A Legacy Living on in Haiti

One definition of“legacy” is something passed down to the next generation. Our week in Haiti has been characterized by love and service to the neighbor, namely orphans and the elderly. These were the priorities of the founder of Reiser Relief, Father Bernard Reiser. These priorities are being lived out through the people whose lives he touched during his life as a priest. Since his death in 2011, still others like me, are becoming acquainted with his mission.

This week, I was fortunate to join a fabulous group led by Fr. Reiser’s niece, Joyce Getchell. Our team includes several others who attended the Catholic faith community he established - Church of the Epiphany in Coon Rapids. The self-described “Epiphanites” continue to keep his memory alive with stories and shared laughter. Their respect and gratitude for their beloved priest is evident. 

On one of our day trips, we saw a beautiful pillar dedicated to Father Reiser at the Village of Jesus, a community of elderly women being cared by the Catholic sisters. The buildings, community and its ministries are just part of Fr. Reiser’s legacy in Haiti. (His commitment to education also lives on in the establishment of several schools.) 

At the Village of Jesus, our group filed in to greet Sister Josette, one of the elderly sisters being cared for on site. After sharing conversation, she took out her well-worn Bible. Opening it up, she showed us a photograph of Fr. Reiser, protected by plastic. Sister Josette continues to remember him as part of her daily life of faith, even after his death. 

While I never met Fr. Reiser, it's evident he lived out of a belief that God’s mercies were new every day of his life. His writings convey a possibility-mindset grounded in the good news of Jesus Christ. As his niece, Joyce, said the other day, “Who starts a non-profit when they are 70 years old?”

Our God is a God who brings life out of death. Our God is a God who is creating new opportunities to love and serve others. As followers of Christ, we remember our Baptism and how it connects us to Christ as God’s beloved children. 

In his life and in his death, Fr. Reiser’s legacy points to Jesus Christ. As a recent seminary graduate and a candidate approved for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I find traveling in Fr. Reiser’s footsteps to be an inspiration. In Minnesota and in Haiti, his life continues to encourage others to intentional living: service and compassion for those who need it the most, a possibility mindset, and a firm trust in a loving and forgiving God. I give thanks for his life and service to the Gospel.