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In October 1981, one of the Haitian boat people, who was working on a migrant farm (Bonham Brothers Apple Orchards) near Chilhowie, Virginia, pleaded with Sisters Rose Gallagher and Adele DellaValle (now DellaValle-Rauth) of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, to help him escape from the migrant camp and to help him find steady work to support his wife and nine children, who were back in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Altogether, eight Haitian men left the migrant camps and came to Roanoke seeking a better life. These Haitian men were: Verna Alexis, Najuge Choisi (Joseph), Antoine Etienne, Frisnel Ladras, L’Herrison Siede, Elibrieul Balizage, Max Mondisir, and Philogene Israel, as shown in the picture above from October 16, 1981 (dressed for mass at St. Gerard’s church).

At first, they were housed in the OLN rectory. The Red Cross provided them with cots. Fr. Tom Caroluzza asked parishioners to open their hearts and homes to these displaced men. Four families came forward: Jean and Don Forrest (Max Mondesir and Philogene Israel), Gerry Guzi (Elibrieul Balizage and Fresnil Ladras), Dick Surrusco (Antoine Etienne and L’Herrison Siede), and Richard Yound (Najuge Choisi and Verna Alexis). Of the eight men, five are still in Roanoke. Only one man returned to Haiti because of homesickness. And one man is still here, with us at Our Lady of Nazareth – our very own Najuge!

The journey of these men so moved Bishop Sullivan that not only did he purchase a home for them here in Roanoke to assist in their resettlement, but he also designated Haiti as the official outreach area of our diocese. God often works through humble beginnings.

In 1989, the parish Pastoral Council of OLN approved a proposal to enter into a twinning relationship with Haiti. On October 1, 1989, a letter was sent to Papaye notifying Sr. Corinne, the Director of the Papaye Normal School at that time, that “OLN has been fortunate to be assigned to your school as your ‘twin’ in ministry”. On February 16, 1990, Bishop Walter Sullivan wrote to Father Ken Stofft, then pastor at OLN, that “he was very pleased to learn that the Nazareth parish will begin twinning with Papaye.”

The following letters, remembrances, testimonies, and news articles document OLN’s early engagement in the twining process and the struggles in solidarity with our Haitian brothers and sisters.

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