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August 20, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 21


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Sr. Jeanna Marseille at Jamison Orchard.

Haitian sister ‘fired up’ about parish garden

Agricultural development is one of the fundamental ministries of Sister Jeanna Marseille’s community, the Little Sisters of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus in Haiti.

So when she made her first visit to Roanoke in early August, she was more than pleased by what she learned when her hosts took her on a tour of Jamison Orchards.

In fact, the phrase her interpreter used was, “She’s fired up.”

However, not wanting to put words in the good sister’s mouth, translator Clermann Dieudonne, a parishioner of Our Lady of Nazareth Church, asked if Sister Jeanna was okay with how she characterized her enthusiasm. Smiling, she responded, “Oh, yes!”

Sister Jeanna is director of Ecole Normale de Papaye, a three-year teacher training school near Hinche, Haiti.

As part of their twinning program, OLN and the school are working together on a major garden project. So when the church brought Sister Jeanna to Roanoke to meet parishioners they also arranged a visit to the orchard.

A year and a half ago, several members of OLN traveled to Papaye to renew a somewhat dormant twinning relationship. Sister Jeanna showed them the garden she and her students had cultivated under the guidance of their agriculture instructor.

Among the visiting OLN parishioners, agricultural engineer Gene Yagow observed the garden’s moderate success and Sister’s desire to expand and develop it further.

“We went just to see and listen,” he explained. But he quickly recognized an opportunity for innovation that could be helpful: drip irrigation.

With Sister Jeanna’s blessing, the OLN twinning group went to work, with the help of a grant from the diocesan Battaglia Fund, and soon sent eight drip irrigation kits to Papaye. The kits will irrigate four 50-foot rows of plantings.

It was no wonder the school director was excited when she saw the process in operation at the orchards — little more than a stone’s throw from OLN Church.

“I enjoyed looking at it and now that I’ve seen the results, I’m all fired up to return home and wait for the dry season to put it in place,” Sister Jeanna said.

The project certainly fits the intention of the Battaglia Fund that specifically requires projects to serve the purpose of providing food or medical assistance and to be economically and ecologically sustainable. The parish matched the $2,500 grant, providing for a pump, pipes, seeds, fuel, a shed and technician’s salary.

OLN’s Irene Saul explained that the garden became a key part of life at Papaye Normal School after the 2010 earthquake. Although there was no damage to the buildings, she noted, the school was unable to reopen because the food supply was interrupted and they couldn’t provide meals for students.

“So Sister Jeanna rented some property nearby, specifically to grow food for the school and they were able to re-open,” Ms. Saul explained.

“When we were there, the student council talked to us about building an additional garden on the school grounds,” she continued. “They all wanted this so they could learn effective techniques and pass them on.”

Indeed, Sister Jeanna explained that all students will work in the garden under the agriculture teacher’s supervision and it will become a continuing part of the school’s curriculum.

It is expected that students will teach what they’ve learned by developing gardens in the communities where they go after graduation, she added.

Pointing out that sometimes students must take off a semester to return home and work to earn tuition, she said, “It makes me happy to know that in their own families’ gardens they will put into practice what they’ve learned.”

Sister Jeanna said she quickly came to love Roanoke, describing it as “beautiful, clean and peaceful.”

She was gratified by the warmth of OLN parishioners and especially enjoyed being at Mass with them and pastor Msgr. Joseph Lehman (who visited Papaye last February).

“The people really show a spirit in which they take the faith and lift up the church. That is very important,” she said.

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