Building a beautiful city


By Paul Keohane & Stephen Casey

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The immersion groups' program formally began in 2008 in Lima. Since then, hundreds of missionaries have had experiences of service in Peru and Bolivia. Brothers Stephen Casey and Paul Keohane accompany the families and the immersion groups that arrive in Lima.

In 2008, the Province of North America negotiated the possibility of working together in a new adventure with the Latin America Region.

The immersion program was conceived as a way of providing support to families living in extreme poverty in the Latin American Region; and to offer a space for reflection and service to members of the Americas' Network, through a real experience of immersion in the world of the most impoverished.

Both parties, the Province of North America and the Latin American Region, allocated human, financial and technical resources that would make this idea possible. Since then, Brother Stephen Casey, representing the Province of North America, and Brother Paul Keohane, representing the Latin America Region, took up the challenge.

The community of Las Flores was transformed into the Hendricken House, in honor of the financial contribution made by the Hendricken School from Rhode Island.

The first participants of the program were members of the network of schools in the United States and Canada: students, parents and staff volunteered to live this attractive experience that would last one to two weeks, in Peru or Bolivia.

So far, more than 100 immersion groups have lived this experience in Lima and Cochabamba. Sadly, the immersion groups from North America discontinued their visits to Cochabamba due to the high migratory taxes imposed by the Bolivian government. However, the staff, students and teachers of Stella Maris School in Uruguay and Cadinal Newman School in Argentina, are currently living a week of immersion in Cochabamba, Bolivia, along with some other members of the Latin American Network.

As part of the immersion program in Lima, each group builds a prefabricated house for a family. These families live in extreme poverty in Canto Grande and Jicamarca, two neighborhoods hit hard by poverty in Lima.

Building a prefabricated house costs approximately $ 1,500. Each immersion group gathers a sufficient amount of money to build a small house and many times make small donations of school supplies or medicine for the people.

Left. Immersion group from Catholic Memorial School, New Rochelle, in 2015.<br>Below. Alumni from Brother Rice High School, in 2014.

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Left. Immersion group from Catholic Memorial School, New Rochelle, in 2015.
Below. Alumni from Brother Rice High School, in 2014.

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As preparation prior to the experience, the immersion groups carry out activities to obtain funds for the trip to Lima or Cochabamba.

Both brothers in charge of the program also work hard in preparation for the arrival of the immersion groups. First they visit the families on the hills of Canto Grande and Jicamarca, and along with the neighbors of the area, they decide which family should receive a prefabricated house. The needs assessment of the beneficiary families is based on a single indicator: that it be a family living in extreme poverty and urgently needs a house.

Families are often single-parent with at least 4 children. A requirement to have a prefabricated house is that the family should be able to contribute, with work, to the construction of the house.

The Brothers and the immersion group transport the material to the hill where the house will be built.

After building the house, the brothers monitor the family through visits, accompanying them to solve small difficulties related to the education of the children, health or sanitation.

The immersion program changes lives not only of families, that now live in better conditions, as well as benefiting the volunteers who have had life-changing experiences in their work work with the people.

Hellos and goodbyes

When he turned 18, Brother Stephen Casey made an important decision that would change his life, and of course his residence. He decided to join the Congregation of Christian Brothers. Stephen studied at a Brothers high school, Power Memorial Academy, a boys' school in the Archdiocese of New York, that the Brothers administered until June 1984 when it closed. The school was well known for its basketball team, producing several NBA players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Len Elmore, Mario Elie, Chris Mullin and even an NBA referee, Dick Bavetta.

Brother Stephen Casey is an educator, his specialty is history. He completed undergraduate studies at Iona College. Later, at St. Michael's University in Vermont, United States, he obtained a master's degree in theology.

He taught in different schools of the Brothers for 25 years, in schools like: Saint Lucia, All Hallows, Catholic Memorial and Bishop Hendricken.

In 1986, Brother Stephen visited Peru for the first time, he lived an unforgettable 8-week immersion experience, where he spent 5 weeks visiting communities and ministries of the Brothers and three weeks in Lima with the Saint James Congregation, in Comas and Villa El Salvador. His experience of immersion coincided with one of the darkest times in the country, where the Shining Path and the government of Peru were engaged in a violent internal battle, while the poorest felt trapped between both sides.

But it was there, between that desperate and confusing situation, that Brother Stephen found his passion to serve the marginalized and help others to serve in a unique and face-to-face way, the same way as he had felt it.

After that experience that marked his life, he returned a few more times to Peru. In 2003 he participated in the Passover program, a three-months' program of the Congregation of Christian Brothers that promoted the cultural and spiritual exchange between brothers from different parts of the world. During the program, he lived with some 15 brothers from all the provinces of the Congregation.

