By Patricia Brintle
It was in August 2012. The team consisted of Joseph Brintle, Ellen Rhatigan, Robert Choiniere, Eddy Leveque, Rodolphe Dossou and me. Our mission was to assess the work required to replace the roof of St. Jean Baptiste, the parish church of Anse d’Hainault. We took a Delta flight from JFK to Port-au-Prince and early the next morning we took the 8:00 a.m. Tortug’Air flight to Jeremie. A friend picked us up at the airport and we took the road right away. Anse d’Hainault is a seaside town in the Grand’Anse department at the end of the southern peninsula of Haiti. The trip was difficult; it was mid-day when we drove into town. The road was rocky, mountainous, and rocked the car so much that at times it was difficult to speak.
The two miles from Dame Marie, the last town on the way, was a welcome straight roadway, which upon entering Anse d’Hainault opened to a plaza filled with greenery where friends sat on benches deep in conversation. We were amazed at its beauty and quietness. Facing the plaza stood the imposing church of St. Jean Baptiste, the reason for our visit. From the outside we could guess its largeness and for a moment wondered if the cost of repairs would be prohibitive.
Up on the hill to the right we could see the presbyter, a cream-colored cement building with a wrap-around porch towering over the town. It was inviting yet somewhat withdrawn from the hustle and bustle of the village. As we approached we could see Pere Jean Medard Etienne, the pastor, waving to us. He had prepared a feast to welcome us and thanked us for making the difficult journey to help his parish. He said that the Conseil de Fabrique (pastoral planning committee) were looking forward to meeting us and were grateful at the prospect of a new roof for their beloved church.
The church was built in 1906 and had since survived Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Andrew in 1992 and Thomas in 2010. The earthquake of January 12, 2010 shook the structure and caused a couple of cracks as well as some damage from falling objects but age had caused the most harm. It is a rectangular structure with a bell tower at the front and a rotunda above the altar. The lack of statues for such an imposing church was noticeable. The floor is cement with no adornment. A baptismal font with a damaged copper cover stands near the entrance door facing the stairs leading up the bell tower. The church welcomes over 700 worshipers each Sunday and is the center of the community in this coastal village of 23,000 inhabitants.
The rafters were badly damaged with many broken framing studs, which compromised the support of the tin roofing, causing it to sink on each side resulting in a terribly unsafe condition. The roofing itself is corroded and strewn with holes causing the worshipers to avoid church services when it rains.
We took pictures, measured, made extensive notes and met with members of the Conseil de Fabrique, which included Charles Weitz, the engineer who would prepare the estimate for the repairs and be the foreman to oversee the work once the funds raised. Our visit was very productive. We were given a list of supporters from Anse d’Hainault living in the US and Canada who would help fundraise to replace the roof.
During the following months, we corresponded often with Mr. Weitz, Pere Medard and the members of the Pastoral Council (Conseil de Fabrique) to reach a consensus on a new shape for the roof. By January 2013 we had reached an agreement on a more effective design with an estimate cost of $39,000. The roof was replaced in April 2013, within budget, with ample time for the community to celebrate the parish feast on the 25thof June.