Pennsylvania Gazette: Our Father, by Joseph DiStefano

Thanks to Joseph DiStefano for this terrific article, see excerpt below...



I have kept up with a few of my Penn professors—two lasted long enough to teach one of my sons—and met more in my work as a journalist. But 30 years after we marched behind banners and bagpipes to the old Convention Center to grab our diplomas, one of my most memorable Penn instructors remains a priest, Father Tom Hagan. He taught no listed class, but worked part-time at the Newman Center, preached a remarkable Mass every week in the wee hours after Saturday Night Live, and encouraged us students to set up a community outreach program to run weekly visits to Philadelphia prisons, schools, soup kitchens, and old folks’ homes—not with any illusion of ending poverty and injustice, but to help us see a broader vision of America, and make it personal, listening to the people in the city around us, in hopes we would find ways in the careers and homes we would build to honor and labor for a better world.

Click here to read the entire article


Money Magazine, Looking for Heroes: Craig Matters


We were pleased and surprised to discover that Fr. Tom was highlighted in April 2014 issue of Money Magazine. Craig Matters,the managing editor, points to Fr. Tom as a model hero and a way to introduce the magazines efforts to find and highlight unsung heroes.  Mr. Matters sheds light on what so few have done--which is to recognize the extraordinary sacrifice of Fr. Tom going to Haiti and the quite and unnoticed way that Fr. Tom reaches the poorest of the poor. Mr. Matters quotes Fr. Tom, "All of us should think small. We need not go to Haiti. We should simply resolve to make the first person we meet walk away feeling a little better. Then, move on to the next person"

See the whole article here: Looking for Heroes: Craig Matters


Moving Outside of Ourselves by Serving the Poor

February 12, 2014 By Tony Rossi

The following is the text of the Christopher News Note “Serving the Poor.” If you’d like a pdf or hard copy, see the end of this post:

Whether they are showcasing food, drink or fashion, many advertisements today send a similar message: More! Drink more beer, eat more chips, or wear better clothes and you will be happier. Too often, we are told that our goals in life should be aimed at accumulating wealth, power or popularity. Pope Francis, however, has been promoting a different story.

“In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons,” he told a crowd of schoolchildren from Italy and Albania. “Poverty today is a cry. We all have to think if we can become a little poorer, all of us have to do this. How can I become a little poorer in order to be more like Jesus, who was the poor Teacher?”


Serving the poor allows us to move outside of ourselves and to consider our neighbors first. The book of Isaiah reads, “If you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday. Then the LORD will guide you always and satisfy your thirst in parched places, will give strength to your bones; And you shall be like a watered garden,
like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.”

In other words, we must think of the needs of others first. For in doing so, we bring light to our own lives, as well. Christ urged His followers to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and visit the imprisoned, among other acts of mercy, saying, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”

Each of us is called to serve the poor in the best ways we can, and sometimes this means challenging ourselves to move beyond our comfort zones. Yet how, exactly, does one go about serving the poor in real, meaningful ways?

Dispelling Fear and Misconceptions

Today Catherine Kirwan-Avila works as a service coordinator at Pathways to Housing, an organization serving chronically homeless people with mental illness in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There she interacts with individuals who, not too long ago, she might have passed by on the street without a second glance. “I realized I had been seeing them as not quite fully human,” she said. “I realized that was not a good thing, and the only way that was going to be broken down was to get to know people better.” She chose her current job in part as a way to dispel some of the fears and misconceptions she held about the homeless. “I knew I had some work to do to see these individuals as brothers and sisters,” she said.

Today she works to strike a balance between professional distance and Christ-like compassion. She strives to listen to her clients and to understand their stories: “It’s at those moments when you meet someone where they are and you get to know them that you see them as another person.”

Recently, Kirwan-Avila went to a store with a client. The man behind the counter asked if the client was her father. She replied: “No, a friend.” But at that moment she realized: He could be. Her client’s struggles could just as easily have been her father’s or a friend’s. Now, Kirwan-Avila strives to look at the men and women she serves in the way she imagines God looks at them. “That’s why we pray,” she says. “We have to cultivate that.”

The Things We Throw Away

While living in Kenya, James Martin, S.J., helped to throw a Christmas party for the refugees he served. Each person in attendance received three green, plastic cups. A few weeks later, Father Martin was visiting one of the refugees who had attended the party. She lived in an unlit shack. When Father Martin entered he noticed she had set the cups on a small, wooden table and given them pride of place. “Brother Jim, I love my cups,” she told him.

“For me a plastic cup was something you might throw away,” Father Martin said. “But her words have stuck with me.” Witnessing the gratitude felt by those who had very few possessions reminded Father Martin to be more grateful for the many blessings in his own life.

He said that words often attributed to St. Basil the Great come to mind when he considers how to serve the poor: “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

Father Martin also said that, while solutions to poverty can seem complicated, sometimes the issue is quite clear: “They do not have and we have, and it’s up to us to help them.”

Pope Francis has offered a similar reminder that we must work for change not just on a global level but also on an individual level. In doing so we touch the wounds of Christ.

What You Do With What You Have

On holidays, Father Paul Lostritto, O.F.M., tries to make the meals at the St. Francis Breadline in New York special, perhaps adding a piece of cake or a new type of juice to the hundreds of bags handed out exactly at 7:00 a.m. each morning, seven days a week. The breadline began in 1930 to help those in need during the Depression. Today, volunteers hand out plastic bags containing sandwiches to the dozens of people in need of a meal.

