Missionary spirit brings deacon and family to S.C.

 If you had measured success using the popular standard of the time, then Deacon Patrick Moynihan would have been doing just fine in 1995.

Back then, the deacon and his young family were living comfortably in Memphis, Tenn. He was working as a futures and options trader for Louis Dreyfus Corp. and his wife Christina was raising the first of their four children.

But five years into that job, he had what he calls a “Pauline conversion.” At the time, his older brother was working to expand production of the same commodities in which Deacon Moynihan was trading and profitting.

“Here I was, trading in those things and making lots of money for myself while my older brother is working on ways to better feed the world,” he said. “I kept thinking about that and it kept bothering me.

“Why am I working so hard to take care of myself, when the Bible says that God will take care of you,” he said. “For me, it was a very strong conversion through the Gospel.”

Deacon Moynihan, who is serving in three Upstate parishes now, made what he calls “the best trade of my life” 13 years ago. He left his job and his comfortable home in the summer of 1995, and by January 1996 he and his family had moved to one of the poorest and most troubled places in the world, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

For 18 months, the family lived and worked at the Louverture Cleary School. Deacon Moynihan served as president of The Haitian Project, a Catholic Mission based in Providence, R.I. In total, Deacon Moynihan has spent 12 years leading the outreach.

The project’s mission, according to its Web site, is to “educate and nurture academically talented and motivated students from the poorest Haitian families to maximize their potential and enable them to work toward building a Haiti where justice and peace thrive.”

The Haitian Project started a free Catholic boarding school in 1987. When the Moynihans arrived, approximately 60 students were enrolled. Currently, there are more than 300.

“We had two children, ages one and three,” said Deacon Moynihan, who brought with him three years of teaching experience from a Catholic high school in Middleton, Conn. Perhaps most importantly, he also brought a bottomless well of determin ation and energy.

The Moynihans’ new home was in the school building.

“We didn’t have a kitchen facility to ourselves,” he said. “We lived in the middle of the school with the staff.”

They spent a good part of the first 18 months adding facilities to the school, mixing cement and laying cinder blocks by hand.

The work took place in the middle of heightened political unrest in the economically poor country, a nation that today is still considered among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, according to the U.S. State Dept.

In the early 1990s, former Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned as president of Haiti following his exile in South Africa, only to be defeated in 1995 by Rene Preval. Aristide came to power again in 2000, but was overthrown four years later.

In June of 1997, the Moynihan family moved back to the United States and began 10 years of back and forth travel to Haiti. During times of trouble, the family spent more time in Haiti to keep the school open. In good times, more time was spent in the United States growing the base of support for the project and expanding school.  

“When the government started to fall in 2003 and 2004, we had to move back to Haiti,” he said. “That was a very violent, chaotic and crazy time. We lived in Haiti when things were bad there and we could afford to move back to the United States when things were good there.”

Deacon Moynihan remained as president of The Haitian Project, but moved from Providence to Rockford, Ill., in 1999 to join the diaconate formation program. The family commuted between Haiti and their home in Rockford until 2006.

Deacon Moynihan is now president emeritus of the organization. This past July, the family moved into a home in a subdivision on Lake Keowee in Oconee County, not far from his parents who are longtime residents of South Carolina.

Prior to making that move, however, Deacon Moynihan met with Father Sandy McDonald about serving as a deacon of the pastor’s three Upstate parishes — St. Andrew in Clemson, St. Francis in Walhalla and St. Paul the Apostle in Seneca.

Deacon Moynihan worked in Illinois for the Diocese of Rockford where he also was the formation director from 2001-2006, and director for the Office of the Permanent Diaconate from July 2006 to June 2007.

“If the [Charleston] diocese wasn’t open to accepting me as a deacon, I wouldn’t have made the move,” he said. “I could afford to put my missionary work on hold, but not my diaconate work. The fact that Father Sandy was open to having another deacon was very important to me and my family.”

The deacon was given faculties and appointed to the three parishes on Sept. 9.

Deacon Moynihan said he and his wife have not retired from missionary work. In fact, the couple hopes to return to that calling once their four children have finished high school.

In the meantime, the deacon said he is enjoying the work that he has been called to do in the Upstate.

“I like parish work. I like doing evangelization and stewardship work at the parish level. The home mission is a big mission and I want to use that experience in Haiti and support we received from God and bring that into the parish life, into evangelization and stewardship,” he said.

For more information about The Haitian Project visit www.haitianproject.org.