Christmas at Melhado—An Unwelcome Christmas Gift—Christmas in PG—Christmas in the Jungle

Xmas 2018.jpg

By Matthew D. Ruhl, S.J.
Monday, December 24, 2018, Punta Gorda, Belize

The Jesuits of Belize got together for their Christmas Dinner on December 17th. It was our first Christmas in our slowly renovating Melhado Hall. (Just for the record, Melhado Hall was built with money earned by a Belizean bootlegger who sailed his rum across the Gulf of Mexico and up into New Orleans from Belize [then British Honduras] during US Prohibition.) Santa made his appearance and distributed his presents and Willie John Snyders won the prize for the most festively dressed, most appropriate as he is the most colorful character amongst us.

 While in Belize City for our Christmas dinner, I awoke one night with a dull, throbbing toothache. Went to the dentist. It appears Santa has brought me a root canal for Christmas. I will return to the city December 27th for this joyful experience, to be followed by a new crown. Until then it's ibuprofen and antibiotics. (LaBarge, do you realize that means NO booze over the holiday?!) So, while I close out the year with a root canal, I will begin the New Year with a crown!

 On December 21st, the St. Peter Claver Staff had their Christmas Party, prepared by the Ms. Catalina, Ms. Olive, and Fr. Penn. We had a big fat dinner of turkey, ham, potato salad, cranberry, stuffing, with cakes and pies for dessert. We exchanged gifts. I thanked the staff for being such a hardworking and agreeable lot. Pointed out the changes that have already come to St. Peter's and warned them of the changes coming.

 With Sunday falling the day before Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Sam, Penn, and I have a marathon of Masses to do. When it is all done we will have said 18 Masses in 15 different churches. (So, LaBarge, as you can see there was no time for booze anyway.) The three of us will enjoy our own little Christmas celebration on December 26th at a lovely jungle resort restaurant.


Wooo-Hooooo—First things First—Good Fences Make Good Neighbors—Honoring a Patroness

By Matthew D. Ruhl, S.J.
Wednesday/December 12, 2018 /Punta Gorda, Toledo District, Belize

Bishop Larry Nicasio

Bishop Larry Nicasio

On December 2nd it became official. I am the Pastor of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Punta Gorda—–Wooooooo—–Hooooooooo.  About 800 people crammed into and around the Church.  Prayers and songs were offered in English, Spanish, Qeqchi, Mopan, Garifuna.  And I understood every word………of English. When it was done everybody moved over to the parish hall for tamales and sandwiches.

The very first thing on my agenda is to push Mass attendance. I plan on doing this by boosting the many committees that went moribund in the last few years: Lay Ministers, Youth Group, Liturgy Committee. These things sound boring and inconsequential, but I assure you when these committees are vibrant they make ALL the difference on Sunday morning.

Of course our grounds need work, a lot of work. But here is the problem and it is a really big problem. Before we can repair our grounds, we need a fence in order to maintain our repairs.  From the moment I arrived people were saying to me, “We need a fence.  We need a fence.”  After three months of being here, I see why so many teachers, parents, and parishioners want a fence. This Sunday past a local election was held. Our school is a polling station. The crowds trashed our grounds.  Urinating in the yard, drinking their rum in the church garden and school verandah, mountains of trash discarded which the local canine crew spread across the grounds. Even without an election, vandals break into classrooms. People cut through the grounds on foot, on bikes, in cars, and on motorcycles. Folks have no problem stealing the few flowers we do manage to grow.  Revelers and lovers will settle on our verandah at night with their weed and alcohol and radios. During the week anybody can just walk into any classroom they want to pester a teacher or a child.  On the weekends our campus is literally treated as a public park. There once was an attempt at fencing one side of the school grounds, but money fell short and the fence is filled with gaps where there were supposed to be gates.  I will begin the process of looking into fencing our 20 or so acres. This will be terribly adventurous as fencing is hardly a sexy sell and our Sunday collection averages about $700 per Sunday, or $350 US.  And a fence is only the first stage in what needs to be a great overhaul of the grounds.  I think I’ll be here a long time.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Patroness of the Americas is honored here with a candlelight procession around the neighborhood followed by Mass.  She is important to us for many reasons, not least of which is her protection of us from hurricanes and devastating storms. As the Hurricane Season has concluded without a destructive storm, we give thanks.

Garifuna Settlement Day—A Geezer—Project #1—Goings On

By Matthew D. Ruhl, S.J.
Wednesday/November 28, 2018/Punta Gorda, Toledo District, Belize

November 19th was Garifuna Settlement Day, the day that celebrates the Garifuna people landing on the shores of Central America. The days leading up to Settlement Day were full of celebrations with Miss Garifuna and Miss Punta Gorda in attendance. There was a fete of music with Garifuna cooking, a Garifuna language translation contest, a Battle of the Drums competition, all culminating with a reenactment of the original landing followed by a parade to St. Peter Claver Church where Fr. Callistus Cayetano, a local Garifuna Catholic priest, celebrated Mass.

Fr. Matt and Claret Jacobs celebrate their November birthdays with sweet treats.

Fr. Matt and Claret Jacobs celebrate their November birthdays with sweet treats.

