Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Easthampton, Massachusetts Twinning with San Martin de la Caridad in Lima Peru.
Jonathan K. Oelrich, Dec 2012
Rewrite Feb 2013
This strong relationship began in 1996 at the Immaculate Conception Parish in Easthampton, when parishioner John Sheehan approached his pastor, Father Richard Runte, with the idea of having a sister parish program.
Armed with that approval, Sheehan and fellow IC parishioners formed a Mission Committee. Sheehan then contacted Father Frank Fairbairn, pastor of a Peruvian parish, Nuestra Senora de la Paz (Our Lady of Peace) in Villa El Salvador, a suburb of Lima Peru. This parish has 2 Chapels (sub-parishes), one of which was San Martin.
Sheehan and Fairbairn had been seminarians together, were then both members of the St. James’s Society, and both had done missionary/pastoral work in Peru. Sheehan proposed forming a sister parish relationship with IC. Father Fairbairn met with his parishioners and they accepted our invitation. Both parishes agreed to light a candle and to pray for each other every weekend to build the relationship on a spiritual foundation. This practice continues to the present.
In August of 1997, Fr. Fairbairn visited Immaculate Conception and spoke at all the Masses about San Martin, which could scarcely accommodate 100 worshippers, but had to serve the needs of 50,000 of Peru’s poor from the mountain, jungle and coastline areas of the parish. The chapel was merely a roughly built hall, used for many purposes along with worship.
Father Fairbairn met with the IC Missions Committee and parishioners after all the Masses. Fr. Runte suggested the use of envelopes to give our parishioners a chance to contribute, but with no pressure. The next step was to determine their greatest need. Our brothers and sisters in Peru responded. They needed a “real” church in which to worship. Immaculate Conception then began a monthly collection which rose over $1,000 each month to be sent to the chapel.
Initially, the financial support was used to establish a fund to aid the start-up on small businesses. This was very successful and prompted the San Martin parishioners to use the American funding to begin funding their new church.
In 2000, enough money was raised to begin building the new church in Peru and a delegation from Easthampton flew down for the groundbreaking. During the Mass of celebration, the visitors from Massachusetts were moved to tears when the entire Peruvian congregation gave each American a hug and kiss as their sign of peace.
Unfortunately, Father Fairbairn fell ill with cancer and passed away in September of 2000 , having served God, the St. James’s Society and this Peruvian parish very well indeed.
In 2004, Father John O’Leary, the new pastor and regional coordinator of Peru, invited another IC delegation to participate in the blessing and dedication of the newly built church (twice the size of the Easthampton church!) which had become a central parish with two satellite chapels. Together, the gathering named the new church San Martin de la Caridad. This means “Saint Martin of God’s Love” and is the name Saint Martin took in his religious life.
Since the completion of the new church both Immaculate Conception and, now, Our Lady of the Valley have continued to send support to their sister parish.
The poverty in Peru is profound. Our visiting delegation witnessed the poor taking partially eaten food from stranger’s plates to bring to their homes for later meals. The San Martin parish is currently building a food kitchen with our current donations which will be housed in a building that will also contain classrooms for R.E.Y. and meetings.
In 2008, another delegation from Easthampton visited San Martin to learn more about our sister parish’s life and activities and to share spiritual and social experiences.
Since the formation of the Our Lady of the Valley Parish, we have continued our efforts to aid our sister parish. In 2011, a delegation from OLV, which included our Parochial Vicar, Father Piotr Pawlus, traveled to Peru to demonstrate our continued commitment to our sister parish,
Our monthly Mission collections is equally divided between San Martin and our other sister parish, Blessed Sacrament/All Souls of Springfield. Sales of handcrafted Peruvian goods are held periodically by the OLV Mission Committee with all funds going back to San Martin. There are also annual tag/craft /bake sales, a Latin Dinner Dance and the sale of Dean’s Beans Fair Trade Coffee held throughout the year to fund future visits of OLV parishioners to San Martin.