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July 2013,

 

Dear Friends: I know that it's been over two months since I wrote my last general letter. So I want to let you know what has been happening, principally with my health.

 
As I have written, for about ten months I was sure that I had a calling to the rain forest, called "the Orient" or Sucumbios, the area east of the Andes stretching northeast to the Columbia border. I had made six trips there, stayed a total of more than 50 days, and gotten to know many people. I brought my clothes, many books, and much of my music and notes. I had gotten to know the town of Lago Agrio, where to buy things, and had taken my Vitara (SUV) on the seven-hour road trip -- each way -- back and forth three times. I said daily and Sunday masses in beautiful chapels located in small communities where there is not much priestly presence, said two funeral Masses, gave First Communion, baptized many people, and started young student groups in three high schools, focusing on drug prevention. I was beginning to feel at home there, and planned to move there at the end of July. 
 
However, on April 20 everything changed. I passed out during Mass, and had to be driven for an hour and 20 minutes to the clinic in the only real town in the area. Previously four doctors had warned me about moving to the rain forest at my age: Dr. Franklin in our clinic in Quito, Sister Lourdes, the doctor in charge of the Hospital San José Obrero, a doctor in the rain forest who recommended not moving there because at my age my body and skin could not adapt to the heat, which is hardly ever cooler than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the doctor on call in the clinic there, who advised me not to move to Sucumbios because of the lack of medical facilities. On hearing this, because in general the doctors in the U.S. are better than the doctors in Ecuador, I arranged to fly back to Chicago as soon as I could to consult with my doctors, before making a final decision. 
 
When I was home in May, it was my regular physician, Dr. Lengeman, who made me decide. He told me this story. He had been on medical mission in Central America, in the rain forest. There was a man on the team from Germany, aged 55. Something happened to his health. If they had been in a city, they could have saved him. But they were in a rain forest far from adequate medical supplies, and they couldn't save him. The doctor pointed out that I am not 55, but 80, and that I have diabetes. It would be unrealistic for me to believe that, at my age, more unhealthy things would not happen. 
 
However, to determine what had caused me to pass out during that Mass in April, I decided to complete a series of tests, including wearing a halter over my chest for a day or so, running on a treadmill, and then having my chest x-rayed from different angles after the treadmill. I thought that I had passed with flying colors. When I got home after the tests there was a message to call my regular doctor. The nurse who answered said that there was an abnormality in the halter reading and a secondary blockage in my system. I had to see a cardiologist. Dr. Matthew Nora, of the Midwest Heart Group in Downers Grove, attached to Good Samaritan Hospital. Dr Nora said I needed a pacemaker, and this should be done right away. But I knew that I had to host a medical mission headed by Dr Colin Sumida in Quito from July 6 to July 13. He tried to talk me out of this, but I was adamant. So he had to reluctantly agree.
 
Based on this I determined it would be imprudent to move permanently to the rain forest, where there are few medical facilities. I have since driven to Sucumbios and brought back all my things. I felt very sad. There was another reason why I believe it is not by calling to be in Sucumbios. There is a very great division among the priests of that diocese, and I would certainly not have gotten the unified priestly support I got eleven years ago from the St. James Society when I first came to Quito. So on Monday, July 15, after the medical mission was completed, I flew back to the States to have a pacemaker put in on Wednesday, July 17. I have to stay around for a while to see how my body reacts to having this device put in, especially to see if there is an infection. I have not yet scheduled a return flight to Quito. But I'm sure that I will be OK. 
 
In the meantime, Fr. Paddy has gone to the bishop in Quito and said he is retiring to Ireland. He already has his plans made to work a few days a week in the cathedral parish in Derry, his home parish. He announced his leaving to the parish, but wants to wait till Sept 14, the Feast of the Holy Cross, which is the 25th anniversary of his founding the parish. He will leave permanently on Oct. 6. 
 
Over the last few months I have continued to send out feelers as to what I might do, now that the rain forest is not an option on the table, I'm checking out four or five future possibilities. But even those who gave me leads have advised me not to leave Quito unless it is absolutely necessary. Fr. Paddy had given the archdiocese here the impression that I had already left, so two weeks ago I went to see the new archbishop and the auxiliary bishop who handles personnel, told them I was still here, and what I have been doing. It was the first time I had met either of them. They seem to be good guys. They said that of course they want me to stay in Quito with the pastoral responsibility of the barrios Rancho Alto, and the higher barrios José Peralta and Mirador, and I would continue to be responsible for the soup kitchen and the clinic. They are undecided about whether they will send one or two priest's to replace Paddy. Since often, when Ecuadorian diocesan priests move, they take over the whole place and bring in their families, I probably may have to move up to the small cottage in Rancho Alto, next to the chapel, as well as use at times my two rooms in the education center. Most foreign missionaries have had much worse quarters than that. 
 
Some tidbits: 

*  After one year here in northern Quito, the Providence Sister's novitiate has moved back to the south of Quito, and the postulants' home is once again across the street. The Mistress of Postulants is Sister Margarita ...We have a new missionary in Rancho Alto, Talia ...Bebita Pendel, who moves back and forth from the States to Quito, and was here helping the medical mission as a translator. 

 

*  Sister Rosa had cataracts removed from her eyes, but still cannot read even ordinary sized print. 

 

*  A nurse on the medical team gave me a Blackhawk's Stanley Cup championship cap....I sang "Danny Boy" at our final supper before the medical mission team left. First time in ages. 

 

*  The medical mission has been fabulous. The core of the team is still a group who started to come from Holy Spirit parish in Naperville five years ago. We were worried that there might not have been enough publicity, because last year the number coming for help was considerably less than the previous summer. Dr. Colin and I talked at a crowded Sunday Mass when he first arrived, and this year we said for the first time that both the exam and the medicines would be free. Part of the medical team spent last Tuesday in Rancho Alto and half of Wednesday in the Mirador. Wow! We served almost a hundred each day, not counting those who left, discouraged because the lines were so long. The clinic was jam-packed. It has been a resounding success. My spirit is high. 

 
Thanks for all the concern you have shown me. I'll keep you posted. Please keep me in your prayers. 
 
 
     Love, Father Don