“For many of the older volunteers, the breadline is a real place to come and feel welcome and to stay active,” said Father Lostritto, who coordinates several outreach ministries at the parish. “For the younger volunteers it’s an eye opener. Many don’t realize that their next door neighbors might be people who are in dire need of help.”

For some volunteers, the experience sparks an interest in becoming more involved with the parish itself. For instance, some breadline volunteers have become Eucharistic ministers. “That’s church to me,” Father Lostritto said. “It’s not just sitting in the church itself. It’s what you do with what you have in the community.”

St. Francis also provides a grocery delivery program for the elderly and homebound. The deliveries build community, both among the volunteers and with the diverse group of people they serve. One woman who received meals from the volunteers said to them, “I was wary of Catholics, but you guys have restored my faith in Catholics and what religious people do.”

Three Serving Thousands

In Cotes-de-Fer, Haiti, one doctor, one nurse and one auxiliary nurse serve thousands upon thousands of people. The Catholic Medical Mission Board (C.M.M.B.)—a faith-based NGO focused exclusively on global health care for the world’s poor—is working to change that. The organization has chosen Cotes-de-Fer as the site of a new, 30-bed, health-care center, which is part of a program called the Children And Mothers Partnerships (or CHAMPS). The center will reach an area of 55,000 Haitians, who currently lack access to quality health care facilities.

The CHAMPS model includes a 15-year commitment to build healthy, sustainable communities in geographic areas of focus. C.M.M.B. will work in partnership with an existing in-region health system and focus on mothers and children under five years of age. CHAMPS sites are being planned for Peru, Kenya and Zambia.

“We believe strongly that healthcare should be a basic human right,” said Barbara Wright, director of communications for the C.M.M.B. “It’s part of the healing ministry of Christ. Christ cared for those less able to care for themselves and we see this as carrying out His mission in a way. We are into values that are graced by the church, building individual capacity and social justice and integrity and compassion.”

Hands Together

In 1986, Father Tom Hagan, the Catholic Chaplain at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, took a group of students on a mission trip to Haiti to serve the poor there. Doug Campbell was one of those students, and he remembers Father Hagan encouraging him to “strive to see Jesus in every human face.”

Following a positive response to the trip, Father Hagan felt determined to make his dream of compassionate service grow. He founded the nonprofit organization Hands Together with that in mind, and moved to Port-au-Prince in 1997.

Hands Together serves Haiti’s largest and poorest slum, Cite Soleil, having built eight schools to offer children and teens a good education and a daily hot meal. They’ve also established a free medical clinic along with an elderly outreach and housing program. Outside of Port-au-Prince, they assist the rural poor through water well digging, promoting agricultural production, and assisting poor schools and clinics.

Doug Campbell, who now serves as Hands Together’s Executive Director, says, “We recognize that the results of our work are ultimately in God’s hands. This dependence upon God has transformed this small student-based group into a program helping thousands of families in the poorest areas of Haiti.”

Indeed it is these values that Pope Francis has urged Christians to uphold, as members of the Body of Christ. He said, “If investments in banks fall, it is a tragedy and people say, ‘What are we going to do?’ But if people die of hunger, have nothing to eat or suffer from poor health, that’s nothing. This is our crisis today. A Church that is poor and for the poor has to fight this mentality.”

“What we would like to do is change the world–make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do…We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world.”
- Dorothy Day

To receive a pdf or mailed copy of “Serving the Poor,” email your request to

Fr. Toms Earthquake Reflection published in the NCR

Fr. Tom Hagan

Haiti -- First Person

Editor’s note: Fr. Tom Hagan, 68, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, is founder of a nonprofit organization, “Hands Together” (, which began its work in 1985 when Hagan, then a chaplain at colleges in southeastern Pennsylvania, started taking students on visits to Haiti. Out of those visits grew a network of supporters and a respected relief organization. Hagan moved to Port-au-Prince in 1997 where he oversaw a program he had begun in Cité Soleil, that city’s largest and most desperate slum. The program is widely recognized as one of the most effective educational and health organizations in that area.

Tom Roberts, NCR’s editor at large, contacted Hagan by e-mail and asked him about his experience during the quake and his assessment of the future of Haiti and the church in that country. His response arrived by e-mail Jan. 24. With minor editing, the e-mail follows.

Dear Tom:

Sorry my first response did not get through! My setup here is a laptop on the ground next to a very loud electric gas generator and with what seems to be a thousand young all wanting to use the computer. I will try again.

This past week has been terrifying. I have lived through all the violence in Cité Soleil over the past years: being shot at and having guns held to my head, seeing people close to me down here shot, but none can compare to the horror of the earthquake. Doug Campbell, who has been with me for over 20 years and serves as the executive director of Hands Together, had just arrived. We were to meet with the archbishop the next morning about the situation in Cité Soleil.

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Doug and I were sitting down talking when the quake began. I tried to get under a table that was only a few feet away but the floor was moving in the opposite direction. I felt totally disoriented and fortunately one of the young Haitians ran back into the house and grabbed me and Doug. There was almost total darkness and I could hear screaming but also singing, which seemed weird to me, but I was told that the people were praying.

I looked up at the rubble that was our house for volunteers, seminarians and street kids. I was bleeding from the head and there was a terrific pain in my back. Doug ran back into the rubble to try and begin to pull people out, but then we heard cries that the gas was leaking and that there would be an explosion. One of the street kids, Makenson, who was shot and is now blind and whom I found two years ago literally in the street, was crying out to me beneath all the rocks and debris but we could not get to him. [Makenson was eventually rescued.]

