by Diane Foley
Bishop Felipe Estévez traveled to the Dominican Republic, March 14 to 15, as part of the Sister Parish Ministry of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Ponte Vedra Beach. The purpose of the bishop’s visit was to see firsthand the work accomplished by this outreach ministry and express our deep appreciation to the men and women of the Dominican Republic who greatly contribute to the success of the mission trips.
The warm reception of our bishop by the Dominican people reinforced the commitment and unity of our sister parishes. The bishop blessed the elderly at a home for the destitute run by the Missionaries of Charity, visited students at a Catholic school serving the poorest of the poor run by Carmelite nuns, blessed newly constructed homes and visited the ill and elderly in El Mamey, a migrant camp for Haitians. He also celebrated a Mass with local clergy at San Antonio de Padua, one of our sister parishes in Santo Domingo of the Dominican Republic.
Bishop Estévez’ visit coincided with a mission trip by St. Joseph Academy students – one of the eight mission trips scheduled by Our Lady Star of the Sea this year alone. These trips consist of annual medical missions that see an average of 600 patients per trip, youth education trips by Palmer Catholic Academy 8th grade students and the high school youth group, as well as family mission trips.
The Sister Parish Ministry has built a community center with a preschool, infirmary, and chapel, which was christened Stella Maris by Bishop Estévez in recognition of the Marian connection between our sister parishes. In addition, 15 houses have been built, a weekly feeding program for the elderly has been established, and scholarships have been provided for students to continue their education.
The Sister Parish Ministry was founded by Bob Hart, Dr. Donald Barnhorst and other members of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in 2013. Since that time, 16 trips consisting of 20 to 30 missionaries per trip have been completed. This ministry has been a blessing not only for the people we serve in the Dominican Republic but also for the missionaries who travel there and receive the great grace of seeing the face of Christ in the poor and being his hands and feet to everyone we meet.