Help for Honduras: the faith journeys of Dr. Casey, as told by himself

by Eliot Casey, M.D.

My involvement in Honduras came out of my friendship with Father Randal Gillette. C.P.

Two of my sons attended St. Louis (Benedictine) Priory School, and as a result of our friendship with the monks we became friends with Fr. Randal's brother (Br. Symeon, O.S.B.) and ultimately with Father Randal when he would come to St. Louis to visit his brother.

My wife and I used to help with the work he was doing in Mexico, and when he was transferred to Honduras we offered to continue to help in any way that we could.

When he needed back surgery (in 1988), it was arranged to be done at St. John's and for him to recover at the monastery. While here recovering, he shared his plans for a clinic he was starting to build in Honduras.

Documents

Dr Casey andFr Randal had brought along many documents ranging from a 'request to build' for the local people to a detailed list of supplies needed for a functioning clinic --- all in Spanish. It was a very impressive undertaking from many standpoints. My intention was to help with samples of medicine when I had them, perhaps a few other things. right: with Joseph Jones, C.P. at the clinic

But before he left, he came by my office and told me that he was leaving with me a copy of all the documents --- that he was sure I would be able to arrange for all the supplies and equipment necessary for the clinic. I almost died.

I told him I wasn't sure I had the time to do all that was needed to be done. I estimated that it would take approximately $10,000 just to get the essential supplies and equipment (used) --- if we could get them at all. The whole list would have cost about $50,000.

He told me not to worry; that if the clinic was meant to be built, God would take care of it. (He obviously had a lot more faith than I did in what God was going to do.) He gave me the names of a couple of other people and said he was sure they would help. They did.

We had a few meetings and decided that we needed to apply to some organizations that helped with this sort of thing. They met the requirements. One friend was a real entrepreneur and helped arrange for a fund-raising event that produced $15,000.

I wasn't sure what was really needed in a third world country. So I asked Fr. Randal if he would mind if I came and visited with him for a couple of days. I figured if I were able to walk through the clinic as it was being built and see what they intended to do in each room, it would help to decide just what on the list he really needed and what was more of a luxury.

Family Budget

At that time, I had two children in college and two others in private schools. When I found out how much the trip would cost, I hesitated. My wife told me not to worry, that if God meant for me to go, it would happen. I agreed. Within two days, she called me at the office to tell me we had received a refund for overpayment of one of my children's tuition. Although it wasn't enough to cover the total cost of the trip, I got the message loud and clear.

That first time I went to Honduras, I didn't speak one word of Spanish. Didn't think it was a problem. One night, before I left, my children told me they thought I was crazy. They said, "You're going down to a strange country and you know nothing else than that Father said 'Come on down!' You don't know the language. You don't even know if it will be safe." I told them I could be killed anywhere and that if God wanted me to go, everything would be okay.

That's exactly how it worked. When I was traveling and needed someone to interpret for me, they were always there. One man couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak a word of Spanish, but he helped me fill out a form that was all in Spanish.

On my first trip (1989), Fr. Gillette arranged for me to meet all the parties involved in the clinic project and to visit the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa to learn the country's medical problems. That's what has kept me involved. The people. They're wonderful. So in need and yet so able to give of themselves.

There have been many times since that first time when I've thought about throwing up my hands and saying "I've had it!" It seemed like there were so many things to do each day that didn't have enough hours. I had a family to think of. I had a job. I was responsible for raising money on an ongoing basis for the continued needs of the clinic. There would be ongoing needs.

I also came to believe that I have an obligation to share what God has so generously given to me.

The following year, I returned to see the changes in the clinic and to check on how the changes affected the clinic's needs from the medical standpoint. I continued to return, almost annually.

Then I met Fr. Bill Murphy after Fr. Gillette left. Fr. Bill was working in a parish there and generously agreed to take over the clinic. If it hadn't been for him, I believe that the work and the role of the Passionists there would be non-existent.

The year after Fr. Bill left Honduras for re-assignment, he and I decided to try returning there together. The Passionists were kind enough to approve our plan, agreeing that the medical and spiritual needs were both important and two people could better assess them than one. That plan has continued and this year Fr. Joe Jones and Brother Jim Johnson went with us.

The Regular Visits

Again, the whole idea behind the visits was that we needed to assess the spiritual needs of the people as well as their medical needs. Fr. Gillette had told me from the very beginning that the people working in the clinic had to have the right attitude. If they didn't, he would try to get them out of it. The spirit of compassion for one's fellow man had to be there.

It's still there. Each year, I learn more about the people and the clinic that strengthens my faith. In a country where people have trouble working together, Fr. Gillette has created something legally and functionally complicated which, by all reasoning, should have self-destructed after the Passionists physically left the country.

Yet, it continues and grows, with all parties still working together. As he told me in the beginning, "If God wants it to happen, it will."

My many visits to the clinic and my association with the Passionists have created many friendships for me and my family. I feel that I have been truly blessed by God to be able to help him in his work with the poor people of Honduras. I feel that I have received much more than I have given.

When this article appeared in Compassion in Spring, 1999 Eliot Casey, M.D. was Chairman of the Pediatrics Department at St. John's Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri and also Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at St. Louis University. He and his wife Joan are Lay Associates of the Benedictine Order and have four children. From the beginning of the Passionist Mission venture in Honduras in the late '80s, he has been coordinator, fund-raiser, medical supplier, and onsight reviewer for the Passionist-supported St. Benedict Clinic in the hills outside Tegucigalpa. He travels each year to Honduras. San Benito Clinic now serves 40,000 patients a year.
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