Saturday, September 14, 2013

Portrait: Pere Fernande

About once a month, in an attempt to offer you all an insight into some of the incredible people that I am meeting, I am trying to put together a portrait of a character: a revolutionary, a student, a thinker, a dreamer, one who is defeated, one who is loved. This first portrait comes as a result of a conversation I had with Reverend Fernande during the clergy meeting of mid-September.

She is one of those people whose energy you sense the moment she walks into a room. Not because of her clothes (standard issue lady-priest button down) or her looks (slightly gray, medium height Haitian) but because of the way her face moves. Her eyes are alight with ideas and her mouth is always curled up at the edge, seeming to understand a secret unknown to the rest of us.

Pere Fernande,  (yes they call her Father) was the first woman welcomed into the Episcopal Priesthood in Haiti. Her calling came when she was 12. Her father, also a priest, was shocked when this girl he knew to be quiet and timid was suddenly asking why the church was denying her her calling just because she wore skirts instead of pants.

She lived her life unafraid to be the only woman in the room. She studied law and economics, married, and had a family. She worked for the government and traveled to Germany.

The day of Bishop Duracin’s ordination as Bishop, she went to him and said, the Bible says men and women are both made in God’s image:  why can’t I do this. He said maybe. She waited 3 years for a response to her letter of intent. They asked her husband’s permission. He, an ardent supporter of her ministry, thought that this was silly.

After five years of seminary and until this day, she has been one of the priests at the Episcopal Cathedral in Port au Prince. She pushes the standards higher and higher at the Cathedral School, opening new grade levels and new opportunities for students. Her students are her pride and joy: she clearly takes delight in the men and women that they become. She celebrates mass in the Cathedral** and is often invited out to the countryside to journey by car, horse, and foot to reach distant parishes.

She does not sit still very well: her hands fly, she is up and down out of her seat, but you know that she is present: she is in that moment with you. She is a priest for the people.
She remained the only female priest at this meeting of the clergy, though there are two female deacons who should be ordained in the next few months and more women working their way through the seminary now. As she puts it: What is the center of Christianity? The resurrection. Without the resurrection, we have nothing. We have only normalcy. And who did God choose to carry the message that Jesus had left his tomb to his people? Two women.”

**Note: The Cathedral building fell in the 2010 earthquake and the reconstruction has yet to begin. The parishioners of the Cathedral continue to gather in a temporary structure. 

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