Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


St. Peter Chanel’s Missionary Spirit Fueled By Adoration

Published September 27, 2007

Every August for the last three years, St. Peter Chanel Church’s classroom 212 has become the “strategic operations theater” for the parish’s annual Haiti food drive. With an almost military-like precision, the 15-member committee has mobilized and delivered over 40,000 pounds of food and supplies to the Missionaries of the Poor’s (MOP) centers in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. All of the parish’s ministries, from the men’s club to the teens and Boy Scouts, actively participate in the massive undertaking.

Judi Schmerge, one of the committee’s coordinators, has streamlined the food collection process to make it as efficient as possible for both parishioners’ convenience and organizing of the shipment. All items are purchased by parishioners in cases from specific markets and warehouse clubs in the area, making it much easier to transport the vast number of items and also build the pallets for the container. Color-coded “cards for cases” are distributed, with each color representing a store that has agreed to sell the food items in cases, with many items discounted. There are even cards for monetary donations for those parishioners who prefer to contribute for the bulk items, such as the 12,000 lbs. of rice and 8,500 lbs of beans.

Mary Fagan has worked with labeling and card distribution and even given talks to promote the drive. “What I find unusual about this project, which in its scope is rather daunting, is how easy it is for individual parishioners to contribute exactly what the MOP brothers need,” she said.

Al and Judi Schmerge have seen firsthand the extreme need for the drive. They first visited the Cap-Haitien Mission in 2004 where 23 brothers work to care for the sick, dying and abandoned. One third of the centers’ residents are children with disabilities. Many of them are crippled or suffer from hydrocephalus, brain damage from malaria or other debilitating ailments. Al said, “The mission is actually built on the grounds of a former dump surrounded by a shanty town where there is no electricity or plumbing. The only walking paths between the tin shanties are trenches full of raw sewage. Many adults don’t have shoes and the children are often unclothed. Seven to eight shacks share a common fire for cooking. There are no trees or wood of any kind in the area and families burn tires for fuel.”

Last year, MOP brothers received a call for help from the U.N. security forces that currently occupy Haiti. An orphanage in another area of the city had been abandoned by its caregivers, and 50 children had been left alone for two weeks. The brothers agreed to take them in but when they arrived, 15 of the 50 had already died. Within the next 24 hours 10 more also died. “The witness of the MOP brothers is absolutely incredible,” recalled Al Schmerge. “They live the Gospel to the fullest. The love they have for the people goes beyond preaching.”

Over the last four years parish members have stepped forward to go on mission trips to Haiti, Jamaica, New Orleans and home mission projects like Catholic Heart Work Camp for the teens. Many believe the parish’s generosity and zeal for the missions are rooted in its devotion to eucharistic adoration. Father Frank McNamee, pastor, initiated perpetual adoration in 2002, and since its inception he has seen the dramatic work of the Holy Spirit change the lives of his parishioners. In the profound silence of the chapel before the Blessed Sacrament, many people feel God’s call to do something completely outside of their comfort zone.

While some may not be able to make a trip out of the country, all can give. Robin Darensbourg helps research food items for the drive and distributes cards for cases after the morning Masses. She has a chronic illness that makes it almost impossible for her to physically work in the centers, but she is still a vital part of the committee’s efforts. “I feel that I have in some small way helped the Missionaries of the Poor to feed the poor both physically and spiritually. When I see the pictures of the men moving the items off the containers in Haiti, I feel like I am receiving so many blessings. I think of what Jesus said about ‘when I was naked, you clothed me and when I was hungry, you fed me.’” She embodies the quiet example of the many people who support the drive.