, once we got over our freight, Jo and I had a nice, hearty laugh which, if what they say about laughter is true, must have added at least a few months to our lives.  Mesi, Bondye, Mesi!  Thanks be to God for happy endings!!!

Sister Vicky



Water Purification Efforts

Clean drinking water is an ongoing problem for the people of Haiti and is a major cause of death of children under the age of five.  We care greatly about the problem of water deprivation in rural Pestel, Haiti.  Through a household survey in Pestel we learned

  • People walk on average 2 hours to obtain water
  • Most collect water in buckets
  • There are no wells
  • Many children are dying needlessly every year for lack of clean water

The Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio recently received a grant for from the Toledo Rotary Club Foundation to purchase portable water purification devices for residents of Haiti in the mountains where the Sisters minister.  This grant will allow the Sisters to purchase 100 water purification units for residents in five villages above Pestel, 90 miles west of Port-au-Prince, where they have served since 2000.

In addition to the water purification units. Water Missions International has identified a well-driller for the work in Pestel and once a special drill bit comes in, the anticipated drilling work will begin at the end of April 2013!!!

Sewing Center

In addition to providing healthcare and the means to clean drinking water for residents in the 14 surrounding villages, the Sisters have created an economic development program to help the Haitians learn how to support themselves.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio recently received a $5,000 grant to help run a Sewing Center they have established in Haiti to assist local residents learn a trade to support themselves.  The grant was provided by the Social Justice Fund of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, which was created to help that Congregation of Sisters expand their commitment to those who are economically disenfranchised.

They determined there was an interest from the Haitians to become seamstresses, but with no readily available sewing machines and no reliable electricity to operate them, even if they had them, the project posed serious challenges.  The solution to that problem came in the form of Kevin Kretz, a high school student at the Toledo Technology Academy, who was looking for a project to complete his work toward becoming an Eagle Scout.  With the help of the Toledo Little Flower Parish Haiti Committee, Kevin and his family secured 17 manual sewing machines, got them in working order and shipped them to Haiti in 2011 to support the Sisters fledgling Sewing Center.


We see linking Haitians and Americans as an important part of our mission. We want Americans to experience the people and culture of Haiti and to build relationships of their own.Dr. Ben Fredrick of the Hershey Medical Center in Pennsylvania has been a friend of ours for a number of years and has had a great impact on our area. His most recent effort is a children’s health program which has distributed worm medicine and Vitamin A to 12,000 children.Little Flower Parish of Toledo, OH is twinned with our parish of St. Joseph in Pestel. Other groups who have established a helping relationship with our people are Transfiguration of the Lord Parish in Upper Sandusky, OH; St. Andrew School in Columbus, OH; St. Joseph School in Lake Orion, MI; and St. Odilia’s Faith Formation program in Shoreview, MN. We are grateful to them and to all our wonderfully caring donors who are true partners in our ministry.


Donations toward our ministry are warmly accepted. To donate, please contact the Development Office, 419-824-3625, ekerner@sistersosf.org. Dentists are always in great demand in Haiti, mostly for pulling teeth. If you are interested in learning more, please e-mail us at Haiti@sistersosf.org.


Please see Dr. Ben’s blog at http://www.thrivingvillages.com for videos, pictures, human interest stories and more information about ministry in the Pestel area.

Franciscan Mission Reflection Guide

Haiti Mission Gifts of Hope

Sisters' Stories

Sister Brenda Hawley

Sister Brenda Hawley

Sister Brenda is convinced of the connection between green space and mental health. She’s become a champion of mini-gardens, maintaining two very small gardens. At her apartment, you’ll find green pepper and broccoli growing among the roses, lilies and mums. Her second mini garden, where she works in The Sophia Counseling Center at the Canticle Center, offers peace and solace to the clients who visit.
Sister Rosine Sobczak

Sister Rosine Sobczak

My love for Earth began early on with my grandparents and parents who loved to get us outside every time they could. Walks in the woods with my maternal grandfather were a special treat and I learned a lot from him. Those early days probably laid the foundation for a call which I heard in a dream during my Silver Jubilee retreat in 1990 after reflecting on a Scripture quote from Luke 12:49 – “I have come to light a fire on the earth. How I wish the blaze were enkindled already.” The stirred something deep inside of me and I interpreted this as a call to start a vortex of energy to work to protect our planet, and I began a nature program for children and founded an environmental organization called the Science Alliance for Valuing the Environment (S.A.V.E.) Inc. I did what an educator does – teach about it as my parents and grandparents taught me. That’s exactly what I have been doing for the past 25 years and plan to continue doing for as long as the call remains alive in me!

Care for Creation

Sylvania Franciscans care for creation by:

  • Washing clothes in cold water
  • Using white vinegar in lieu of fabric softener
  • Using environmentally friendly/home-made cleaning products
  • Shopping less, focusing on our needs, not our wants
  • Renewing our efforts to reduce, re-use, and recycle
  • Making conscious effort to conserve water
  • Not running water at length (brushing teeth or washing dishes)
  • Supporting efforts of area legislators to clean up Lake Erie
  • Conserving energy by unplugging small appliances to curb phantom loads
  • Turning off lights when the room is not being used

 Sylvania Franciscans are conscious of their food choices by:

  • Supporting local growers and grocers
  • Buying fruit and vegetables at local farmers market
  • Buying organic food, when possible
  • Eating less meat, especially beef
  • Eating a meatless meal one day a week
  • Eating more fruit, vegetables, grains, and raw foods
  • Eating at locally-owned restaurants
  • Contributing to Food Pantry collections

Sylvania Franciscans help conserve water by:

  • Celebrating World Water Day (prayer and education for action)
  • Washing full loads when washing clothes, using cold water if possible
  • Keeping a container of drinking water in the fridge
  • Taking short showers or baths
  • Shutting water off when brushing teeth, cleaning vegetables
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