It was then that two ex-gang members from Cité Soleil ran up to me and carried me to Mother Teresa’s nuns. When I entered their compound they were already treating the wounded and they bandaged me up and I hobbled back to my place.

Throughout the night we held vigil, and slowly we were able to get everyone out except two of the 21 seminarians who were living with me in the house. I remember vividly that night seeing people who were burned badly by the electric wires that had fallen everywhere. The next night we were all huddled outside when we would experience a very large aftershock.

It was very frightening. On the same night at about midnight we began to hear screaming and people were screaming that there was a tidal wave coming. We all started running, and for the next hour I, along with thousands of people, were moving to higher ground. We did not know what to believe.

I am ashamed to say that I am still frightened, but now I am also experiencing a feeling of being overwhelmed. When I go through Cité Soleil now I see the eight schools that we built (schools that were totally free and the only free schools like that in the country with more than 9,000 kids). I walk past what was once our clinic that took care of 20,000 -- again the only totally free clinic in the area. I see what once were the houses that we built for 150 people and the elderly projects for over 800. I look at the large kitchen area where people prepared hot meals each day for over 10,000 -- and all of it is gone.

There is also the problem of the destroyed prison, from which over 4,500 men were freed. They all escaped, and there is a side of me that is happy that they did. Many of them should never have been there. I would visit the prison every week and there were as many as 600 in one holding cell and many of them had never even been in front of a judge.

Unfortunately, some are psychopaths, and all of them are now back in Cité Soleil.

I just came from offering four Masses. Each time I would finish, another crowd would come up and ask for Mass. This is a real comfort to me and more than ever I realize that I, we, can’t survive if we do not simply put everything into God’s hands. I’ve got to work hard to practice this.

Tom, you ask about the church. Well, the people here lost a very holy man [Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot] and a very good bishop, especially one who was supportive of me in Cité Soleil. He was a good friend, and I will miss him greatly. But the church will survive.

It is during a time like this that I find myself very proud of my church. Everywhere you go, you will see the church reaching out now and helping the people. The Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s nuns) are just amazing. The people here have a great faith. When I go to Cité Soleil now, as I do every day, I see few tears. The people have an amazing resiliency. Maybe it is because they have few material possessions and apparently their happiness does not depend upon possessions. The sight of a sunset means more to them that their possessions. What makes me most proud of my church is that the message we give the people is that they have enormous worth in the eyes of God and that they are infinitely loved and that this terrible disaster is in no way a punishment from God.

I recently said this in a sermon and the people all stood up and began clapping and cheering. I had to ask the altar server why they were clapping (I thought that I had said some thing wrong because my Creole is not good) and he said, “Father, no one ever tells them that they have worth.”

The Catholic church will survive, and I am sure of it.

But the longer I am here, the less I know. I really could not speak with much authority about what will happen with the government or even what would be the best way to help the people. I also struggle a great deal even being here. I feel strongly that we can do a great deal of harm with the best intentions when we begin to be the benefactor.

Even with all this aid coming in, we must go slowly, and every step of the way we must include the Haitians in the decision-making.

During these very difficult days, I find myself really loving these people. These are the same people who endured the slave ships, a horrible system of slavery, and who would be the ones who would eventually defeat Napoleon. They would continue to suffer greatly but they have a strength that is remarkable. I am humbled by them and privileged to be with them.

Pray for me. Take care!

Tom Hagan, OSFS

In post-earthquake Haiti, work to feed, educate (J. Hallett 2011)

Written by Joe Hallett THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Sunday, AUGUST 7, 2011

Cleveland Clinic's diagnosis: Some sort of poisoning or virus from rat feces.

That's what drove the. Rev. Tom Hagan last November from the squalor of Port-au-Prince to Doug Campbell's house in Massachusetts and eventually to the clinic to find out why the priest was so deathly sick, why it hurt so terribly to move his arms and legs.

"They finally concluded that it was probably caused by rat feces that got into the food and water," said Campbell, executive director of Hands Together, the Springfield, Mass.-based Catholic charity started in 1986 by Father Tom, as the Hai­tians call him.

That's what can happen when you live in a tent for a year, starting a day after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that devastated Haiti.

"I got attached to my little tent," Father Tom said. "It wasn't so bad. The only problem was if you got up too early and it was still dark, then the rats would still be with you."

Father Tom is divinely blinded to fear.

When gangs are acting up in Cite Soleil, a God-forsaken slum of about 400,000 in Port-au-Prince, Father Tom marches in and lets them know he won't tolerate violence against his charity's interests.

"He'll go •up to the head guy" said Campbell, "and say, 'Take your gun out and shoot me. Shoot me if you want to shoot somebody' They're always threatening our workers, and he won't stand for it."

Once teacher and student at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, Father Tom and Doug Campbell now are best friends, both trans­formed by their first visit to Haiti in 1986. They couldn't get the country's unfathomable poverty and raw potential out of their systems. They started Hands Together and in 1996, Father Tom left his comfortable chaplain's post at Princeton Uni­versity and moved to Haiti, devoting his life to a place that seemed gripped by the devil.

In the late '90s, fate crossed Father Tom's path with a U.S. senator and his wife, Mike and Fran DeWine, who also had felt a humanitarian tug to Haiti. Their'friendship result­ed in the Becky DeWine School, named for the DeWines' daughter who had been killed in a 1993 car accident.

