PIQUA — St. Mary and St. Boniface Catholic Churches welcomed visitors from their twinning church in Portsmouth of the Commonwealth of Dominica, an island republic in the Caribbean, this week.
St. Boniface has had a twinning relationship with the St. John and St. Lewis Catholic Churches in Portsmouth for approximately four years, taking turns visiting each other and sharing resources, prayers, and culture.
“We especially pray for each other,” Father Tom Bolte of St. Mary and St. Boniface Catholic Churches said.
Dominica is 290 square miles with a population of approximately 71,293 at their 2011 census. A number of the visitors and their church in Portsmouth are still recovering from Hurricane Maria, a category five hurricane that hit in September 2017.
“There are some people here who do not have homes, who lost their homes,” said Caesarina Paul, a youth skills training instructor in Dominica and a newly commissioned associate of pastoral care at their church. “There are some people here who have no roofs … some of us lost windows and things of that sort.”
Others still do not have electricity.
“There are still whole families not accounted for,” said Jeanie Bates, a local host from St. Boniface.
Esther Morvan’s shoe store in Dominica was also wiped out by the hurricane. “It’s a challenge,” she said.
Several of the visitors also have their extended families living with them in Dominica.
Prior to Hurricane Maria, St. John and St. Lewis Catholic Churches in Portsmouth had previously recovered from a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in 2004 that destroyed their church. Their roof, windows, and doors were damaged or gone in addition to all of their pews getting piled in one corner of the church. Their congregation rebuilt the church, including a marble altar that was rebuilt piece by piece.
“We never stopped going to Mass,” said Bethude Azille, the coordinator of the Northern Ports at the Dominica Air and Sea Ports Authority.
Peter London, an entrepreneur and welder and in Dominica and associate of pastoral care at their church, is also a handyman at the church and helped fix a number of things. Cynthia Victor, a librarian in Dominica, is the chairperson of their building committee and helped oversee the reconstruction after the earthquake and the continuing improvements after the hurricane to rebuild the church.
After arriving in Piqua on Saturday and celebrating Mother’s Day with their host families, the guests also visited local places associated with St. Mary and St. Boniface Catholic Churches, like Piqua Catholic School, Lehman Catholic High School, and the Bethany Center. They also visited Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral, the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
They were also able to visit other places pertaining to their interests and careers. For instance, Azille, along with Linton Morvan, an aeronautical engineer and the communications and navigation director at the Douglas-Charles Airport outside of Portsmouth, were able to visit Hartzell Propeller.
A number of the guests have traveled to the United States and also previously visited St. Boniface before, but it was a first-time visit to the U.S. for Frances Valerie, an office attendant at the Northern Education Office in Dominica and choir director at St. John and St. Lewis Catholic Churches; Tiwisha Vital, an insurance underwriter who is also studying business management with the University of Derby in England and group coordinator of their chapel; and Alicia Christopher, a nursing assistant and a pastoral care associate at their church.
After visiting Lehman, Paul said, “We saw ways in which it would be good for the St. John’s Academy, which is a secondary school there in Dominica in our parish, we could partner with (Lehman), and also with the primary school. There are lots of ways of sharing studies … I would hope that maybe some day a small contingent of our students could come up and do pre-university courses that the high school has with the University of Dayton.”
Paul also suggested that students from Piqua Catholic School or Lehman could partner with them and visit Dominica and learn about their culture as well.
Paul said that another goal from this trip and their continued partnership could be to share strategies for places like the Bethany Center. She added that in the future, she hoped that they could do a hands-on project to help benefit this area, like when St. Mary and St. Boniface Catholic Churches sent them stained glass windows and the local Scott family visited their church to help repaint.
The partnership between the Catholic churches in Piqua and Portsmouth also created bonds between the parishioners.
“I just feel like they’re my extended family,” Bates said.
St. Boniface and St. Mary’s Catholic Churches will be holding a Dominica Day service at St. Boniface on Sunday, May 20, at 11 a.m. The service and the luncheon to follow at noon are open to the public. There will also be a concert at 2 p.m. at St. Boniface, located at 310 S. Downing St. in Piqua.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org