How it all came about…

Sometime in 1984 or 85 I was made pastor of a large city parish and hence the need to learn Spanish. I participated in various languages programs in the Boston area, a first time journey to a six week program in Santiago, the Dominican Republic. However it was apparent that there was no “quick fix” and so I sought and received a Sabbatical that was funded by the Fund for Theological Education in New York. I went to  a language school in Bolivia for 6 months and then three months in the mountains of Puerto Rico and a return for 3 months to an urban area of Santo Domingo.  The Dominican experience was difficult, living in excessive heat without water, electricity and sleeping on a thin mattress held up by 6 water filled paint cans and a mesh to keep the mosquitoes out.  I did it for just three months while Dominicans have suffered there all their life. Yes, it was a wonderful experience and incredibly difficult at the same time. God allows incredible experiences to sharpen one´s vision of the world.

So the rest of the saga-!  Sabbatical is over and I arrived back to Boston.  What next?  Would it be Boston for the rest of my life?  Oh God, I said to myself – well may be loud enough for others to hear that “I´m too young to die”. Coming to grips with that was more difficult that the flies in Santo Domingo which were big enough to feed a family of four.  Some people left their hearts in San Francisco and others in Latin America. People knew of my desire to return and one thing leads to another or God´s Grace opens doors for each of us.  I was asked to visit Honduras, I did, I liked what I saw and finished up some projects in the Boston area and in December of 1991 I arrived here  “ just for three years” . That would be enough “to get this Latin American thing out of my system”    and have a normal life. What is normal?

I was pastor of the Cathedral parish in Juticalpa. Olancho is about the same size of Massachusetts and currently there are about 20 priests.  We covered the city and about 60 or 70 communities in the mountains. I learned to ride horses, to avoid cow droppings, contaminated water and stained my teeth with real Honduran coffee.  During this time, around 1994, some parents approached   the principal of a school that Westport was supporting and she asked me about starting a program for special needs children. This happened at the same time that a young girl, Downs Child, died without anyone to help her.  These two events became the catalyst for what later would become Nazareth.   We had some shared space in a parish center but as there is no kitchen big enough for two women, many programs using the same space doesn´t work. Feelings get hurt, things get broken that no one fixes and that all leads to confusion. Special needs children don´t need that”! This Roman Collar (well I used to wear one) didn´t either. I thought (something I do on occasion) that we should investigate fund raising and staff development. There was nothing here for special needs kids – hardly anything in the country!

So, again I began to raise some funds and one thing led to another as a project became a program by God´s Design.  Grace is amazing and I don´t mean just the hymn! Today we have a wonderful building and dedicated staff serving 64 children.  Unfortunately we have to turn people away. We need to start another building. Need staff to do fundraising and managerial operations. That is something else.  A parish in Texas developed a god parents program and these sponsors donate $25.00 a month and bring in $3,000 a month or about 40% of the operating budget.  Where does the 60% come from?  God is working thru some donors, and there are some very generous donors from Westport.

We need to focus in on a long term strategic plan for staff development, vocational education, fund raising and work opportunities. We have come a long way, done a lot but it is time to get our organizational act together.  We are incorporating in Massachusetts which is the first step.

My three years passed to six and then to nine and I thought my luck was running out when I was asked to consider starting up a regional campus of the Catholic University here in Juticalpa.  Boston´s Archbishop gave me another stay for five years. Along with the local bishop we started to raise funds and  with Hurricane Mitch we started with 42 students. 1998 was quite a year.  Today that number is over 700 and we have three Master´s Programs in place.

Now here is something on the grade school. Some university students who were mothers mentioned that they could not continue to study because they had no one to take care of their children. I remember saying it is for your children that you have to study. So! Well we started a day care center for children of university students.   When it came time for these children to start regular school these parents were concerned that they would not continue to progress in the public or private school as much as they did with us and so I was asked to consider starting a grade school. The parents looked for some land, fund raising starts up again and end of story is that in September those first day care students will be in the 6thgrade of a bi-lingual school.  Staffing with people who love education and value alternative educational methods to those found in the Honduran setting which favors memorization as a tool for learning was something that needed to be done.

It took a while but this year we have 7 volunteers from the States and as I write it looks like we will have the same number for next year. That is the great news. Our kids are learning. Our teachers are learning from the Americans. I need to house the volunteers and at times during the week they do get hungry!  All this to say, that it continues to be necessary that “I drive for dollars” each year by keeping in contact with parishes that make things happen.   Another reason we need to get our organizational act together.

4 Comments on About Padre Donahue

  1. Pat Ernest says:

    Padre it is so good to sit down with my Saturday cup of coffee, and your blog!! Welcome back!!! I have missed your updates, stories & sense of humor. You have bounced back from a grave situation, and are still with us, because there is still so much for you to do. Seeing you last month, was wonderful. You look so healthy & happy. I know from our visits to you at the rehab & hospital, that you just wanted was to go home. I can see that going back to Honduras, helped ispeed up your recovery. God is good!! He needs you to continue your work in Honduras. This is where you belong. Can’t wait to see you again in a few months. Continue to work at getting stronger each day
    Pat Ernest

  2. Steve Hayes says:

    For some reason I am not receiving the blog, and I keep getting a message that my email does not exist. Can you please get me back on the distribution list? Many thanks!

  3. Don DiLucchio says:

    Really enjoy your blog.

  4. Stephanie (Sofia) Stevens says:

    Dear Padre Donahue, I have not been receiving your blog until today. I signed up again and am so happy to read of your wonderful recovery and return to Juticalpa. We have been kindly informed of your progress by incredible Pat Ernest and Wendy Varela, our forever-patient supporters in our endeavors for our twins at Cardenal. We feel so fortunate because without you and them and all your staff and supporters we would not be able to do what we do. We are a small town in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest and we all have been so affected and inspired by Olancho Aid. GRACIAS for all you do for so many children and their families. Thanks to your blog, we feel a part of your big family of Olancho Aid. With our warmest good wishes, Stephanie Stevens, Trout Lake WA

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