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Meet the Catholic nun who has helped Haitians through multiple earthquakes

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by Katie Yoder

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 5, 2021 / 10:46 am

Sister Marilyn Marie Minter was praying when she felt an earthquake rock Haiti.

“My chair began to shake,” she told EWTN News In Depth on Aug. 27. “And I’m going, ‘What the heck is going on?’”

As one of four Felician Sisters of North America serving in Haiti, Sr. Marilyn detailed her experience of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the country on Aug. 14. That morning, she and her Felician sisters were at their convent in Jacmel, 80 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter in Les Cayes. They ran.

“Sister Inga, who’s in the room next to me, she yells out, ‘Get out of the house quickly! It’s an earthquake! Get out! Now! Fast!’” Sr. Marilyn said. “Because our other two sisters that are with us, this is their first experience ever with an earthquake.”

The four sisters – Sr. Marilyn, Sr. Inga Borko, Sr. Mary Izajasza Rojek, and Sr. Mary Julitta Kurek – run a mission complex that includes a mobile medical clinic, a pharmacy, a volunteer house, an activity center, a playground, a computer lab for students, and a kitchen that feeds nearly 100 children.

Internationally, the Felician Sisters represent more than 1,000 religious women who practice a Franciscan way of life across four continents. Founded by Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska in 1855, they began in Poland and arrived in North America in 1874.

In 2009, the Felician Sisters of North America formed Our Lady of Hope Province, which consists of eight Felician provinces across the U.S. and Canada. They strive to live out their mission to “cooperate with Christ in the spiritual renewal of the world.” This means ministering to children, at-risk youth, college students, seniors, individuals with disabilities, those in prison and detention centers, and others who are marginalized and living in poverty.

Sr. Marilyn first traveled with her order to Haiti in 2010, after the country suffered a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed an estimated 250,000 people. They returned in 2012, and, in 2018, they dedicated their mission to serve Haitians in four core areas: healing the sick, providing clean water, feeding the hungry, and educating tomorrow’s leaders.

When the sisters realized they felt an earthquake, they ran out of the house. Sr. Marilyn remembered hearing yelling and screaming from their neighbors. After waiting outside for roughly 20 minutes, the sisters returned to their house and wrote to their superior in Pennsylvania to assure her of their safety. Listen to Sr. Marilyn tell her story in the video clip below.

Others in Haiti weren’t so lucky. The earthquake killed more than 2,200 people and more than 300 people are still missing. According to Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency, the natural disaster left 12,268 injured and nearly 53,000 houses destroyed. World Vision reported that another 77,000 homes were damaged, along with 60 places of worship, 20 schools, 25 health centers, and 48 foster homes that care for 1,700 children.

“We heard how devastating it was in Les Cayes, Jeremie, and other villages west [of] us,” Sr. Marilyn said.

Twenty people died when St. Famille du Toirac Church near Les Cayes collapsed. In Les Anglais, the earthquake ruined Immaculate Conception Church, killing 17 people younger than 25 years old.

“A church in Les Cayes was having a baptism, and we saw photos of these dead children in their white outfits,” she told OSV. “It makes your heart cry.”

Even after the earthquake, the danger wasn’t over for the sisters: At 2 p.m., they felt an aftershock and ran outside once more.

Three hours later, Caritas announced that it was collecting emergency materials for those directly impacted by the earthquake. The sisters sprang into action.

“We gathered what we had in our container – and our container was getting pretty low as it was – but we gathered medications, bandages, surgical gloves,” Sr. Marilyn told EWTN News In Depth. “We gathered clothing, towels, sheets, shoes that we had left over and we boxed them.”

Sr. Marilyn spoke from Lodi, New Jersey, where she was gathering supplies to bring back to Haiti, including clothing, medications, and 50 buckets for filtering clean water.

“With a bucket and filter, you can take rainwater and you can filter that water and give them purified water,” Sr. Marilyn emphasized. “You give one bucket and filter to a woman – a family – and then she gives clean water to three other families. You can have sustainability. You can have empowerment. And you can have independence.”

OSV reported that the sisters are currently raising money for Haiti to buy supplies, including medical and school materials, hygiene products, bedding, and baby items. Sr. Marilyn is also hoping to send laptop computers or tablets back to Haiti. Donations can be sent to Felician Sisters of North America, 871 Mercer Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, with “Haiti” in the memo. They are also accepting donations online at feliciansistersna.org.

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