By Bill Perry
Member of Saint Mary, Los Gatos Church
In April, I traveled to Ecuador with a group from the Diocese of San Jose, a recent college graduate and an Illinois resident. We were blessed to witness the Holy Spirit’s work there through two grace filled organizations, Damien House and the Working Boys’ Center.
In Quayaquil, Sister Annie Credidio, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), introduced us to the residents of Damien House. Damien House is a residential hospital that exists to provide care to those affected by Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy). Its alternate goal is also to dispel the stigma of Leprosy. Those who live at Damien House are unable to live independently due to complications from the disease. The stigma may also prevent them from returning to their families.
After arriving there, I personally witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit as my fears of Leposy diminished. The recovery of one resident, Natividad, particularly struck me. Natividad’s neighbors found her crawling on her hands and knees. She had been abandoned by her family due to the stigma of Hansen’s disease.
When we met her at Damien House, she was walking independently with an upbeat attitude. Clearly, Natividad, herself, had encountered the Holy Spirit.
At the next stop on our journey, we met the co-founders of the Working Boys’ Center (WBC) Padre John Halligan, S.J., and Madre Miguel Conway, BVM. The Working Boys’ Center (WBC) or El Centro de Muchacho Trabajadores in Quito was founded in 1964 by Father John Halligan, S.J., to address the educational needs of shoe shine boys working on the streets. Padre’s and Madre’s WBC mission began in the attic of a Jesuit church in downtown Quito. With the help of the volunteers and benefactors, they were able to move out of the attic and procure 2 locations to serve both boys, girls and whole families. Since its inception, the WBC’s objective has been to eliminate poverty among working children and their families. To date, around 30,000 people have left poverty forever as a result of the Working Boys’ Center program. We witnessed the Holy Spirt through Padre and Madre’s story of perseverance and dedication.
Some of our projects at WBC included working at the Mercado de Pulgas, a bodega warehouse and local flea market. Madre Cindy Sullivan, BVM put us all to work there even though most of us knew very little Spanish. The Ecuadorian families were very patient with us as they picked out their merchandise and looked to us to provide a fair price. Even though the used items in the bodega looked worn these families saw them as treasures.
On another day we visited the dwellings of the families of the Working Boys’ Center. It was humbling to step into their lives.
One home had one room, one heating plate and one light with a ceiling less than 6 feet high. Here is where they ate, slept and loved. Their income came from the family members who sold flowers, vegetables and even toilet paper on the street. They had lived there for six months and were receiving an education at the WBC as well as learning a trade. They were also proud to share that they had saved $125.00 toward a new home.
Immersion trips to the Damien House and the Working Boys Center are available through Saint Mary Parish Los Gatos, Partners in Mission at