Longtime missionary shares life changing experience of service
Theft failed to deter Paul Lammermeier from his 20-year mission — serving inner-city poor youth in Peru.
“I went in to Piura, Peru, in 1984 with a group of students,” said Lammermeier, who, at the time, was teaching religion at St. Xavier High School. “We went to a small village north of Piura and worked for months in the school there. We did not know much Spanish at the time. I was with 12 St. Xavier students and three other adults. We were in the village called Chalacala, where we worked for a month,” Lammermeier said.
The experience changed his life. Today, Lammermeier has three homes for poor youth of Peru — two for boys and one for girls – in the Lima area. He returns to Cincinnati and Cleveland annually in the spring for funding donated in large part by the former St. Xavier High School students where he taught and other former students from his alma mater, St. Ignatius High School, Cleveland, where he taught prior to St. Xavier. His efforts generate about $250,000 in donations annually to the Lammermeier Foundation for inner city Peruvian youth. The foundation maintains a local office.
“I asked for and got a sabbatical from St. Xavier (in 1985) for a half-year and I went back and ran the program in Piura at a Jesuit school there in the countryside. I was there for six months. I studied Spanish in Lima for two months and over the next three years it worked out that I would move there,” Lammermeier said. He sold his Oakley house and property and packed up for South America.
“Over the course of the first year there, I got to know the youth and one day I saw one of the boys who had been in the program wandering the streets of downtown Lima. He did not have a home. I asked if he wanted to finish school. He had not even finished primary school.
“I said, ‘if you want to live with me, I will see you through school. You do not have to worry about food and all of that. If you are interested, why not come over to my place for dinner?’ He came. He was with me eight months and then he stole from me and ran away. He did finish primary school, then he just left one morning.
“Over the course of the year, I met another kid who was 14 at the time and he was living with a Baptist minister and it was not working out. He had been in this orphanage for shoeshine boys and he was treated badly and he was unhappy. He ran away from home in the mountains and came down to Lima and I could see he was a good kid, was bright and I did the same thing. He was with me for 12 years. He finished grade school and finished high school.
Because of the past experience with the thief, “I was a little hesitant, but you have to realize in this business you have to take risks. I was willing to do it because he seemed like a nice kid. I put it in the hands of God and he worked out. He got into the national engineering school, got a degree in telecommunication engineering, and then a job, and he went out on his own. He’s married and has two kids now. This is 20 years ago.”
Lammermeier began inviting kids who lived with him to visit the United States — staying with former high school students during their visits. In 1995, it was Edgar who began the program.
“I could not leave him alone for three months. He came back with me and lived with a family in Anderson Township and it worked out really well. It became the model I use for my students in the school and the boys in my houses.
“It gives them a chance to study in the United States for three months, live with a family of a former student of mine and I have one right now at St. Xavier for a semester through an exchange. He lives with a former student of mine who now has two boys at the school. It works out really well. He learns English and he gave a testimonial at our fund raising dinner” in April, Lammermeier said.
“I have sent more than 60 kids to the United States. I send them to five different Jesuit schools in the Midwest. It’s been over a 10 year period,” he said.
Lammermeier said he came to Cincinnati from Cleveland to teach at St. Xavier where he started a community service program doing outreach work with the students. “They did various things. We started a Big Brothers program and they worked at the resident home for the mentally retarded, in parochial schools.
“We had a program with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky … We started a mission trip to Peru in conjunction with Loyola Academy in Chicago. Peru was the mission for American Jesuits from the Chicago Province.
“When I got to Peru the first year, I started a community service program similar to what I had done at St. Xavier. We worked in the school for severely retarded children, a center for blind people, and the Children’s Hospital.
“It was a lot different from what I did here in the states. The students in Ohio were much more mature. They could handle more. I did not have to be with all of the groups. I could give them money and appoint leader and they would basically handle it. In Lima, we did it with a single group of homeless shoeshine boys and I had to be there every Saturday. I got to know the little children. Even though the big brothers would change almost every year, the little kids stayed the same.”
Lammermeier, 76, continues to lead and remains active.
“Going back to 1995, I was talking to one of the people in charge of the alumni at St. Xavier and I told them I would like to buy a small house and cash in my retirement funds and make it available for one or two kids. He said, ‘that’s stupid. Don’t turn in your things. Let us help you.’
“They started the foundation. Within two years, we had enough money to pay cash for our first house in Lima. It’s a big house with room for eight or nine boys. We bought it. Over the course of the next 10 years, we bought two more houses. They are all in the same area of Lima so they are easy to handle and it is easy it is more manageable. Right now, we have 20 students in all three houses.
“We pay for all of their undergraduate education. We care for them. We try to reunite them with their families if they have run away from home. The emphasis is on the family if we can do that. Some of them come from very sad backgrounds,” Lammermeier said.
“My motivation has always been that God called me and all the signs wanted me to be going. There was nothing keeping from going. I’m not married. I paid all my bills. It all worked out.”
This Everyday Evangelist feature first appeared in the June 2016 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.