Nine days ago, Father Tom, Campbell and the DeWines sat in a Cincinnati hotel lobby, excited about a fundraiser for Hands To­gether. Every year, the DeWines - Mike is now the Ohio attorney gen­eral — raise enough money to pay all the teachers' salaries and provide uniforms for the kids.

From three grades in three rooms at the beginning, the school now includes seven campuses in six neighborhoods of Cite Soleil, pro­viding the only daily meal many of the 5,000 students get.

"We had 7,800 kids, but after the earthquake, many went up into the countryside," said Father Tom. "A lot of the parents were killed and families were broken up. We've had some aftershocks and the people are very terrified and they haven't come back"

Before rebuilding his own resi­dence, Father Tom made sure that the schools were rebuilt, along with Hands Together's facilities for feed­ing thousands of Haitians, caring for the elderly and operating agricultu­ral and jobs programs.

Next year, the Becky DeWine School will hold commencement for its first high-school graduating class. The DeWines plan to be there, al­ready working on funding for schol­arships so the best students can go to college.


Father Tom will be 70 in October. Knowing that thousands of Haitians depend on him and Campbell, the DeWines worry about what will happen after Father Tom gets his Heavenly reward. Hence, the four of them are in a rush to educate and, train Haitians to eventually take over Hands Together and assume the responsibility of rescuing their own country.

There is no predicting how long someone so fearless can continue to stand up to gun-toting gang leaders or avoid the sickening effects of rat feces in such a place.

Meanwhile, Father Tom Hagan treads through the Haitian rubble as a saint

For information about Hands Together, visit www.handstogeth-erorg

Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch.

Father Tom Receives Honorary Degree at Lafayette Commencement



I remember coming here from the University of Pennsylvania, and before I came, they said, "Lafayette is a great school, a great academic school, but all the students are way up on that hill. They really don't know much about what's happening in the world." The first day I came here, I realized that was not true. I met Gary Miller, the chaplain. He was and is a great person and he encouraged the students to do so much for the poor and downtrodden.


Above all, I met the students, and what I found in them was an extraordinary appetite for helping others and a passion to help the world. They left this hill and they would go into the city of Easton and recognize hunger and do something about it. They would prepare food here and bring it down and open up a soup kitchen. They would go to the prison. They would start a project for the elderly, a project for the street kids.

The students had enormous good will, but maybe not the best prudence! They would go down into the city of Easton and invite the homeless up here. One fraternity house, Theta Delt, would invite them into their barroom, set up cots, and let them stay there overnight. The men thought they had died and gone to heaven.

And I remember very well, right over here on one of these benches, sitting down with a group of students, and they began to share a dream. Those students said, "We want to go to Haiti." And, within a month, we would go off to Haiti, to northern Haiti, the city of Gonaives.

I remember the first day there seeing a long line of people, young people and teenagers and adults. I felt so afraid and I was ashamed of my own fear, because the Lafayette students were already talking to them and laughing with them. They were all lepers. There were 1,200 lepers in that area of Gonaives. Those students from Lafayette would come back here and say, "We've got to do something." They organized a party that in the history of Lafayette was probably one of the biggest parties we ever had. Every fraternity house at that time had to give two kegs of beer. We had it at the gym. It was most successful—we raised enough money to build


a leper clinic in northern Haiti.

Those young people would go back and go back again, and in a period of just three or four years over 260 Lafayette students had gone to Haiti. They would found an organization called Hands Together. Many of those young people are still with me today. Doug Campbell graduated from here in 1986. He devoted his life to helping the poor in Haiti. He now serves as our executive director. Many of the young people who graduated from here have stuck with us—Peter Simon ['75] and Jeff Kirby ['84] and many fine young graduates.

I look out at you today, and I want to say thank you. The Lafayette students, they always wanted to go to the toughest places. They went to a place in Haiti called the Cite Soleil slum. It's documented as one of the poorest and most destitute areas of the world. It's where I have lived and worked for the last 14 years. There are 500,000 people living on three square miles of raw sewage. When you stand there, your feet literally sink into it. There's no sanitation, very little electricity. We have a rat population 10 times that of the people. The oldest child stays up at night with a stick to keep the rats away.

But those things you've learned to deal with. What's difficult for me, and I know it would be for you, is to see the children, because the children are dying. One-half-50 percent—of those children will die before their fifth birthday. If you could go back with me tomorrow, what you would see would be thousands of children with bloated stomachs filled with worms.

Father Tom Hagan at the devastated headquarters of Hands Together in Haiti


Children have a certain stare in their eyes. Children whose hair should be black turns an ugly color of orange, a sign of acute malnutrition. Then you look at the women. The women age in front of you. They age because it's unnatural for a woman, a mother, to watch her child die. I don't know one woman in that area who has not lost a child. The Lafayette students began a clinic there that now serves 20,000 people. It's the only free clinic in the area. Almost every day at that clinic I have to pull a baby away from a woman begging me to tell her that her child has not died, but it has. Please forgive me for being so graphic, but not long ago—I celebrate Mass every morning for Mother Teresa's nuns—there was a terrible stench in the chapel, and when the sun came up we found the body of a little girl who had been eaten by rats and dogs. This is an area, the New York Times documented recently, where women out of desperation will take mud and mix it with water or spice and let it dry in the sun and then feed it to their children. They don't realize it has deadly parasites. This is all they have. It's in this area that we feed 10,000 hot meals a day and, once a week, 200,000 dry meals. We've done that for many years.

