In October, I will be visiting a Catholic high school in Boston. Last week during a conversation I had with the vice-principal of the school, he told me about the impact my last visit to the school had on the students. To be honest, I could not recall having visited the school before, but he began to refresh my memory of the 2007 visit. Today, he sent me an e-mail detailing the impact my visit had on the students, and the movement it gave birth to. Here is that e-mail:
In the fall of 2007, we invited Gerry Straub to speak at our school. Gerry showed our students clips from the film, Patients of a Saint, a documentary about the inspiring work of Dr. Tony Lazzara in Chaclacayo, Peru. The presentation was fortuitous because at that time we were planning our second-ever trip to Peru. After the presentation, students asked if they could make a documentary film “like Gerry Straub did” about our upcoming trip. Others asked if we could also go and see “Dr. Tony” while in Peru. We followed-up with Gerry and Dr. Tony and included the clinic in our itinerary. In addition, two of our students, Kevin Tobin and Graham Madden, created the video, “Far From Home.”
Our trip to Peru was a huge success! The visit to the clinic and the documentary film helped galvanize a movement in our school towards immersion experiences. It helped us create a program called “BERSI” (The Brother Edmund Rice Solidarity Initiative) that is now our largest student activity. We are running over a dozen immersion trips each year to such places as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, China, Peru, Nicaragua, the Arizona-Mexican border, rural Appalachia, and a migrant farm camp in Florida.
With regard to Peru, the student video made the rounds at other Christian Brother schools and they started running student trips as well. This year, fourteen groups of students from Christian Brother schools across North America will visit Peru and volunteer with Dr. Tony and at other missionary sites that work with the poorest of the poor. Significantly, several of our graduates have maintained contact with the people and projects they encountered in Peru even after graduation.
The spark that started all this? Gerry Straub.
James P. Keane, B.A., M.Div., M.Ed., Ph.D.
Catholic Memorial School
West Roxbury, MA