It’s hard to believe that on Jan. 12, the earth violently opened up and swallowed well over 200,000 people on the island of Haiti. As the land of my birth and having been personally affected by the tragedy, I knew I had to return to serve and did during Easter week as a medical missionary.
In preparing to travel I often pondered such questions as: How would the people respond to me? Would I make a difference in anyone’s life? Would I be able to maintain my professional composure? In the end it was I who benefitted spiritually from this experience. Here were people who, by Western standards, had next to nothing to begin with and lost what little they had; family, homes, and limbs following the earthquake.
Despite the devastating effects of this natural catastrophe, I heard words of praise and gratitude to God from the mouths of survivors for the gift of life and what we as medical professionals offered in the way of surgery to repair broken bones or amputate dysfunctional limbs, changing bandages on wounds, administering medication to alleviate pain and treat infections, physical therapy and rehabilitation to help victims adjust to their new life without the presence of a limb.
Every day there was the spontaneous eruption of songs of praise to God by patients, and the laughter of children reverberated throughout tents which housed them. The privilege of hearing of the reunion of patients with loved ones who presumed they were dead demonstrated what is truly important, the dignity of being alive.
I recall the conversation I had with a third-year medical student who sustained a crush injury to his foot and who was eager to resume his medical studies. His medical school, and the only other two medical schools, in Port-au-Prince were destroyed, and yet he fully expects to resume and complete his studies so that he can go on to serve his people.
Knowing something of the history of this nation helps us to understand the resiliency of Haitians. In 1789, Haiti was the greatest colony in the world and the greatest individual market for the European run slave trade. In 1791, the slaves revolted and successfully defeated local whites, French soldiers, a Spanish invasion and British and French expeditions over the course of a dozen years. The successful defeat of the French expedition, led by Bonaparte’s brother-in-law in 1803, resulted in the establishment of the Negro republic of Haiti.
From there amidst much turmoil emerged Oblate Sister of Providence Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange. This well-educated, deeply spiritual and resilient woman would ultimately emigrate to antebellum Baltimore, found the Oblate Sisters of Providence and establish, with her own personal resources, the first school, St. Frances Academy, for children of African descent which remains in existence and operation to this day.
In 1991, then Archbishop William H. Keeler secured approval from Rome to begin a formal investigation into her life and works of charity. Rome’s acceptance of the documents attesting to her heroic life of virtue and works of charity resulted in declaring her a “Servant of God.”
Soon, please God, following the acceptance by Rome of additional documentation on her life and that of extraordinary medical recoveries garnered solely through her intercession, she will be beatified and ultimately sanctified.
I believe that Mother Lange now reigns with Christ for as St. Paul instructs Timothy “… if we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him … (2 Timothy 2:11-12, NAB).”
To this end, please join Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien May 8 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at 5:30 p.m. for the Saturday vigil Mass to pray for the advancement of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange’s cause for canonization.
Marie-Alberte Boursiquot, M.D., F.A.C.P. is a longstanding parishioner at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Vice President of the Mother Lange Guild Board of Directors.