Just four months ago, shortly before 5 p.m., I was sitting in a house that the Lafayette students had organized and founded, a five-story house. In that


house were homeless street kids I had taken in over the years. I was sitting on the bottom floor with Doug Campbell when suddenly the earth began to shake. I don't know if you've ever been in an earthquake, but it was the most terrifying moment in my life. I felt the blood coming from my head, and my back was in terrible pain, yet I didn't know what was going on. My whole body was shaking for 38 seconds. I didn't even think about going out. I tried to get under a table, but the floor was going in a different direction. You become totally disoriented.

Finally a person ran in and grabbed me and got me out only in time for me to see the building go down. I then began to hear the cries of the young people in that building. One was crying out, "Pere Tom, Pere Tom, help me!" He was a young boy I found in the streets who had been shot and lost his eyesight. Now he's under that building, and I could not do anything to help him. For the next 24 hours, I sat there in vigil and watched as they began to pull some out. But when the sun came up the next day, we realized that some would never come out. When we found their bodies, we buried them right there on that spot.

Since then, I've been living in a small tent just a few feet away from those graves, and every morning I get up and look at that, and then I look at all the response that has come from all over the world. I find myself praying


Doug Campbell '86, executive director of Hands Together

in gratitude to God and, especially, in gratitude to you, the Lafayette community. You heard the cry coming from Haiti, and you responded. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. [After the Jan. 12 earthquake, the Landis Community Outreach Center raised nearly $3,000 for Haiti relief through a concert, quilting bee, and other events. The center is forging a stronger partnership with Hands Together (see page 19).]

I also have to say to you today that the world owes you absolutely nothing, and you owe the world a great deal.

I feel a sense of urgency as I look out at you. We're living in a time when we no longer have the luxury of being indecisive. Each and every one of you has to be very decisive. We're living in a time that has an orientation toward self-absorption and narcissism, a time when we don't value human beings. What I'm asking you to do is to be someone who really cares for this world. Martin Luther King, in 1968, speaking in a church in Atlanta, Ga., said that to be truly alive and truly human you must be three-dimensional. You must not only have a love for yourself, but a love for others and a love for God. I challenge you, my dear


graduates, to always be three-dimensional. I challenge you to stand on your own two feet and see the world as it truly is—all that's good, yes, but all that's evil, all that's beautiful and all that's ugly—and say, "Yes, I can make a difference in this world. I can have the courage to share my dreams with others."

I thank you. I want to tell you again how much I love this wonderful school. When I walked through here today, I saw the bench dedicated to Rick Thorpe ['89], a student who came with me to Haiti. He died in the World Trade Center, and we have evidence today that he was trying to help people from the 89th to the 80th floor. I passed the memorial out there this morning. I counted 89 Lafayette graduates who died in the Second World War, almost the same number in the First World War, Korea, and Vietnam. You know you are part of a great tradition. Graduates from this wonderful school have gone all over the world to help people, and I beg you to take that mission seriously.

My prayer for each and every one of you is this: that you will always be three-dimensional and that the sight of a sunset will mean more to you than your material possessions, that the sounds of children will impress you more than the voices of the powerful and political people of the world. I pray that you will always be able to dance and sing for the right reasons and weep not for having lost something but for the realization that God has given you so much. I believe in you, I love you, and I challenge you. ❑

Father Tom Hagan, Lafayette's Catholic chaplain from 1983 to 1991, delivered these remarks May 22 at the 175th Commencement, where he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service. A priest with the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, he is president of Hands Together, a nonprofit organization devoted to educating, inspiring, and encouraging people to understand the importance of responding to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged.

"Many, many alumni have visited our projects in Haiti through the years and have worked a great deal to make it a very successful program," Hagan says. "From 1985 to 1990, a group of students under the leadership of Doug Campbell '86 really were the founders of Hands Together: Jamie Winebrake ['89], John Boozang ['87], Bill O'Shea ['88], Pete Najarian ['88], Scott Wild ['89], Rick Thorpe ['89], Jane Leveroni [Burns '89], Ginger Pancoast [Bove '88], and Brendan Gilligan ['90]. Jeff Kirby ['84] was one of the early directors. The late Bill Simon ['52] and his son Peter ['75] helped us tremendously and gave the early student founders much encouragement."



Columbbus Dispatch article on HT and earthquake (J. Hallett 2010)


Written by Joe Hallett Sunday January 17, 2010

Haitian people, continually beaten down, keep getting up -

At the end of a brief update on the Hands Together Web site about the disaster in Haiti was this news: ". . . and chief-of-staff Nelson's daughter has been killed."

It was worse, I learned later. Nelson's wife also was dead.

I searched my memory for Nelson's image, finally conjuring a slight but well-muscled young man with a generous smile, glad that life had given him a chance to work and to love.

Nelson Jean Liptete did love his family.

I met him five years ago in Cite Soleil, a garbage-laden slum of 400,000 in Port-au-Prince. He was beaming with pride as we toured the Becky DeWine Schools, named for former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine's daughter who was killed at age 22 in a 1993 automobile accident.

The Rev. Tom Hagan had rescued Nelson from the streets and put him in charge of the schools operated by Hands Together, founded by Hagan. Nurtured by the fundraising of Mike and Fran DeWine of Ohio and guided by Hands Together Executive Director Doug Campbell, there were eight Becky DeWine Schools educating and feeding 7,200 children in Cite Soleil when Tuesday's earthquake hit.

