Haitian Missionaries Spread Joy
Father Quilin Bouzi, O.M.I. is thrilled to be a Missionary Oblate priest. And he has two special women to thank for his joy.
The first is his mother, Anne Marie, who instilled in Fr. Bouzi the importance of faith at an early age. The second is St. Therese, whose autobiography had a great influence on Fr. Bouzi becoming a priest.
“My mom was a cook for priests back home in Haiti and she knew the Oblates and their reputation for working with the very poor,” said Fr. Bouzi. “And when I was 16 years old I read St. Therese’s book and it was very powerful. After reading it I came home and said to my mother, ‘Mom I want to be a priest.’”
Father Bouzi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1959, the third child of Robert and Anne Marie Bouzi. He grew up in a deeply Catholic family. In addition to his mom working for priests, his dad helped to prepare parishioners for First Communion and other sacraments.
Father Bouzi moved to New York City in 1987 and studied architecture for four years at State College of New York. The calling to the priesthood was always present, but Fr. Bouzi kept resisting. He was very shy, and couldn’t imagine himself standing in front of a large group of parishioners at Mass.
But the calling persisted, and eventually Fr. Bouzi decided to leave college even though he was nearing completion of his degree. He concluded that his future was not in erecting buildings, but rather in building better lives by spreading the Good News.
Father Bouzi inquired about joining the Oblates after attending a Healing Mass by Fr. Richard McAlear, O.M.I. Father McAlear’s healing ministries were very popular, taking him around the world. The two men began corresponding with each other and Fr. McAlear helped Fr. Bouzi discern his calling, which eventually led to Fr. Bouzi entering the Oblates’ prenovitiate program in 1999.
“I felt close to the Oblate charism because our mission is to help people to become human first and then to become Christians, and eventually to become saints,” said Fr. Bouzi. “We are called to be with the poor, to lift them up and tell them that they are the children of God and that they are loved by God.”
As a prenovice, Fr. Bouzi earned a BA in Philosophy from D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. After his novitiate year, he attended Oblate School of Theology. He also spent a yearlong internship ministering in Zambia before being ordained in 2007.
Father Bouzi’s first assignment was as an Associate Pastor at St. William’s Parish in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. He then spent a couple of years working in the Miami area, including starting a French Mass for Haitian immigrants at an Oblate parish. Later he would spend six years ministering in Buffalo, New York in both the Oblate formation program and as a Pastor at three parishes. Two years ago, he returned to St. William’s Parish as Pastor, where he currently ministers today.
Ministering in Tewksbury, Massachusetts may be physically very far away from Haiti. But spiritually, Fr. Bouzi can return to Haiti just by walking next door to the Oblate Residence for elder and infirmed Oblates.
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Finding Happiness In Haiti
When Fr. Bouzi visits with Fr. John Morin at the Oblate Residence in Tewksbury, Fr. Morin is quick to remind his brother Oblate that he is more Haitian than the native son. Father Bouzi may have been born in Haiti and lived there for 28 years, but Fr. Morin spent 41 years ministering on the island.
“During those 41 years I could have left many times and returned to the United States,” said Fr. Morin. “But I never wanted to, because Haiti is where I found my happiness.”
Father Morin has been a mentor to Fr. Bouzi since the early days of the younger Oblates’ priesthood. In fact, Fr. Morin preached at Fr. Bouzi’s first Mass. He was not scheduled to preach, but Fr. Bouzi’s mom insisted, and you don’t tell a Haitian mom no.
During his four decades in Haiti, Fr. Morin ministered at parishes throughout the country. When he moved back to the United States because of health issues, he continued to work with Haitian communities in New Orleans and Boston.
Today, some of Fr. Morin’s Haitian friends will come by the Oblate Residence and bring the 94-year-old missionary a few of his favorite Haitian meals.
Also living at the Oblate Residence in Tewksbury is Fr. Charles Héon, O.M.I. Father Héon spent more than 40 years ministering in Haiti.
On the first day he arrived there, Fr. Héon was shocked at the extreme poverty and chaos he saw on the drive from the airport to the Oblate house. He thought to himself, “What the heck am I doing here!”
But soon the poverty and chaos became secondary as Fr. Héon found much joy in ministering at parishes serving the poorest of the poor.
“I fell in love with the people because they were always willing to help me out,” said Fr. Héon. “If I was healthy enough I would go back there tomorrow.”
In addition to Frs. Morin and Héon, several other elder and infirmed Oblates living in Tewskbury also served in Haiti for shorter durations. Brother Gus Cote, O.M.I. never ministered in Haiti but he was the main contact for American Oblates there for nearly 20 years. Brother Gus coordinated hundreds of shipments of donated materials to the Oblates in Haiti.
Today Bro. Gus still communicates with four American Oblates ministering in Haiti, three of whom have been there for more than 50 years each.
Father Real Corriveau, O.M.I. has administrative responsibilities with the Haitian Province and also helps out at his beloved St. Anthony Parish in the mountains, a church that has been destroyed several times by natural disasters.
Father Fred Charpentier, O.M.I. ministers as the Director of Foyer St. Etienne, a nursing home in Les Cayes for the elderly poor. Without Foyer St. Etienne, many of the current residents of the nursing home would be living, and dying on the streets.
Father John Henault, O.M.I. has pastoral responsibilities in the city of Dolan and also works with Mother Teresa’s sisters to care for the sick. Father Henault lived 25 years on Ile-a-Vache (Cow Island) where he filled in a huge swamp to avoid malaria, built a 50-foot wharf, enlarged the church, kept two schools open, built several roads and bridges and directed a cholera center. He also drilled many wells and set up a solar panel water pumping system that provides fresh water to 11 public wells on the island.
Back in Massachusetts, Fr. Morin said people are always surprised to learn that these American Oblates chose to spend most of their entire adult life living in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. But for Fr. Morin, there is no surprise about the choice they made. It all came down to one word – happiness.
“I have lived a very, very happy life,” said Fr. Morin. “You are the one who makes your own happiness and it is not something you find in money, things or where you live. Some of the happiest people I ever met were some of the poorest people I ever met. You can be very happy anywhere, even in a place like Haiti.”
(Shortly after this article was written, Fr. Morin passed away at the Oblate Residence in Tewksbury, MA. Please remember his family in your prayers.)