The Good Lord has given us all another year, and the children of
SARNELLI are blessed with relative good health. We also have a bumper crop of rice this year; the best so far. Also, on one day, at St. Pat's Home, we had 8 piglets, six puppies and our accountant's first baby born at the same time! (The staff all ran out to buy lottery tickets with this information!). For this, we
are thankful. The Redemptorists issued new appointments this year, and I was transferred from the idyllic village of Viengkhuk to the tiny hamlet of Don Wai. The Thai Redemptorists gave me $25,000. and I proceeded to build my very first rectory of my own design. I had built a seminary, churches and buildings for the kids, but never a house.
Last year, I met some Catholics from Lafayette diocese in western Louisiana, and they told me about a girl who lived back in the forties, Charlene Richard, from Richard LA. She was a fun loving, fervent little Cajun girl who contacted a virulent type of cancer and died an agonizing death within months. She showed extraordinary courage and saintliness during her brief futile battle with cancer and was known as "The Little Cajun Saint." An offer was made to build a house for volunteers and guests in her name, and the generous Catholics of Lafayette diocese raised the money, and Charlene house was built. I moved to one of the rooms, until going stateside on June 6. Mother Hubbard's cupboard was getting bare, and I needed to wield my tin cup. I was also hoping to get home in time for the annual CEBORIDE, always a successful fundraiser, organized by Sam and Molly Mueller. But Molly was to have her baby around the usual time of the CEBORIDE, so instead they held it near the end of May. They had a fabulous response to their 125-mile bike ride, with over 30 riders making the trip within 10 hours. They raised enough money for the AIDS-infected children's medicine but also for our rejuvenated OUTREACH program.
Our OUTREACH program has been going in fits and starts. Marist Fathers from Australia have been funding it, but there were always problems with a vehicle and then a rapid increase in adults with AIDS who needed help exhausted our budget within months. Usually, the OUTREACH people would borrow my pick-up, and I would use my motorcycle. But one day the staff (the "Vestal Virgins") announced that either I sell the cycle or they would. I was deemed too old to ride it anymore. It was then that Mr. Vic Ottenlips and his staff at the Liguori Foundation office picked up the baton and ran with it, raising money for a 4 wheel drive 4-door pickup, and money left over would be used to trade in an old van someday. The response of their clientele was overwhelming. Many of the people were ex-Redemptorist seminarians and relatives of the Redemptorists. I got my old pick-up back, and the OUTREACH teams got a new truck!
I was home for the first time since Pa died, and it was strange looking up at the old brick farmhouse where I was born and raised, and see a strange family now living there. But soon, I was, as Grandma Mae used to say "right on the pound", from town to town, trolling for shekels. White Lake on the Wolf River and St. Francis Xavier in Wisconsin; Wheaton IL; Lafayette/Richard LA (St. Mary and St. Edward parishes). I went to St. Louis for an alumni get-together and a fundraiser at our "Rock" church, organized by Frs. Dave Polek and Chuck Beierwaltes. I had an appeal in Kansas City, and joined Fr. Jim Shea and the parish to celebrate his 40 years as a priest. I toured Fr. Paddy Powers' carpenter shop, where the lad makes furniture and sends the proceeds to help the ADDS kids in Thailand. The last stop was at Cousin Colleen's house in Minneapolis, where Colleen, Dennis and their friends held a very nice fundraiser. I met some really nice and generous people on these jaunts, some who actually put me up in their homes.
We now have 114 children in four houses. With 4-month-old Mr. Dome to 14 other toddlers, we have a lively nursery. KINDERNOTHILFE built us a new girls dorm in Viengkhuk, and soon two 8-year-old girls from the mountains were welcomed; one brutally raped and the other abused by her father. We also took in a girl from the Udorn area who was being molested by her drunken AIDS-infected father. These new children have been able to deal with their horrible past and fit in with our happy little horde, thank God.
New additions to SARNELLI HOUSE also arrived, and the latest is Miss Da, utterly abandoned and lonely. Her parents dead, and she didn't even know where she came from. She is a precocious little thing, and had to be isolated for TB, which was agonizing for her, seeing a group of children she could not join until her TB medicine finally rendered her non-infectious.
The number of AIDS infected children with us is now 46 confirmed, and babies too small to check. We also have infected children in the OUTREACH program who are with their mothers, and we help and monitor them as well.
Last January, my brother Jack made his second trip to Thailand, and this time he came alone. At the first chance we got, Fr. Dick, Jack and I flew to Chiengrai for five days. We stayed in a lovely hotel of only 36 rooms, arranged for us by the famous Sr. Annie. We had a great time, and I never dreamed they would both be gone within 13 months of each other. Jack and I grew up together, and he was a towheaded little guy, who loved fishing and camping out in our rudimentary little pup tent. In those days, on cool evenings, shivering deliciously, we'd climb the hill behind the house to listen to the train whistle, as it hurled through Eden, 9 miles away. We'd wonder if some day that train would take us somewhere. In a few short years, that train took me to the seminary, and Jack to the Marines. No train runs that track anymore. Jack worked his way through many health issues.
Later, this very summer, he was going on a 10-day horseback ride into the Bob Marshall wilderness, in Montana. Some of us questioned the wisdom of such a trip, but Jack replied that he had a friend who had open-heart surgery, and he sits on the porch, afraid to do anything, waiting for death to track him down. He added that he was not going to wait for death. He made the ride and when he came out, it was obvious that he was very sick. Open heart surgery followed, and then another surgery 5 days later. Jack died on Sept. 3. The next day found my brother Kevin and I staking out his grave, which is on land we once pastured our black Angus cattle, and then donated part to the existing cemetery. I miss him terribly; my brother and my best friend. His widow Maggie is now taking care of donations for me. (N5350 Ledgetop Dr. Fond du Lac, WI 54935-9668). (Also, the Foundation Office/Denver Province's new address is now: 1230S Parker Rd, Denver
May the Infant and His Mother grant your every wish at Christmas and
in the New Year! We pray for you and yours daily! We'd never make it, without you!