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'Let the will of God be done in your life'

Sept. 9, 2020


By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff Writer

MALONE – “Imagine that you come to a country where you do not speak its language. You need to communicate with the people around you but are not able,” said Father Medenel Angrand, special parochial vicar at St. André Bessette Parish, describing his introduction to this country. “The day I arrived in Iowa (for English language school) it was -4 degrees and snowing. I had never seen snow, and when I left Haiti it was 90 degrees. I did not prepare for this weather, and I felt like I was dying.”

Then there was the unfamiliar cuisine: “For weeks whenever I went to the dining room, I could not stand even the smell of the food,” Father Angrand said.

Two successful semesters later, the priest was off to study at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, Connecticut, where he made connections that eventually led him to the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

Interestingly, Holy Apostles represented a change of plans for Father Medenel. Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Fort-Liberté, Haiti, in 2003, he had served for 15 years in various parishes and diocesan-level positions, including as director of Caritas, equivalent to our Catholic Charities.

Following this experience, he recalls, “I asked my Bishop for permission to study in the U.S. My first choice was a master’s degree in Philanthropy and Development because of my positive experience with Caritas. However, after my language studies I could not find a scholarship to study in that program. With the consent of my bishop, I chose to pursue a master’s degree in Moral Theology when I was offered a full scholarship for that at Holy Apostles.”

Father Angrand was awarded that degree in May 2019. But while studying at Holy Apostles, he met seminarians who were members of the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate. Through them he met Father Thomas Coughlin, a Malone native and founder of the apostolate, and connected with the group’s summer camp in Old Forge. Visiting Camp Mark 7 brought Father Angrand into contact with the parishes in Old Forge, Inlet, and Raquette Lake.

“I fell in love with the Diocese of Ogdensburg at that time,” he explains, “and I was honored by the invitation of Father Howard Venette to come to celebrate Mass at St. Anthony of Padua in Inlet for one month. With his support and the authorization of my home bishop, I applied to work as a priest in the Diocese of Ogdensburg. I was then appointed as Special Vicar at St. André Bessette parish by Bishop Terry R. LaValley for a period of one year, from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020.”

This year, Father Angrand explains, has brought both blessings and challenges.

“Unfortunately, I lost my father 22 days after coming to Malone,” he said. “But I was grateful to God and to Father Steve Murray, our pastor, who allowed and supported me to go to Haiti to celebrate my dad’s funeral. I am also grateful to all in St. André’s parish, especially those who have prayed for my father and had Masses offered for the repose of his soul.”

In fact, the priest says, “Although I am far from my home country, my blood family, and friends, I feel at home here and belong to a bigger family. Since my first day at St. André’s, I have felt very welcome by the clergy, staff, and parishioners. I am very impressed by the faith of the people and by their fraternal solidarity. The Christian community of St. André’s is my new family.”

Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic inevitably brought concerns for his family in Haiti, and for the country itself, which is one of the poorest in the western hemisphere.

“I have worried,” Father Angrand relates, “because I know there are not enough health structures in Haiti to deal with a pandemic. Even the few structures we do have are ill-equipped to deal with COVID 19. I have prayed to the Lord – it is all I can do – to stretch out his powerful hand to protect and save the world from this pandemic. By God’s grace, it has not so far hit Haiti as hard as the government predicted.”

The priest is grateful that technology lets him stay in close touch with friends and family in his home country, especially with his mom.

“I call her often, and she never ceases to pray for me and my ministry,” Father Angrand said. “I have been blessed to grow up in a Catholic family in my hometown of Terrie-Rouge, Haiti, with four lovely sisters and one brother. All my nine nephews and 11 nieces are Catholic.”

From an early age, Father Angrand recalls, “I had felt this ardent desire to give myself entirely and unconditionally to God in the priesthood. Various people suggested that I study medicine or engineering, but I opted for minor seminary. After three years there, I firmly decided to give myself entirely to the Lord. And I had great encouragement from my mother, Immacula, who has prayed for me unceasingly and always said to me, ‘Let the will of God be done in your life.’”

Over the past 17 years, the will of God has led Father Angrand to different parishes in Haiti and to different areas of ministry, to studies in the U.S., and eventually to Malone. However diverse, these assignments have all been “a source of joy” for the priest.

“While there are ups and downs in all human existence,” he notes, “I have been blessed by God with many joyful and responsible collaborators in the parishes and in diocesan assignments. For me, the ‘downs’ have included the impossibility, sometimes, to help my parishioners or any fellow citizen in urgent need. I always put together in my priestly ministry ‘love and service of God’ and ‘love and service of my brothers and sisters.’ I am truly blessed that the joy of the priesthood remains in me as it was on the day of my ordination.”

“From my perspective,” he continues, “ the essence of the priesthood is the Holy Eucharist, which is the heart of Christian life. Our strength, the courage to teach, sanctify, lead God’s people, share God’s undeserved love to everyone, and to serve others selflessly, can only come from the precious gift of the Eucharist and the power of the Holy Spirit.”

That is equally true here or in Haiti, in English, French, or Creole.

“The Church,” Father Angrand affirms, “is the same everywhere – the same faith professed and celebrated, and the same mission.”

He does note, though, that cultures and traditions differ from place to place, and that those differences influence liturgy and the life of the Church.

“In Haiti, for example, people have and give more time for the Church than in the USA, where people are very busy with work and other activities,” he said. “Also, there are many young people and children in the Church in Haiti, which is quite different from the USA, where active parishioners are mostly adults and elders. However, I find as a great blessing that those who remain active in the Church in the U.S., according to my experience, are very devoted and strong in their faith.”

Yet the future of the Church does depend on the presence of the young.

“This reality calls our conscience as disciples and missionaries of Christ to put more efforts in the mission of evangelization that our Lord and Master entrusted to the Church,” Father Angrand concludes. “Pray for more vocations in the Church, especially in the U.S.”

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