The Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales in Childs, Md., are asking for assistance to help rebuild four schools run by their congregation that were damaged April 15 by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake in Ecuador.
The latest death toll is at least 696, although no fatalities or injuries were in those schools, which were not in session at the time.
The schools serve more than 2,800 students. The sisters in Ecuador reported that many pupils, teachers and employees lost homes and family members.
Oblate Sister John Elizabeth Callaghan, principal of Mount Aviat Academy in Childs, reported that a statue of Our Lady of Light remained untouched in the school that was completely leveled. In one of the schools, a sister left the building at 6:45 p.m. to attend Mass, and the building was destroyed 13 minutes later.
“The devastation is almost unimaginable,” Sister John Elizabeth said. “The Sisters continue to sleep on a patio area for fear of the frequent aftershocks. They are trying to get water, food and medicine to their school families who have lost homes and businesses.”
Sister John Elizabeth said the Oblate Sisters have served in Ecuador for 100 years, primarily in education and outreach to the poor. Two of their schools were destroyed, while the other two sustained serious damage, and the congregation will need to depend on the generosity of others to rebuild.
They need donations to do that. The Mount Aviat community is holding fundraisers such as a cake bake featuring homemade liqueur cakes. A Mount Aviat volunteer group called the “Friends” will be selling their homemade macaroni and cheese, and the students and staff will symbolically “walk a mile in their shoes” on the school grounds, Sister John Elizabeth said.
Students at Mount Aviat often raise money to support the Oblate Sisters’ missions. The people of Ecuador gave the school a large tapestry, artwork and Christmas Nativities as a sign of their gratitude, Sister John Elizabeth said.
In addition, the Oblate Sisters have set up a special account to receive and hold donations until their colleagues in Ecuador are ready to accept them. To donate online, go to www.oblatesisters.org. Checks payable to the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales can be sent to 399 Childs Road, Childs, MD 21916.
The Oblate community in Childs feels a connection to those elsewhere, Sister John Elizabeth said.
“The Oblate Sisters serve in nine nations, yet we are a relatively small international congregation. Perhaps that makes it easier to stay connected,” she said.
“One of the schools that was destroyed is named St. Leonie Aviat School and was founded just a year after the sisters opened a kindergarten in the U.S. that eventually became Mount Aviat Academy. We can ask, what if all we worked for in the past 60 years was destroyed in less than 60 seconds?”
On a larger scale, Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ relief and development agency, was partnering with local organizations to determine how best to respond. Water, food and emergency shelter are the biggest needs.
Damaged communications networks have made it difficult to get in touch with groups in Ecuador, CRS said.