Friends in Need
Months after the Haitian earthquake, the St. Catherine community continues to reach out to the island nation.
By Andy Steiner
It was a Thursday evening in April, more than three months since a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Rauenhorst Hall on St. Catherine University's St. Paul campus is worlds away, but the hundreds who gathered there that evening for the fundraiser Speak for Haiti held the earthquake's survivors firmly in their hearts.
"If there's one thing I've learned during my time at St. Kate's it's that we have a responsibility to help those in need," says Speak for Haiti organizer Kyra Calvert '12, an English major from St. Paul. "All of Haiti will have to be rebuilt. The people are in dire need of our assistance. That's why people here on campus are responding with such urgency."
Stepping up to assist others in need is at the core of St. Catherine's identity — part of the Sisters of St. Joseph's promise to "love God and neighbor without distinction," explains Laurie Svatek, director of campus ministry.
Since the Haitian earthquake, numerous fundraisers and events have been organized by people with Katie connections. University President Andrea J. Lee, IHM, has an adopted son, Lahens Lee-St. Fleur '05, who spent the first 11 years of his life on the island. Deeply shaken by the tragedy, she promised to match all donations to Haiti relief efforts through the end of February.
"Our hearts have been torn with shock and grief, with frustration at wanting to do something worthwhile, and convinced that we must," Lee wrote in a letter to the campus community.
Dozens of individuals made contributions, and official events raised thousands of dollars. The Help Haiti Heal service held in Our Lady of Victory Chapel on February 24 raised $1,800 alone. Students donated proceeds gathered from events, such as Speak for Haiti and a talent show.
ON THE FRONT LINES
Alumnae also have dedicated themselves to helping Haiti heal. Mary Bilder Charpentier '67 and her husband, Neil, went to Haiti in mid-February on a previously scheduled trip to the Children of the Promise Orphanage near Cap-Haitien, about 100 miles from Port-au-Prince.
"We didn't see any direct damage of property from the earthquake," says Charpentier. "But the nearby Milot hospital had 400 patients in a 50-bed hospital. It was like M*A*S*H: bumper-to-bumper cots, with every type of injury and illness."
Marcia Rogers '78 is a business owner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a statewide political powerhouse. Immediately following the Haitian earthquake, she and a group of local business leaders arranged to have a large shipment of food sent to the island nation. They also collaborated with a local physician to send medical supplies to a struggling Haitian hospital. Rogers has traveled to Haiti twice since the earthquake and plans to return again this summer.
For her efforts, Rogers recently was awarded the Presidential Volunteer Award. "I wasn't seeking recognition, but it was gratifying to be acknowledged for our efforts," she says. "Now that I've been to Haiti, it's hard to turn away."
St. Catherine faculty also donated time and expertise to the cause. Sue Klappa '94, assistant professor of physical therapy, spent two weeks working 12-hour days at the International Medical Alliance Hospital in Jimani, Haiti.
"After dinner, we'd take a cold shower, lie down in bed, and then folks would come to us asking for help. It was exhausting but also exhilarating," she recalls.
Klappa believes that the University-wide commitment to Haiti demonstrates the institutional commitment to helping those in need. "A lot of it comes from our mission about social responsibility," she says. "It is so much a part of who we are that we don't think twice before we step in and help."
At her Speak for Haiti fundraiser, which featured performances by local spoken word artists and musicians, Calvert underscored the campus-wide commitment in a unique way.
As the band launched into a funky reggae groove, she picked up the microphone and urged the crowd: "We're not sitting down for Haiti tonight. We're dancing for Haiti. Everyone here is standing up for Haiti." And so the students did, dancing and adding money to donation baskets as they were passed around the ballroom.
Andy Steiner is managing editor of SCAN.