Lorain Priest Protector of S. American Children

By Karen Henderson
Plain Dealer
March 6, 1995

At night, the Rev. Patrick Henry would frequently patrol the streets of the Bolivian town where he was an associate pastor. His mission was to find children who had nowhere to go.

"I would walk down the street at night, and the kids would be sleeping under benches, bushes or in doorways," said Henry, who has been the associate pastor at St. Peter Catholic Church in Lorain since last October.

Memories of Henry's eight years spent in mission work in Bolivia and Peru return in a rush of stories told as he flips through a picture album filled with the smiling faces of children.

"I loved what I was doing," he said.

But Henry, 53, said one of the reasons he decided not to remain in mission work in South America was because he had difficulty learning Spanish and the Indian languages spoken in the regions where he was assigned.

"Some people really have a gift for languages, but I guess I had the opposite," he said with regret. Learning the languages might have been easier, he said, if he hadn't started when he was 40.

Patting the album and smiling, he remembers a boy named Daniel who regularly slept under an old bus. "It was his job to sleep there so the tires wouldn't be stolen at night," Henry said. Daniel's job - sleeping between the double tires of the rear wheels - earned him breakfast.

A young boy named Primo had fashioned a home for himself and his younger brother among the branches of a bushy tree in a park. The town's other children jokingly called the boys' nest the "Hotel Primo," Henry said.

Primo's parents lost their livelihood through no fault of their own, Henry said, but because of events in the 1980s in faraway Washington, D.C. When the U.S. government sold off its tin reserves and flooded the market, Primo's parents lost their jobs at the local tin mine.

Henry grew up in East Cleveland and graduated from St. Joseph High School in Cleveland. He attended Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe but left in 1967 to work at Boys Town as a lay social worker. He returned to the seminary and was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb., in 1981.

After three years with the Diocese of Omaha, he was assigned to Cochamba, Bolivia, where he worked with the Maryknoll mission.

In 1984, two Sisters of Charity and Henry organized a home for orphaned and abandoned children. The house, which they called Daybreak, began with seven children and now houses 1,300.

Henry said the organizers found babies in trash barrels, left in the market, on church steps and along the river. He said the parents who abandoned their children did so out of desperation because they could not feed them. "They always left them where someone would find them."

He said 97 percent of the street children were boys because girls had a better chance of being placed with wealthy families where they could perform household chores. Often, women abandoned their children after the fathers left them for younger women. Henry said if the women could not earn money selling goods on the street, their best chance at survival was to find another man, who frequently did not want the male children.

Part of his mission to rescue children from the streets was to talk them out of the lucrative coca processing trade.

"The drug stuff is largely a spiritual problem," Henry said. It was fueled by pain and feelings of abandonment. He said those who gave it up had to have a sense of being cared about and loved.

Between 1990 and 1992, he returned to the Diocese of Omaha and then was assigned to a mission in the Alteplano (high plateau) of Peru near Lake Titicaca.

He worked with the Quechua Indians in Bolivia and the Aymara Indians in Peru, but Henry said the language problems proved overwhelming. He asked to return to Ohio because his mother lives in Euclid.

Henry said he learned as much from the people of South America as he gave in return.


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