Sister Virginia McMonagle, R.S.C.J.
Although Sister Virginia McMonagle’s hometown in Roslyn, WA, barely numbered 1,000 people at the end of the 2000 census, she touched the lives of thousands across the U.S. and in Haiti, where she worked alongside the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos/Nos Petits Frères et Soeurs (NPH/NPFS, Spanish and French for “Our Little Brothers and Sisters”) organization and its American fundraising arm, NPH USA.
Sister McMonagle’s work in Haiti started in the late 1980s, when she began dividing her time between Haiti and California—where she worked as assistant to the University of San Diego’s Vice President of University Relations. Sister McMonagle spent several months of every year living in Haiti and directly aiding its people, and the remainder of the year in the U.S., where she built a continually-growing platform of loyal supporters and Haitian ambassadors.
It was in 1987, when she met NPH founder Father William B. Wasson, that Sister McMonagle’s work with NPH/NPFS and NPH USA began. In 1988, inspired by Fr. Wasson and the extreme poverty in Haiti, she moved to Haiti for a year to help him and American physician and priest Father Rick Frechette build an orphanage, school, and hospice for children dying of AIDS and malnutrition in Haiti. Together, their work ultimately led to the creation of the NPH/NPFS orphanage–St. Hélène’s–in Kenscoff, Haiti’s first pediatric hospital in Petionville (which later became the Father Wasson Rehabilitation Center), and St. Damien Hospital in Tabarre—the only free pediatric hospital in Haiti.
But the path was not easy. After making the decision to move to Haiti and help Fr. Wasson and Fr. Frechette, Sister McMonagle told a reporter at the time that the decision to move took several turns—“from refusal, to reluctance, to openness, to acceptance.” Ultimately, she gave in after visiting Haiti and seeing firsthand the country’s extreme poverty and squalor, saying, “Finding water is like finding gold.”
In the U.S., Sister McMonagle founded the nonprofit organization San Diego Friends of Father Wasson’s Orphans to support NPH/NPFS. Later, her loyal and generous donors joined the larger, nationwide NPH USA family.
Today, the NPH/NPFS St. Hélène orphanage in Haiti is home to hundreds of children. Although the Fr. Wasson Rehabilitation Center collapsed in January’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake, taking the lives of two volunteers with it, the spirit of the Haitian philanthropic community did not.
St. Damien’s, the 120-bed hospital with an intensive care wing named after Sister Virginia McMonagle, took in and treated hundreds of earthquake victims, many of them children. Thanks to the foundational work laid out by individuals like Sister McMonagle and Fr. Rick, hospital administrator of St. Damien’s, NPH USA was able to swiftly secure medical supplies, food, water and volunteer support for Haiti after the tragedy.
In 2002, Sister McMonagle retired from her position at the University of San Diego and lived in the retirement community of the Religious of the Sacred Heart in Menlo Park, CA. However, she never retired from her commitment to Haiti. She continued raising funds and volunteer support for NPH/NPFS and NPH USA until her death on March 31, 2013.
“Words cannot express how greatly everyone — myself, the staff, volunteers, and the people of Haiti — appreciate Sister McMonagle,” said Fr. Rick. “Her work has been a blessing for the church and for so many individuals.”
“I would do it all over again, as I have had an extremely happy life.”
|– Sister Virginia McMonagle
August 9, 1921 – March 31, 2013
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