The trail of grace
Sr. Mary Alban’s journey with the people of Haiti
Scarboro Missions, May-June 2013 — Sr. Mary Alban Bouchard of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto often asked herself what was the trail of grace that led her to her long years of mission in Haiti. Her earlier research of “least developed countries” while at the UN had a profound influence on her. She realized that if she was to work in justice and peace as she desired she would have to get hands-on experience. Having a working knowledge of French and knowing that Sr. Rosemary Fry, another member of her congregation had preceded her there, she chose Haiti. The other language of Haiti is Kreyòl or Creole, a mixture of French, African, and other languages.
After much discernment and a powerful dream of St. Joseph, she asked St. Michael to protect her, St. Gabriel to help her bring Good News and St. Raphael to keep her healthy and then headed for Haiti. That was January 25th, 1989. Once there, she was advised by a Haitian Jesuit not to do anything the first year except “learn Kreyòl, get used to the food, walk among the people.”
A French branch of the Sisters of St. Joseph directed her to an area of the poor where she could be of service. On All Saints Day, she arrived at Le Dortoir in the pouring rain. Once a shelter for those bringing produce to market, it had become a refuge for homeless aged people, homeless families with small children, handicapped persons and persons with AIDs with no place to go except the grave. The roof leaked, the yard was a mix of charcoal dust and mud, and there were no services.
“The people of Le Dortoir became our people,” Sr. Mary Alban said. And they took care of her as well.
Those were post-Duvalier days featuring a series of military dictators and protests that were brutally squelched. Nevertheless, joy and hope became palpable in the preparation for the first democratic election when Jean-Bertrand Aristide won by a landslide. It was Sr. Mary Alban’s privilege to be an accredited observer for these elections and to share in the joy. But alas, the high hopes were short lived as the coup d’etat came seven short months after the inauguration and the new president was sent into exile. This battering and buffeting seemed to her to be the mark of life in Haiti not only politically, but by nature, in the form of hurricanes, mudslides and earthquakes.
At the time of the great earthquake in 2010, it became a necessity for her to be evacuated back to Canada since she had no home, no money, no I.D., no future really. In a poem written about her experience at the time she wrote:
But on the day the Earth
beneath my feet
Nor I nor anyone could save me,
That day guaranteed
When my time comes
I shall recognize
The approach of death
When things fall apart.
Since then Sr. Mary Alban has been back and forth to her beloved Haiti a number of times and in early 2013 returned. This time she hopes to concentrate on an education project called Lape Gaye (Sowing Peace) coming forth from The International Decade for the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World, an initative of UNESCO for the new millennium. Sr. Mary Alban has already adapted this project for Haiti based on six principles: peace built on truth; the search for the common good; learning non-violence; prayer for peace; learning alternative thinking; and belief in the gift that every person has for peace-making.
The method is to practice what has been taught through games, play-acting, exercises, discussion, materials, participation, sharing ideas and so on. Sr. Mary Alban herself has written 17 booklets in the Kreyòl language for this project. These include cultural analyses by Haitian professionals, booklets of peace stories, and about model peacemakers. She and her peace workers have conducted session around the dioceses of Haiti travelling by road, small aircraft, and even motorcycles when necessary. They have waded through rivers and climbed hills to carry their message of peace.
Sr. Mary Alban truly enjoys teaching a culture of peace to people of all ages and no doubt she will continue to do so until “things fall apart” to quote her poem written at the time of the earthquake.
Compiled by Sr. Patricia Kay, OLM, from the writings of Sr. Mary Alban Bouchard, CSJ. Reprinted by permission of Scarboro Missions, May-June 2013, pages 6-7.