History of the St. Luke Foundation
Overview of how Fr. Rick Frechette started St. Luke
December 14, 2011 - Haiti
In 1987, Fr Richard Frechette was assigned by Fr. William Wasson and Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos™ (Mexico) to be the National Director of a new branch of the organization in Haiti, which he was commissioned to found and develop. The mission of NPH is to develop homes and schools for orphan and abandoned children in countries where this approach is both welcome and needed. Fr Frechette established the large home for children in Kenscoff, Haiti, known as St. Helene.
Many of the children presented to Nos Petits Frères et Soeurs (the Haitian branch of NPH), were in deplorable health and could not be taken to St. Helene. Fr. Wasson and Fr. Frechette decided to buy a floundering hotel in Pétionville, as a hospice for dying children and a place to try to help children recuperate their health, so they could go to the St. Helene orphanage. The hospice was named St. Damien, after Damien of Molokai. Damien cared for lepers in Hawaii in the 1800’s, in an era when everyone was afraid of lepers.
In 1988, when St. Damien was opened in Haiti, HIV/Aids was a newly discovered illness in the world, with high prevalence in Haiti, and many of the children brought to NPFS were suffering from this disease. People were very afraid of those suffering with this disease, and they were marginalized. By taking the name of St. Damien, NPFS tried to incarnate his courage and his welcoming manner in caring for those suffering terminal illness of any kind.
Once the green cross hung over the door at St. Damien, especially because of the large percentage of the population in ill health, the civil disruptions, and the inadequate numbers of healthcare institutions, St. Damien’s was soon overwhelmed.
The pressure was on for more staff, higher budgets, and to aim the institution away from hospice care and toward hospital care. This was achieved gradually over 20 years, and culminated in a new hospital of excellence, St. Damien located in Tabarre Haiti, which was opened in 2007. This was the fruit of many years of labor, reflection in gained experience, and increasing assistance from healthcare institutions and NPH funders abroad.
In 1992, as the political strife in Haiti was culminating, the flight of professionals from Haiti was accelerated. Shortly thereafter, with the ouster and exile of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, a worldwide embargo was enforced against Haiti that lasted many months. This was a time of great stress and inadequacy for NPFS. Fr. Frechette became resolved to study medicine, in order to be at least one replacement for the physicians in exile and to be in a better position to lead NPFS healthcare in Haiti.
When the United Nations entered Haiti in 1993 to stabilize and keep peace, Fr. Frechette went to study medicine in New York, When Fr. Frechette returned as a physician in 1999, the UN coincidentally ended its mission, and years of violence followed, the worst of those years being the most violent and chaotic, between 2004 and 2007.
Starting in 1999, aside from his oversight of the ongoing development of the St. Helene and St. Damien programs, Fr. Frechette took his medical skills to the poor and violent areas of Port-au-Prince. In the interest of training Haitian leaders for the NPFS programs, he took some young people, who had gone through the NPFS programs of St. Helene, with him on his medical missions. These young people were in a world of 80% unemployment, and Fr. Frechette had the idea of creating jobs that offered needed service to the most marginalized in society.
They were taught to operate the XRAY equipment and develop the films, to interpret the films, to run the pharmacy, and do emergency interventions on patients. As this formation showed promise, Fr. Frechette decided not to keep the youth as “followers”, but to move them to a program of responsibility, which also made it possible for him to receive new groups of young people to join the formation. The first successful groups were offered the chance to start small schools, even under trees, for the myriads of children who hung around the clinics and were not in school.
After a terrible flood in Fond Verrette in 2000, Fr. Frechette and the team spent much time there, and commissioned one of the team members, Jean Nebez Augustin, to build 50 houses for those who had lost everything. Both the schools and this housing project required ever expanding skills: community leadership, involvement with local officials, legal issues related to land and permissions from government ministries. Nebez emerged as the leader who could orchestrate and execute, through carefully selected teams, the growing and complicated work of St. Luke.
Fr. Frechette called the initiative the St. Luke Mission (St. Luke was an evangelist and a physician), because the St. Luke Mission was geared toward health, education, development and relief (evangelizing through example). It was independent of NPFS because the activities were outside the scope of the NPFS mission statement, and outside the funding possibilities of NPFS as well. Fr. Frechette supported this initiative through the help of his religious community, the Passionists.
From 1999 to 2011, the work of St Luke grew enormously. It complimented NPFS well by its work with children on the street (street schools, community clinics), by giving employment to so many NPFS graduates, and became the executing arm of funds given to NPFS for any disaster, since St. Luke was already mobilized throughout the community, even in many places in the provinces.
The St. Luke logo is a blend of the Passionist logo and the NPFS logo, since the leaders were raised in the NPFS programs and yet sustained by the Passionists. The team also was living out the Passionist goal, of caring for the most marginalized and those in the most difficult situations.
In 2011, with the exception of Fr. Frechette as general manager of both programs, all leadership of the St. Luke and NPFS programs are Haitian.
The NPFS programs include formation programs for orphan and abandoned children from pre-school through vocational and university training, extensive programs for children with disabilities, and extensive services at St. Damien hospital and community health center.
At present, St. Luke Foundation, which exists legally in Haiti and in the USA (for fundraising), includes 30 schools, two developing hospitals, multiple clinics, housing and community development programs, micro-economy entrepreneurial development, disaster relief, food distributions and, various works of mercy for the destitute.