Bishop John Noonan’s latest mission trip to the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana, our sister diocese in the Dominican Republic, Oct. 12-16, was one filled with great joy and gratitude for many blessings of God. The trip’s highlight included a blessing of the recently completed high school dormitories in Azua and a mortgage burning party in Guayabal.
The festivities surrounding the blessing of the buildings on Oct. 14 began with the celebration of Mass, concelebrated by Bishop Noonan and Bishop José Grullón Estrella. During Mass, several children received the Sacraments of Confirmation and First Holy Communion. Afterward, joined by the people of San Juan as well as several dignitaries, Bishop Noonan blessed the buildings, marking a dream come true.
“The blessing of the buildings is a big accomplishment because this is a continuation of our efforts to educate the young people in San Juan de la Maguana. It is fulfilling,” Bishop Noonan said. “We started with an elementary school and now we are blessing a high school residence. It shows that the work that has been done over these last years is being fulfilled.”
In 2002, Ursuline Sister Bernadette Mackay, director of the Diocese of Orlando Mission Office started the educational effort in the Dominican Republic with three schools in three towns, La Cucarita, El Montazo, and Los Guayuyos. There are now five Catholic schools operated by the Diocese of Orlando and enrollment has grown from 30-40 students to more than 400.
“What ended up happening, from my perspective, is that her wish has not only educated a few children, it has empowered an entire community,” said Henry Fortier, secretary of the Education Secretariat and superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Orlando. “She has brought that Light of Christ into those communities and has helped the people realize that there are many other things that can do, and with the gifts that God has given them, they can more fully reach a greater potential. It has transformed the communities on those hills.”
“As the understanding of education has grown on the hill, more and more families want their children to get advanced degrees,” Fortier added. “The blessing of these buildings is proof of their dreams.”
The following day, Bishop Noonan led a burning of the mortgages party. About 13 years ago, the faithful of Central Florida embarked on a mission to bring the dream of home ownership to their brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic. Many years and several construction missions later, the dream has come true for many. Today, those whose homes were built as part of that first housing project have paid off their mortgages.
“The burning of the mortgages is a wonderful experience because this is the first area we went to as a diocese to work in and that area has fulfilled our dreams of not only building homes for the people but teaching them how to build homes,” Bishop Noonan said. “Now many have paid off their mortgages. That is the fulfillment of their dreams.”
Interspersed throughout the celebrations, educators from the Diocese of Orlando – Fortier; Gloria DelOrbe, principal of Holy Redeemer Catholic School, Kissimmee; Nelson Matthews, Spanish teacher at Fr. Lopez Catholic High School, Daytona Beach; Yvonne Toro, assistant principal at Bishop Moore Catholic High School, Orlando; and Flora Torra, a local psychologist – held teacher in-service workshops for the 18 Catholic schools in the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana. Fortier said the intent of the Fall mission is to share educational resources with all of the Catholic schools in the diocese, not just the five our diocese sponsors.
Looking back on the week’s events, Fortier said, “Thirty years ago, we were called and we went. As we look to the future, we are still listening to that call of where else we need to go within those communities to support the people of God.”