Nelson had something most Haitians didn't: a job. And in a slum where desperation feeds jealousy and rage, a job can be a dangerous commodity. Gangs controlled Cite Soleil, and Nelson had been a gang member until Hagan offered him another way.

One day, gang members showed their contempt for Nelson's going to work for Hagan by murdering his 3-year-old daughter.

"They came in the house looking for Nelson, but he wasn't there," Hagan said. "They started shooting, and his daughter got killed."

Now Nelson has lost another daughter and his wife, this time to a natural disaster. In a brief phone conversation Friday, Campbell said he went with Nelson to his house in Cite Soleil.

"He pointed to the rubble and just said, 'My daughter and my daughter's mother.' He just stared, and then started crying."

I called DeWine when I heard about Nelson's family. "It's really hard to understand," he said, anguished.

DeWine and his wife have made about 20 visits to Haiti. They have been unable, from their very first visit in 1996, to get the place and its people out of their heads. There is so much promise in the Haitians and so little hope for them.

"The natural disasters just seem to never, never end, and this one is by far the greatest natural disaster," DeWine said. "These are people who have been oppressed by bad leaders for decades. All those things together, the political turmoil, the natural disasters, it's really hard to understand how the people endure."

Inexplicably, through all the misery, Haitians don't seem miserable. When you visit and behold the garbage-choked ditches and homes made of corrugated metal and cardboard, you eventually ask yourself: Why aren't these people unhappy?

DeWine noticed it early and marveled at the industriousness and artistry evident everywhere in Port-au-Prince, from people selling anything to get by, including mud pies mixed with spices to eat, to street artists undervaluing paintings that could find a place in the best Short North galleries.


"These people are survivors," DeWine said. "They laugh a lot, and you wonder how they can after all the adversity."

It is enticing to imagine what Haiti could be with a functional government. Yet, even amid the chaos, there is something about the country that brings out the best in people, sometimes changing them for life.

That's what happened to the DeWines when, on a Senate mission, they visited and were continually lured back by their charitable hearts, eventually devoting to the island their daughter's name and all that it meant to them.

That's what happened to Father Hagan, who in 1986 took five students to Haiti to help at a leper clinic operated by nuns. Hagan later left his comfortable job as chaplain at Princeton University and moved to Haiti after hearing God's call to help the children, including Nelson Jean Liptete's.

And that is what happened to Doug Campbell, one of Hagan's five students, when a nun asked him to change a leper's bandages.

"Sister," he said, "I can't do it. He's too gross."

The nun replied, "But that's Jesus."

Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch.

Haiti After 6 Months: One Priest, A Half-Million Hungry Souls

by Mark Armstrong on July 17, 2010 ·

Six months after an earthquake devastated Haiti and the world rushed to help, it would seem that much of the world has forgotten Haiti.  Prior to the earthquake on January 12, 2010, Haiti was struggling with political unrest, environmental disasters and shantytowns.  The worst earthquake in the region in more than 200 years made matters seemingly hopeless.  The death toll is thought now to be more than 300,000 and many of the bodies are still buried under the rubble of buildings not yet cleared.  An international bank has estimated it could take $13 billion and many years before there is any semblance of what Haiti had before the quake; which was a culture teetering on the verge of collapse.

International relief agencies continue to be the main source of aid to the people who live in tent cities and shantytowns.  It is a scary time for these agencies because hurricane season is underway.  If one bears down on the Port-au-Prince area, which is already in ruins, a terrible situation will only get worse.

In the midst of this backdrop there are amazing stories of grace. Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of Mary’s Meals, just returned from Haiti to see how the agency was responding six months after the earthquake. Mary’s Meals is an international movement to set up school feeding projects in communities where poverty and hunger prevent children from attaining an education. It was named for Our Blessed Mother and originally started in 1993 in Croatia. Today, it provides daily meals in school for over 375,000 children in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Mary’s Meals partners with other organizations on the ground in hosts countries.  In Haiti, Mary’s Meals began a remarkable partnership several years before the earthquake with a middle-age priest Father Tom Hagen and his group, “Hands Together.”

Father Tom Hagen and his school

Up until 1989, Father Tom Hagan lived a comfortable life as the campus chaplain for Princeton University.  That all changed after taking a group of affluent students to Haiti and seeing the abject poverty there.  That led to Father Hagan to form an organization called “Hands Together” that worked to feed and educate children in the poorest, slums of Port au Prince.  In 1997, Father Tom moved to Haiti to personally direct the efforts there and in 2006 began a partnership with Mary’s Meals.

When the earthquake struck, friends of Father Hagan had no way of knowing if he had survived or not.  Finally a call came through the next day letting people back in the USA know that Father Hagan was being flown back to Miami for treatment of a head wound. Two days later Father Tom flew from Miami back to Port-au-Prince to assist his organization and Mary’s Meals re-establish operations to help feed and educate those that have survived the devastation.

MacFarlane-Barrow said that since the quake, Father Tom is the only priest to tend to the spiritual needs of the 500,000 people that live ineither the rubble from their homes or tents that are strewn everywhere.  Home is Cite Soleil slum, 3 miles from downtown Port-au-Prince built atop a former landfill.

“We work with ‘Hands Together’, which is the organization that Father Tom set up before the earthquake,” said MacFarlane-Barlow.

“Each day we provide 6,000 meals to school children. The original buildings were destroyed in the quake and so temporary wooden classrooms were set up on the playgrounds. It is amazing to watch as a teacher in New York, using ‘Skype’ webcams into one of the classrooms from New York to teach an English class, with a donated laptop powered by a donated generator.  It is surreal.”

