In the face of dire poverty, widespread gang violence, recent natural disasters, and a breakdown of basic social-political structures, making progress in Haiti today can feel impossible. But for Haitian missionary priest Father Louis Merosne, everything is possible with God, and that’s the attitude he has taken to the Herculean task of rebuilding the Catholic educational system where he serves in Haiti.
“We have a big dream, a huge dream, but we will start small. We want to build schools so we can build Haiti one student at a time,” Merosne said in a Facebook video he recently posted, inviting people to pray for and donate to the mission. Merosne, who was born in Haiti and educated in the U.S., is the pastor of the Cathedral of St. Anne in Anse-a-Veau, in the Nippes department in the southwest part of the country. (The cathedral was greatly damaged during the 2021 earthquake and has not yet been repaired due to the high cost.)
Merosne is also the founder of Mission to the Beloved, a nonprofit organization that preaches the Gospel, serves the poor, and builds up the local Church. The ministry also funds most of the operational costs of the Cathedral of St. Anne since many parishes in Haiti can’t afford to pay staff or run ministries.
The effort to establish Catholic schools among the faithful in the region Merosne serves is no easy task, but the effort began before he arrived in Anse-a-Veau.
The first school was partly in place already, and Merosne then helped “to push it through to complete it,” he told CNA. “Thank God for those who helped us to build it before I became pastor. That school was seventh grade to senior year. Then we realized we needed kindergarten to sixth grade so we went searching for money … and got this amazing opportunity with Catholic Relief Services in addition to some generous individual donors to be able to build more classrooms. So [this fall], we should have all the classrooms from kindergarten to senior year in the town of Anse-a-Veau.”
But in addition to the Cathedral parish in town, Merosne also has four mission churches (chapels) spread out in four different villages.
“In order for kids to get a good Catholic education, they have to take dangerous motorcycle-taxis or walk long distances to come from those villages to the town,” he explained. “Transportation is more expensive than the cost of the education itself. So I said, ‘I’m going to start a school, a Catholic school, inside every little church in each village.’ And that’s how I started this crazy project. It’s very daunting to build so many schools and run them, but it can be done.”
Merosne is working with what he has while he fundraises, and he keeps a sense of humor. “We put a blackboard in there [the mission church] and on Sunday we have Mass, and then on Monday to Friday it’s a classroom; isn’t that how everybody does it?” Investing in Catholic education in Haiti is about the students and their families, but there is a bigger picture, too.
“We are also investing in education because the Catholic population has shrunk in Haiti,” Merosne told CNA. “Haiti was considered a Catholic country, but the population has gone down because there are systematic efforts to convert people out of the Church. And it works. And we haven’t had a systematic response to it. So education is very important — not only as ministry but also to inform the mind and heart of the young child, to bring them up in the faith and as good citizens of the country, who will love the country.”
Merosne believes that forming the minds and character of students and helping them to grow in virtue is important for the recovery and flourishing of Haiti. “If they don’t grow in virtue then we’re not doing the country any favors because some of the corrupt people that are in the country went to Catholic school. And yet, their heart is not where it’s supposed to be; it’s not converted with the Lord. So that’s why I’m taking education seriously.”
Merosne is currently raising money to build classrooms as the chapels, the mission churches, will soon be too overcrowded. “We need to start building classrooms outside the church buildings, even if it’s one classroom at a time. And that’s how we’ll eventually end up with a school building for each village. It has been hard but it’s important. We are seeing the results — beautiful kids are getting Catholic education.” Some of the chapels were damaged by the powerful earthquake in August 2021 so the community had to build some makeshift classrooms so the students could keep going to school. “We don’t stop no matter what happens; we keep going,” Merosne said.
Paying the teachers is a challenge because parents can’t afford very much. “It’s less than $100 for the whole year per student and still for some families, that’s difficult,” Merosne said. “And then the teachers get paid peanuts — a little less than $100 per month. We try to get them food, like rice and beans, so they don’t have to use the little money they make for food. And we try to help them with transportation.”
But Merosne would like to properly train teachers and pay them a good wage. “We realized we need to have a school that trains teachers in the area, especially if we want to encourage our Catholic young adults to become teachers so we can have good Catholic teachers in the schools,” Merosne explained. “So we started a school for teachers. And that’s been growing for two years. We hire them even while they’re in school. So that’s good news.”
A project like this in Haiti requires support at many levels. Merosne broke down how individuals and groups can help. “First, you can pray,” he said. “You can also sponsor a student ($100 per year) or a teacher ($100 a month) or sponsor a classroom — that’s about $20,000- $25,000 per classroom to build.”