Workshop angels need donations
Local businessman is committed to supplying furniture to Dominican Republic parishes
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Catholics in the Dominican Republic are rich in faith but they lack some of the material things they need to practise their faith.
So Michael Byrne, a 59-year-old Sherwood Park financial planner, decided to help them out and now wants other Good Samaritans to get involved.
While holidaying in the Dominican Republic in early 2005, Byrne learned that the Diocese of Puerto Plata, located along the northern coast of this poverty-stricken Caribbean nation of 8.7 million, was building a new seminary but couldn't afford to furnish it.
He offered his help because he saw an opportunity to use his skills and to help in the formation of future priests.
"I've a great respect and love for the Eucharist and I see the great need for vocations to the priesthood," he said. "We have a shortage of priests in Canada and the expectation is that some of the (32) seminarians in Puerto Plata will eventually come to Canada."
Byrne made a commitment to Bishop Julio Cornal of Puerto Plata that he would see to it that the furniture for the seminary be supplied as a gift to his diocese.
Shortly after Byrne learned that the large parish of Sosua, just 25 km away from Puerto Plata, was building 12 chapels and lacked furniture as well. He again offered his help.
A people of faith
"When I went there I was really touched by the faith of the people," he recalled. "They are not rich materially but they are very happy with what they are and where they are and their faith is very genuine."
Now Byrne, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, has to build tons of church furniture, including bunk beds, pews and altars, and is looking for volunteer labour and money donations to complete the project.
"This is not my project," he says. "God has shared a dream with me to share with others."
A few months ago he and fellow parishioner Caroline Hicks, who visited the seminary in Puerto Plata last summer, set up Angels in the Workshop Society, a non-profit organization to handle the huge project. The society's five-member board recently rented a workshop at 7520-49 St. to manufacture the furniture.
A former carpentry instructor at a community college, Byrne has all the tools and experience needed to tackle the project and is donating both in the name of stewardship.
The society is building the furniture production-style so it can be assembled in the Dominican Republic. Plans are to ship the furniture in September or October, followed by a team that will help the Dominicans assemble it.
From furniture to tools
The seminary needs 32 bunk beds, 32 writing desks, 24 bookshelves, 10 library tables, one set of kitchen cabinets, one altar, one ambo and 20 pews.
For the 12 Sosua chapels a lot more furniture is needed, namely 240 pews, 12 altars, 12 ambos, 12 crucifixes, two or three sets of bookshelves for each chapel and a chair for the priest in each chapel. Most of the pieces will be built out of pine, the native wood of the Dominican Republic.
Along with the furniture, Byrne will be shipping most of the woodworking tools he now has in the workshop for future projects in the Puerto Plata Diocese. His dream is to set up a trade school one day for the underprivileged there.
It'll take about 6,500 man-hours to complete the project, whose total cost has been estimated at $150,000. Until now Byrne has been picking up the tab, including the $1,500 a month needed to cover the rent of the workshop and the utilities.
Volunteers don't have to be real craftsmen to be involved in this project, they just need a desire to help those in need, Byrne said.
He also points out that the society can issue tax receipts for any financial donation. To learn more about the project visit the society's website at www.angelsintheworkshop.com or phone (780) 722-5221.