Meantime MacFarlane-Barrow says the parents of the students are working around the clock to repair the cement walls of the schools that were destroyed in the quake.  They are also ensuring, through new building techniques, that the rebuilt school buildings, will withstand another earthquake or hurricane.

More Prayers and Donations Needed

In addition to feeding 6,000 school kids and providing jobs and food for those relatives involved in the reconstruction of the schools, Mary’s Meals is providing daily meals for around 2,000 senior citizens.  MacFarlane-Barrow said he is amazed at the happiness displayed by people in spite of having lost family members or had their livelihoods destroyed by the quake.

“I was struck by their happiness in the midst of all of this,” said MacFarlane-Barrow. “Everywhere we went, they greeted us with singing and dancing — and smiles – always their smiles.  They are incredible people.”

Still it is a daunting task when an organization like Mary’s Meals can help just a few thousand and Father Tom is the only priest for a half-million people.

“We always concentrate on the people that God puts in front of us.  We always think about that and take great inspiration from people like Father Tom who says ‘what we do here is humility in action and we need to be realistic about what we can do,’” said MacFarlane-Barrow.

Father Tom doesn’t even have the luxury of living in one of the temporary wooden schools he helped to build.  Instead, he lives in a tent while 12 seminarian students live in a nearby broken bus.

There is still great sorrow in the Church in Haiti.  Scores of priests and religious, including Archbishop Joseph Miot, perished in the quake. A local artist is painting the face of the late Archbishop on a wall of a small office that Father Tom uses. Father Tom was due to visit the Archbishop shortly after the time the earthquake struck and threw him to his death from his balcony.  The great Cathedral in Port-au-Prince and many churches were destroyed and none of them have been rebuilt.

MacFarlane-Barrow said when Father Tom celebrates Mass, it is outside now.

“On the little tree, under which he celebrates Mass, hangs a very broken crucifix. The plaster figure of Jesus has been smashed and has lost its legs. Wires protrude from limbs where the plaster has fallen away,” said MacFarlane-Barrow.

“This was Father Tom’s family crucifix that hung in his house in Philadelphia as he grew up. After he became a priest, he always had it in his home. So, he was delighted when it was salvaged from the rubble of his fallen house here.”

Father Tom told MacFarlane-Barrow that he never intends to fix the cross.  “No,” said MacFarlane-Barrow.

“Father Tom told me,‘I won’t ever repair it. I will keep it just like this. It reminds us that Jesus is broken too, with us,’” said MacFarlane-Barrow.

Anyone wishing to help with donations to Mary’s Meals and also assist Father Tom, please contact their organization through

To follow them on Twitter go to: www.twitter/marysmeals

DeWine concerned about Haitian center named after late daughter

Posted: 3:10 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010

By Mary McCarty

Staff Writer

On the best of days, life in the Port-au-Prince slum known as Cite Soleil has been described as a living hell, a place where people eat mud cakes spiced with bouillon cubes to survive.

On the worst of days — a day when a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti’s capital — “there’s no ability for the government of Haiti to respond,” said former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, a longtime advocate for Haiti. “There’s no infrastructure and there’s very little heavy equipment to assist with rescue efforts.”

DeWine said Wednesday he fears the death toll will go “very high” as victims wait for rescue that may never come. “Haitians are hard workers and they will dig through the rubble,” he said. “But at some point you need the heavy equipment.”

He’s anxiously awaiting word on the Becky DeWine School, a complex of eight schools named for his late daughter, which feeds and educates some 8,000 children in one of the world’s worst slums. He has learned to his great relief that his close friend, Father Tom Hagan, is safe, though his home, which doubles as a volunteer center, has been destroyed. “We’re also very worried about the Sisters of Charity orphanage which is very close to Father Tom’s house,” said DeWine. “Father Tom is reporting that everything is down, just destroyed.”

Hagan has lived in Haiti for 13 years as a missionary for Hands Together, the Massachusetts-based aid agency that supports the Becky DeWine School and a medical clinic in Cite Soleil as well as humanitarian projects throughout Haiti. Hagan flew in from Haiti to officiate at the double funeral Mass for DeWine’s parents, Jean and Dick DeWine, in November 2008.

“People look to Father Tom in times of crisis,” DeWine said. “When they had the flooding, he was one of the first to break through and rescue people. People will be looking to him now.”

Wilson Cohoon of Bellbrook also got good news Tuesday night about friends and associates in Haiti. The connection was shaky, barely audible, but it sounded like music when Cohoon heard the voice of his friend, Pastor Joel Beaucejour, in Leogane, Haiti, after several failed attempts to get through.

“Joel, how are you?” Wilson asked.

“We’re alive,” Beaujecour replied.

For more than 20 years Cohoon and his church, Emmanuel Lutheran in Kettering, have supported Beaucejour’s work in his native Haiti through the Emmanuel Christian Mission compound, which houses two orphanages, a school, and a church. Cohoon is now director for the Caribbean ministry of Children of Promise International, a Christian relief agency with world headquarters in Centerville.

Cohoon spoke to Beaucejour after the third shock from the 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Leogane is about12 miles from the quake’s epicenter, the Haitian capital of Port au Prince.

The orphans were all safe, Beaucejour reported, but the church building sustained heavy damage. Cohoon feels grateful it wasn’t worse. An Emmanuel Christian Mission staffer was scheduled to pick up a check from Children of Promise International later this week. “Thank God they didn’t send him Tuesday, or he might have been in town when it hit,” Cohoon said.

