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Holyoke native works to build church in Honduras

Date: 9/22/2009

By Lori Szepelak


HOLYOKE -- Holyoke native Father Fred Cournoyer may be miles from his homeland but his heart is currently with the people in the city of Choloma in Honduras.

"Holyoke will always be a special place for me and it was a privilege to serve in two parishes there," Father Cournoyer wrote during an e-mail interview with Reminder Publications. Cournoyer most recently served as pastor of St. Jerome Parish in Holyoke from October 2005 to July 2007.

"Besides the St. Jerome experience, I most treasure being a member of Sacred Heart High School's Class of 1963, and later serving as administrator of Sacred Heart Parish from January 1987 until August of 2003," he wrote, adding that Sacred Heart Parish is now Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Area residents from the Just Faith Group of St. Mary's Church in Hampden are extending an invitation to the public to attend a 1950's and 1960's themed benefit dance with proceeds to help Father Cournoyer build a parish center for a new parish, Our Lady of Miraculous Medal, in Honduras.

Cournoyer has been assigned to the Parish of Our Lady of Suyapa in the city of Choloma, where he has been asked to start a new parish when that community is divided. Like most urban parishes in Latin America, Our Lady of Suyapa is vast, according to Cournoyer.

"The parish continues to grow and as a result, our proposed construction programs take on new urgency," he wrote.

The benefit dance is planned Oct. 16 at the Castle of Knights, 1599 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. In Time and the Skid Marks will provide the rock and roll entertainment, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The hosts for the evening affair are Gary Jones and Bob Belniak of the New England Doowop Society. Tickets are $20 per person. An optional buffet will begin at 6 p.m., at an additional cost of $12. T-shirt giveaways and free raffles are planned throughout the evening, as well as a 50/50 Raffle.

Proceeds raised from the benefit dance will go a long way to help Cournoyer's parishioners who each day face difficult conditions that include a lack of basic services such as water, sewage and trash collections.

"My assignment is open ended," he wrote. "I will probably be here until the new parish has a parish center -- church, hall, classrooms, established programs and financial stability."

Cournoyer noted that his most pressing need is starting construction on the project, however, his biggest challenge is financial support.

"The people who live in these neighborhoods are desperately poor and need help," he added. "The population growth here is 10 percent per year and is the result of migration to the cities from the surrounding subsistence farming areas."

Cournoyer explained that the first building project in the parish center complex will be an open air pavilion called a "galera."

"It will have offices, a storeroom and a worship area to accommodate 400 people," he wrote. "It will allow us to begin celebrating mass and having assemblies, religious education and office hours on the site where we will eventually build the main church."

Cournoyer expects that the church will accommodate 600 people.

"The needs of the poor here are way beyond what the local economy can provide," he said, adding, "We are trying to serve the poor."

For tickets or more information on the benefit dance, call Geraldine Kennedy at 525-1807 of the Just Faith Group. Tickets will also be available at the door.

For persons interested in making a donation to Father Cournoyer's mission in the city of Choloma, Honduras, contributions may be sent to Honduran Mission Fund, P.O. Box 1730, Springfield, MA 01102-1730.