The following article appeared in the August 27, 1999 issue of the Vermont Catholic Tribune and Claudine Verdon Martin a Staff Reporter for the paper has given us permission to use it on our St. Luke Parish Website

Religious Hospitaller of St. Joseph Cecile Smith makes a special presentation to Father John G. Feltz, pastor of St. Luke and Ascension Churches on behalf of the mission in the Dominican Republic that benefits monthly from the churches' generosity. The gift is handiwork of a student at the vocational school, part of the San Jose de Ocoa-based mission where Sister Smith has served for 26 years. Pictured (l-r): Donna Varricchione, Father Feltz, Sister Smith and Mary McDevitt. (Photo courtesy Mary McDevitt)

Father John G. Feltz, Mary McDevitt (center) and Donna Varricchione (right) gathered recently at the St. Luke Parish rectory to review details for the upcoming lawn and bake sale, Sept. 11, 1999. McDevitt and Varricchione serve as this year's coordinators for the sale, and correspond with Sister Cecile Smith, director of nurses at the hospital that is part of a mission run by the religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph since 1964, in San Jose de Ocoa, Dominican Republic. (Photo by Claudine Verdon Martin)

Treasures for sale crucial to international mission’s success

By Claudine Verdon Martin

Staff Reporter


She said she would "give it a try for one year." Now, 26 years later Religious Hospitaller of St. Joseph Cecile Smith is more active than ever as director of nurses at the 80-bed hospital in San Jose de Ocoa, Dominican Republic.

No matter how dire the needs of the poverty stricken people served by the mission, which has been run by the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph since 1964, the Richford native has a monthly reminder of the prayers and generosity of the people back home.

Since 1987, St. Luke Parish, Fairfax, has donated a percentage of its monthly offertory for the benefit of Sister Smith’s ministry in San Jose de Ocoa. More recently, Ascension Church, Georgia, a mission of the Fairfax Catholic Church, has followed suit.

Father John G. Feltz, pastor of both churches, told The Vermont Catholic Tribune that donations totaling almost $4,000 were sent to the mission last year representative of the two churches’ offertory contributions. In addition about $3,000, realized from St. Luke Parish’s annual lawn and bake sale was sent, plus individual donations totaling about $1,500 to $2,000.

"Once it was decided that a certain percentage of our offertory on an annual basis would be given to Sister Cecile’s mission, we got the idea here at the parish that we should have another fund-raiser to benefit (Sister Cecile’s missionary efforts). We came up with the lawn and bake sale," explained Donna Varricchione, parish secretary and co-coordinator of the annual sale. "All profits from the sale go to Sister."

Added Mary McDevitt, the sale’s other co-coordinator, "That first year, during the summer of 1988 it was held in August, and that did not seem to be a good time." The following year it was changed to the first Saturday following Labor Day.

"A lot of people have really latched onto that," Varricchione said. This year’s lawn and bake sale will be held Sept. 11 in the parish hall of St. Luke Church.

Since the two Catholic communities began their association with Sister Smith’s mission, a rehabilitation center has been added, in addition to the already existing home for the elderly, hospital (although sponsored by the government, it is administered and run by the sisters) and a vocational school. According to Sister Smith, when the "big check from the lawn sale" comes, monies are divided among the four departments.

Sister Smith explained that the monthly donations are not simply to add services to help the poor of the rural community of San Jose de Ocoa, the donations assist with providing basic needs.

"We help at least 30 families every month just with food," she told the VCT during a telephone interview. "The government gives us a certain amount of medicines, but it is never enough. We have people on special medications…like insulin and that is not provided and the people who need it cannot afford to buy it for themselves. We also help our patients with transportation to Santo Domingo for studies or for specialized tests at the bigger hospital.

"We receive the equivalent of approximately $5,000 U.S. dollars each month from the government to run our hospital—that does not even cover the cost of the food to feed our patients," Sister Smith said. "The money we receive from St. Luke (and Ascension Churches) is very much appreciated by all of the people here. I truly do not know what we would do if we did not have them there to help us when we need it. They are a great great blessing."

Father Feltz said that McDevitt and Varricchione take alternate months writing Sister Smith a letter that is enclosed with the churches’ donations, and that similarly Sister Smith writes that parish a letter that is posted on the churches’ bulletin boards.

"As long as we have the people to coordinate this project, I am very happy to be involved because it is worthwhile," Father Feltz commented. "I have a first cousin who is a missionary in Lima, Peru, so I am familiar with the great needs associated with running a mission."


He added that the churches never have a second collection for the benefit of Sister Smith’s mission, but that in the coming year "we will be starting an envelope system (for donations to Sister Smith) to give people an opportunity to contribute on an individual basis."

Although Varricchione and McDevitt conceded that preparing and executing plans for the lawn sale are very involved, it is all worthwhile.

"It gets better and better every year," McDevitt said. "There are a lot of people who return year after year to help out, that would still be there even if we did not have a sign-up."

Added Varricchione, "There is really a good spirit in that lawn sale. People feel that it is important to look outside themselves to help others they do not even know."

The St. Luke Parish association with Sister Smith’s mission began some months after Father Joseph T. Sullivan was assigned there as pastor June 1986, when the pastoral council at his suggestion decided that a percentage of the parish’s ordinary income would be sent to the mission. In 1989 he and high school-aged parishioner Dale Rainville visited Sister Smith in San Jose de Ocoa for a firsthand experience of her ministry and work.

"Previous to 1989 I had visited Haiti and the Dominican Republic on a field trip with Catholic Relief Services. I saw the dire poverty that exists there. Haiti is the poorest country in this hemisphere, and the Dominican Republic is not far behind," he said. "I believe that it is the personal contact with Sister Cecile that helps the parishioners appreciate the mission’s needs. Visiting there, as well as other poor nations have made me more dedicated to…the poor, and makes me want to serve them better."

Over the years, several parishioners have visited the mission and assisted during weeklong stays. During the last week of January 2000, Sister Smith reported that St. Luke parishioners Tom and Diane Brennan, and Ascension parishioners Dennis and Marie Moore, along with others from the area, will visit and help out in whatever capacity that is needed.

The annual St. Luke Parish lawn and bake sale will be held Sept. 11, in the parish hall, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For additional information call the parish at (802) 849-6205.