After speaking with Beaucejour, Cohoon was able to reach his wife Rose in Ottawa, Canada, where she is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for leukemia. The couple’s two youngest children — their daughter Othmar and son J.J. — are with her, while older son J.L. attends school in Toledo.

Cohoon tried all day Wednesday to reach Beaucejour again, with no success. “All circuits to Haiti are jammed,” he said. The more he watched the news, the more he despaired over the widespread nature of the devastation.

Cohoon travels to Haiti frequently but doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return. “Why did this happen to them, when they’ve already suffered so much?” he asked. “The cost of food and fuel and running things will increase dramatically. We have to pray that somehow we can see the Lord’s hand in this.”

Cohoon’s prayers this week begin with a simple plea: 'Lord, these are your people.’”

In the long run, DeWine said, it is agencies such as Hands Together and Children of Promise that will be there for the Haitian people: “Every natural disaster hits Haiti and every natural disaster is much more devastating there because the government can barely function on a normal day-to-day basis. When the surge of international aid has gone away, it is the nonprofits that will have the job of rebuilding Haiti.”

Contact this reporter at . Donations can be made to support the Becky DeWine School and Father Tom Hagan’s work in Haiti at Hands Together, Box 80985, Springfield, MA  01138. Donations to help the Emmanuel Christian Mission can be sent to Children of Promise International, 6844 Loop Road, Centerville 45459.

In Haiti's chaos, priest risks all to deliver food Sunday, Nov 2004 JOE HALLETT

In Haiti's chaos, priest risks all to deliver food
Sunday, November 21, 2004

It was not just good to see the Rev. Tom Hagan. It was good to see him alive.

On the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 24, we sat with Sen. Mike DeWine in the study of a magnificent old house in Worthington, minutes before Hagan said Mass on the pillared back porch shaded by century-old trees.

That morning, Hagan had asked congregants at a local parish to throw a little extra in the collection basket for Hands Together, the Haitian relief organization he started in 1996. It provides food, schooling and medical care for thousands of the poorest people on Earth.

DeWine had invited about 75 friends to attend the back-porch Mass and open their wallets for Hagan, whose sleep-deprived routine either has him in Haiti doing work for the poor or in the States raising money so he can go back and continue doing it.

Hagan savored the comfort of the old home, the fancy desserts and the intellects of the guests, his heavy eyes belying the opposite reality of his usual world, the one he had left two days earlier and would return to the next day.

The last time I saw Hagan and DeWine together was in May in Cite Soleil, a Portau-Prince slum of 400,000. Accompanied by a contingent of heavily armed U.S. Marines, Hagan showed DeWine and his wife, Fran, the Hands Together clinic, which treated 18,000 last year; the fooddistribution operation; and the five Becky DeWine School campuses, named for the DeWines' 22-year-old daughter, killed in a 1993 auto accident.

The DeWines stumbled upon Hagan during a brief visit to Haiti in 1998 and, moved by his selflessness, became stalwarts for his mission.

The Marines, who patrolled the slums, dredged garbage-filled canals and kept street gangs at bay, were due to pull out in weeks, to be replaced in July by up to 6,000 U.N. troops. DeWine and Hagan fretted then that if the new troops were passive, lawlessness would reign in the nation of 8 million struggling anew to establish a government.

Their fears have been realized. The thuggish chimeres have re-established their terrorizing control over Cite Soleil, where U.N. troops rarely venture. The gangs have threatened to behead children who go to school, and the Becky DeWine Schools, where 4,000 children learned and received their only hot meal of the day, have been closed for a month.

Several days before relaxing in Worthington, Hagan, who has been threatened at gunpoint by gang members, and a couple of his brave employees ventured into Cite Soleil in a truck loaded with sacks of rice and cooking oil.

''You go in there, and you don't see a soul," Hagan said. ''The people are there, but they're hiding. The markets are closed, the schools are closed, there's not a soul."

The convoy parked outside Fort Dimanche, a now-closed prison where torture once was the norm. In 15 minutes, 1,000 people came from nowhere.

''It really broke your heart," Hagan said. ''They were desperate for food. There was shooting going on, but no one seemed to be stirred by it. We got the food delivered, pulled out, and went back and filled up the truck again. We ended up taking three trucks and a bus filled with food.

''Then we went to a tougher neighborhood, Bellicose. The gangs knew we were coming. We got to a point and there was a group of guys with guns, and they moved aside and let us in. People started running like crazy for the food."

Hagan and his helpers refilled the trucks and bus and went to a third neighborhood.

''Everything was really devastated, and all of a sudden the gang members show up and they all have big guns. We decided there that instead of giving out the food ourselves, we would turn it over to the gang members. We worried that they would keep it for themselves so we stayed and watched, but they gave it out and we told them we'd come back with more. Each time you go in there, you're thinking, 'Oh man, something's going to happen this time.' You're afraid something will trigger trouble."

Hagan has been unable to open the clinic in Cite Soleil, where bodies of people and animals rot on the streets. ''A lot of people are dying," he said.

DeWine, R-Ohio, warned that nothing will change as long as the U.N. troops remain passive.

''Unlike our Marines, the U.N. is not having the impact because they're not doing the community policing, they're not getting out, they're not being assertive, they didn't go in and take control right away."

In a couple of days, Hagan mused as we sat in the study, he would be back in Cite Soleil, handing out food to desperate people, a world away from Worthington.

Joe Hallett is Dispatch senior editor. The e-mail address for Hands Together is