Sandy Wolniakowski, Haiti Outreach coordinator for St. Joseph Parish in Pewamo, Michigan, shares the important work of Sister Luvia Joseph, founder of St. Alphonse de Liguori School in Haiti.
WHO IS SISTER LUVIA JOSEPH?
Sister Luvia Joseph is a Roman Catholic nun who runs numerous programs in Haiti in an effort to help the people of the country she calls home.
Sister Luvia Joseph founded an orphanage in 1976, followed by St. Alphonse de Liguori Catholic School in 1984. She never turned away a student, and she would feed the children daily. Many children came to school only to receive food they could not get elsewhere, and some came for the safety that the walls of St. Alphonse offered from the poverty and dangers of Port au Prince.
A devastating earthquake in 2010 killed several religious sisters along with 150 children when the school building collapsed.
NEWS FROM HAITI
One day after that earthquake, I received a phone call from Sister Luvia. She was crying and trying to tell me about the earthquake and the lives lost. I tried to listen, but the language barrier, which already caused difficulty in communication, was further complicated by her hysteria. She told me her sister was dead. She tried to put into words something that no words can describe.
I listened and prayed. I told her we knew—that it was all over the news and help was on the way. My words seemed hollow and powerless, but she calmed down and listened. I assured her that the whole world was praying for Haiti. And then we were disconnected.
Later, Sister Luvia told me that she believed it was a miracle that she was able to make that call. The ability to communicate, which was difficult and sporadic before the earthquake, ceased completely after the quake. Any other time that she had tried to place a call had been unsuccessful. She was sure that God had blessed her with the ability to communicate with the outside world and to receive the little assurance that I could offer.
HEARING GOD’S VOICE
In the moments before the earthquake struck, Sister Luvia was attending a meeting of religious. Suddenly Sister Luvia heard a voice in her spirit telling her to get out of the building. Sister Luvia informed one of the other religious that he needed to get outside of the building, but he did not see the need to follow her direction. She excused herself from the conversation, and as she was making her way out and had reached the veranda, one of the leaders of the meeting asked to speak to her. She informed him that, if he wanted to speak to her, he would have to join her outside, and so he did.
Sister Luvia said that she felt drawn to an open lot. As she and her companion stepped foot onto that grassy patch, it was as if the earth gave way. She remembers grabbing onto a small tree to keep herself from being knocked down by the force of the quake.
AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE
Sister Luvia was forced to live in the streets, along with the orphans and hundreds of thousands of others who had survived the earthquake and were now homeless. When it was possible to do so, Sister Luvia took the orphans—about 40 of them—to Miragoane. This was the location of another school operated by Sister Luvia, and while it did not escape the wrath of the earthquake, it was a much safer place for the children to be.
BLESSINGS AMIDST THE TRAGEDY
One of the orphan girls had been trapped beneath fallen concrete during the quake, but she was still alive. The rescuers could hear her calling for help, but it seemed that no matter how hard they worked they could not free her. Sister Luvia prayed that God might take the child’s life and end her suffering, and then the voice inside her spoke again. God told her to go back and get the child out.
Confused but obedient, Sister Luvia returned to the site and summoned others to help her. Using a crowbar and a piece of a broken door, they attempted once again to do the very thing that had been tried so many times before—only this time, God and his angels had joined their efforts, and within moments the child was free. Although she had sustained broken bones, she was alive, delivered from the darkness that had tried to claim her. In June of 2011, members of our group were blessed to see her and listen as she tearfully shared her story.
Sister Luvia personally designs the buildings she needs and oversees their construction herself. Prior to the earthquake, Sister Luvia had purchased property and begun the construction of a building she hoped would house St. Alphonse School, as well as several other programs she was operating in Port au Prince. She had interviewed several contractors until she met one who would agree to her construction plans. She made several trips to the site, insisting that rebar be placed in the concrete as reinforcement. This wisdom and persistence paid off, as the construction site survived the earthquake with no notable damage. When time allowed, construction continued; and today it is the new site of St. Alphonse School, replacing the previous site that was demolished by the quake.
Sister Luvia Joseph says, “My mission is threefold: I hope to feed souls, bodies, and minds. It may be necessary to feed people’s bodies before they’ll accept food for their souls or an education. I hope to help my people to be better equipped to gain food for their souls and bodies, and I pray that, once nourished, they will help many others in Haiti.”
I remember asking Sister Luvia how she knew that she should pay attention to the voice that gave her such valuable direction on those two occasions. “I have learned to listen to that voice,” was her simple reply.
Sister Luvia continues her work today, helping the Haitians as they attempt to rebuild and move forward.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
While most of us will never accomplish the great tasks that Sister Luvia feels called to do, I am certain that “voice” speaks to us, too. Have we learned to listen? God only knows what great blessings might be in store for us if and when we do!
For more information on how to help Sister Luvia and the people of Haiti, contact:
Haiti Outreach Coordinator