Arlington priests relive Banica memories

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In 1991, Arlington Bishop John R. Keating began a mission on the frontier of the Dominican Republic in a town called Bánica. Since then, hundreds of volunteers from the diocese have come to serve the people. Diocesan priests have spent years ministering to the spiritual needs of the thousands of people from San Francisco de Asís Church in Bánica, San José Church in Pedro Santana and in the dozen of tiny towns or campos in the mountainous region. These are their stories. 

 

Fr. Gerry Creedon 

1991-95     

What happened while you were there/what was accomplished?

I came in July of 1991 as the founding pastor of the mission in Bánica. San Juan Bishop José Grullón developed a whole pastoral plan for the mission and I was very active with him in its development. He wanted to create neighborhood-based faith communities organized along the lines of districts led by lay leaders, or animadores. 

Around that time, there were no telephones, no running water, the electricity was sporadic and you had no paved roads. Much of that has changed since then. 

What did you take away most from the experience?

I saw a tremendous commitment of people to the faith and to a better life. I remember meeting a farmer on the side of the road, and I asked how he was doing. He said, “Struggling. Struggling for the kingdom.”  There’s an integration of faith with human development.

There, they don’t have much money but they have human warmth. There’s palpable affection and love in the church. It’s not so much that there’s the institutional figure of the priest, but a brother in the family.

Poverty didn't include poverty of service. The joy and the strength of faith seemed to transcend the conditions of life. In Ireland, faith is a matter of fear and guilt, but there faith was centered on joy and celebration.

What was your favorite memory from your time there?

My favorite memory is the strength of a particular person named Maura, an animador of the local church in Pedro Santana. At that time, there was a coup in Haiti and we provided sanctuary for some of those refugees, though the traditional relationship between Dominicans and Haitians was not very warm. One day, the Haitian military captain came to raid the church and to bring back the refugees. Maura said, “Have you come here to pray? If you come here for another purpose, you can go home.” And he did.

Fr. Patrick L. Posey 

1995-2003 

What happened while you were there/what was accomplished?

We started the road program up into the mountains. Prior to that, you would drive an hour outside the main village and then travel for five days either on foot or on mule. There was one bulldozer working with each community to solicit from them where they wanted the road and the best way to build it. They’ve connected almost the whole mountain now.

They finished the center that was begun by Father Creedon. It houses visiting groups, anywhere from high school to college to medical teams. Hundreds of people have come through that center and it’s also used for catechesis and forming community leaders.

We built outhouses. There were also efforts for a water filtration system. When I went up to the mountain to say Mass, I would vaccinate the kids. Two or three months later, all they remembered was that I was the man with the needle. When I left, there was major decrease in the infant mortality rate in the mountains. 

What did you take away most from the experience?

I went down there only having been ordained for four years. You have the mentality from the United States that I’ll go down there and teach them. And yet you discover they teach you in many ways. There’s a tremendous sense of faith, even their vocabulary. They’re always saying, “God bless you” or “God wills.”

What was your favorite memory from your time there?

There was a man with cancer growing from his eye. The doctors had nothing to give him. He would come into the church, and he had everybody singing an hour before the service. He always had a Bible. One of the last things he did was make sure there was a replacement for him so the people would still have the Liturgy of the Word. Like Job, his whole body was suffering but he still was serving the Lord.

Father John T. O’Hara

2000-04 

What happened while you were there/ what was accomplished?

We started a school there. A friend of mine came down in the spring of 2004 and asked what the dream of the parish was. That was in April and in October of the same year, Bishop Grullón came and blessed the building. 

What did you take away most from the experience?

I think a great love for the Dominican and Haitian people and a great admiration for them. To live with so little and yet to live joyfully and to be generous with what they had. (The mission is) a great holy work of the Diocese of Arlington, it really is. 

What was your favorite memory from your time there?

Probably helping Junior (a young Haitian man who came to the Dominican Republic in 1997 to receive medical care after being paralyzed.) I loved watching him go through high school and now working at the Medical Missionaries clinic where 25, 000 people receive care a year. (Read more about Junior’s story here.) 

Fr. Daniel N. Gee 

2003-08

What happened while you were there/what was accomplished?

We built the school, that was a pretty big deal, and we finished the chapel by that time. When we left, every campo in Bánica had its own chapel with a legitimate ceiling, an altar and pews, concrete floors and pictures on the wall — somewhere that they could call their own house of God. 

What did you take away most from the experience?

Probably the simplicity and beauty of their life. It really boils down to the American need for things and how much easier it is to find God with less things. 

What was your favorite memory from your time there?

We were going out to visit a campo with (Bishop Loverde). When we got to the edge of the trail, a guy said just walk until you get to the sweet orange tree and take a left. We found the place after eight hours. We just kept going. We did eat the oranges; we needed it at that point. I love the beautiful simplicity and trust (of that). We knew it was out there and the Lord would get us to where He wanted us to go. That’s just a beautiful way to live.

Fr. Christopher D. Murphy

2004- 11

What happened while you were there/what was accomplished?

We completed the building of chapels in the various communities we served there. My goal when I became the pastor of San José was to bring that community regular sacramental life.

Additionally, the milk programs, building houses and water purification efforts.

What did you take away most from the experience?

Besides speaking Spanish? That’s what I use most regularly — being at ease serving the Spanish-speaking communities of our diocese. Seeing poverty firsthand and knowing it's not the end of happiness. That's a comfort we hear from the Gospel but we don't always see it and I got to see it. 

I miss my motorcycle and heading up into the mountain, that’s not something I’m ever going to relive again. 

What was your favorite memory from your time there?

I miss the communal life. We’re here in a suburban lifestyle, isolated in many ways. The lifestyle of the Dominicans was one of physical openness. You’re often surrounded by American volunteers — life was very full of social interaction. You’re always sitting down to dinner with a group of people, always lots of community.  

Bánica priests

Fr. Gerry Creedon

1991-95     

Msgr. Thomas J. Cassidy

1994-96

Fr. Patrick L. Posey

1995-2003

Fr. Donald J. Rooney

1996-98

Fr. John T. O’Hara

2000-04

Fr. Daniel N. Gee

2003-08

Fr. Christopher D. Murphy

2004-11

Fr. Keith M. O’Hare

2008- present

Fr. Jason Weber

2014- present 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016

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