I was standing on the hilltop in Jicamarca looking down over the vast valley and thinking to myself how very lucky I am to have this opportunity to live in this beautiful country 6 months each year. This week especially great, just chillin in Canto Grande and Jicamarca with the families I have come to love and admire. The people may be poor, but it's their generosity of joy and happiness that's most compelling to me. Many lessons learned from a grateful people. I stood atop that hill yesterday in awe and thanksgiving!
Brother Stephen Casey with an immersion group from Iona Preparatory School from New Rochelle, NY.

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Brother Stephen Casey with an immersion group from Iona Preparatory School from New Rochelle, NY.

After having lived the Passover experience, he thought it would be a good idea for not only brothers but also members of the wider Network to have similar experiences as well. In 2006 with a group of 10 people from Catholic Memorial, (7 students and 3 adults), Jim King, Kyle Woody and Stephen Casey, visited Canto Grande, Villa El Salvador and Tahuantinsuyo for 10 days. The experience was a success and in 2008 he returned to Lima, but this time with two immersion groups: Catholic Memorial and Bishop Hendricken.

Since that pleasant experience of 2006, Brother Stephen Casey now accompanies the immersion groups that come to Lima.

Brother Stephen shares his ministry between the Latin American Region and the Province of North America, spending six months on each side.

While he is in the United States, from July to December, he has the task of visiting all the Edmund Rice educational institutions in the United States and Canada, promoting the Immersion Program, giving testimony of the importance of the program and inviting others to participate in the experience.

Another mission that Stephen has is to organize activities to raise money for the Latin American Region.

Brother Paul Keohane in 2015 on a hill of Canto Grande, with an immersion group of alumni from Cardinal Newman School of Buenos Aires.

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Brother Paul Keohane in 2015 on a hill of Canto Grande, with an immersion group of alumni from Cardinal Newman School of Buenos Aires.

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From the classroom to the hills

When he was 17 years of age, Brother Paul ´keohane embarked on an adventure that would take him to another continent, away from his beloved city, Cork, in Ireland. Inspired by his contact with many Brothers, Brother Paul joined the Congregation of Christian Brothers. He was trained as an educator at the Higher Institute of Education, Marino of Dublin, and graduated as a primary teacher.

After 8 years as a teacher, he held the position of principal in a primary school, while doing studies at the UCC, University College Cork, and later graduated as a secondary school teacher.

In 1987 he was invited to leave his beloved Ireland, cross the Atlantic Ocean and serve in an unknown South American land, Paraguay. After a long trip he arrived to Lima and spent 14 weeks learning Spanish at the Saint James Lanaguage School. During that time he lived in a Brothers' community in Lince from September to December of that same year.

On January 28th of the following year he moved to Paraguay, where he lived for one year in Coronel Bogado. At the beginning of 1989, Paul moved to a new community in Asunción. There he worked in the Verbo Divino School and also accompanied the people of Bañado Tacumbú. He remained in Paraguay for 7 and a half years. From 1995 to 2000 he was provincial delegate of the communities of River Plate, Argentina. In June of 1996 he moved to the +Cardinal Newman College community, where he was the overall principal of the school until the end of 2000.

Brother Paul has been characterized by his great dedication to promote the pastoral ministry in the Cardinal Newman School. For many years he encouraged students and alumni to work supporting the poorest and the homeless living in the streets of Buenos Aires. With the alumni he formed a group of volunteers to organize retreats and missions until the end of 2008. That year he was elected as a member of the Leadership Team of the newly formed Latin American Region, and at the beginning of March, 2009, he moved to Lima to work in formation of new brothers.

In late 2009 and early 2010, he replaced Br. Jim Glos who was organizing the construction of prefabricated houses with immersion groups in Canto Grande.

Since then, the hills of Canto Grande and Jicamarca have become his second home. He accompanies the immersion groups and makes frequent visits to families.

Immersion Groups 2018

  • Jan (03–14) Iona College, New York
  • Jan (18–21) Bergen Catholic (grup 1), New Jersey
  • Jan (26-01+) Bergen Catholic (grup 2), New Jersey
  • Feb (03–08) Iona Prep, New Rochelle, NY
  • Feb (14–20) Catholic Memorial, Boston
  • Apr (03–10) Cardenal Newman, students
  • Apr (11–17) Hendricken, Rhode Island
  • Apr (20–27) Cardenal Newman, students
  • May (02–09) Cardenal Newman, fathers and sons
  • May (13–20) Cardenal Newman, teachers
  • May (25–02+) Cardenal Newman, mothers
  • Jun (09–15) Brother Rice, Michigan
  • Jun (16–23) Palma, Salinas, California
  • Jun (26–05+) C.B.C Freemantle, Perth
  • Jul (06–14) C.B.C Lewisham, Sydney
  • Jul (19–25) Iona Prep, fathers and sons
  • Jul (27–02+) Saint Laurence, Chicago
  • Aug (09–16) Stella Maris, teachers
  • Aug (23–30) Stella Maris, students

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