On November 23rd, I began celebrating my birthday with the Peter Claver staff with a big, fat turkey lunch, at which we also we also celebrated the birthday of friend and colleague, Claret Jacobs. On November 24th I turned 60 years old, celebrating with friends from Belize City along with Lissa and Tom Whittaker who traveled to Punta Gorda from Kansas City—God bless them! We all enjoyed a lovely dinner at a resort in the jungle. The Whittakers and I finished up the prolonged birthday celebration with a day trip to Placencia on the 26th. I am now 60 and officially on the road to Geezerdom.

I met with the St. Peter Claver Parent/Teacher Association. All are quite concerned with the direction of our school and frustrated with the lack of support the school has not been getting. I understand and sympathize with their litany of complaints. They want a fence around their school and have been requesting it for years. I explained that a fence around the school, especially a school with the acreage we have, is a big-ticket item requiring some planning. I asked what would be something that we could do immediately that would be a sign of hope. Agreement was fast, furious, and unanimous: fix the bathrooms. So our first project will be fixing up the grade school bathroom, a facility that has suffered Deferred Maintenance Syndrome for many years.

In the meantime the Parish Council is busy putting together the Installation Mass wherein I will be officially installed as Pastor. Our Parish Life Committee is also busy putting together our Annual Parish Fair to be held on December 15th. The Fair’s raffle proceeds will go towards a new church ceiling.

Robotics Rules at St. Martin’s!

The Clavius Project at St. Louis University High School came to Belize this month and made history. On Friday morning, July 6, a team of students from St. John’s College High School and St. Martin’s Grade School built the first robot ever created in Belize. The students were participants in a summer robotics camp sponsored by the Clavius Project and held at St. Martin’s. This video captures all the fun!

The Clavius Project @ SLUH began in 2014 as a collaboration among students, faculty and staff to bring education in STEM to St. Louis urban middle schools. Named after Christopher Clavius—a German Jesuit mathematician and astronomer responsible for the Gregorian Calendar as well as the first to confirm his former student Galileo's Heliocentric Theory of the universe—the program has achieved considerable success and momentum in just a short period of time. The Clavius Project offers FLL robotics, EV3 Lego Mindstorm click & drag and Robot C program language; and math & science tutoring. Platforms in development include rocketry, coding, advanced robotics and quad copters. Click here to learn more.

Thanks to program moderator Jeff Pitts and his team of fantastic volunteers for inspiring a new crop of future engineers and scientists in Belize!

Belize 2020 Sponsors SLU Speaker Events: Join the Discussion on Critical Issues Affecting Our Global Community


In collaboration with Saint Louis University, Belize 2020 is sponsoring three speaker events during the university's Atlas week, April 6-14. The Belize 2020 events will be held in various venues on SLU's North Campus, located at 1 North Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63103. Click here for a campus map. Participation is free and advance registration is not required.

The Atlas Week Program at Saint Louis University increases awareness of the global issues that confront us today in an effort not only to promote discussion but also to inspire and inform action.  Through a week of programs, discussions, and speakers, the focus is on what we as global citizens can do to contribute to a better life for all people now and in the future.

SLU and Belize 2020: Reflections on a Growing Partnership
Monday, April 9
12:00 - 1:00 p.m. CDT
Location: Center for Global Citizenship Auditorium

Sponsored by: Office for Mission & Identity, Office of the Provost, School of Education, School of Professional Studies, SLU Madrid Campus, Office of Diversity & Community Engagement, and Belize 2020

SLU has a long-standing partnership with various institutions in Belize, and plans to grow those partnerships in breadth and depth in the coming years. This semester SLU faculty and administrators visited our partners in Belize to deepen relationships and dream about what we could accomplish together. The panel will reflect on that experience from the SLU perspective and share ideas about where we might go from here. Chris Collins, S.J., Assistant to the President for Mission and Identity, will moderate the discussion with SLU Provost Nancy Brickhouse; Dean Molly Schaller, School of Education; Dean Tracy Chapman, School of Professional Studies; Dean Paul Vita, SLU Madrid Campus; and Vice President Jonathan Smith, Office of Diversity and Community Engagement.

Belize 2020: Seeking Input, Advancing Ideas
Tuesday, April 10
2:00 - 3:00 p.m. CDT
Location: Busch Student Center 251AB
Sponsored by: Center for Service and Community Engagement, Belize 2020, Office of International Services

This roundtable will be an opportunity to provide updates on the work of Belize 2020 and to solicit student feedback on ways to advance our work in Belize.

Improving Education through Scholarships: The Saint Louis University and Belize Partnership
Thursday, April 12
4:00 - 5:00 p.m. CDT
Location: Busch Student Center 253B
Sponsored by: School of Education, Belize 2020

During this event we will highlight the educational aspect of the Belize 2020 Project and Saint Louis University educational partnership.

Belize 2020 Project is a partnership between Belize City, Belize and Saint Louis University. This relationship seeks to bridge the learning gap in our schools. The partnership empowers and enables the Belizean teachers and students to become leaders in their community. The Belizean teachers are the strongest link between the students and the surrounding community. The teachers are equipped with the knowledge to build a better future for the students through this partnership.

This partnership has grown through the training of teachers in Special Education: Learning Disability. Presently two teachers are attending Saint Louis University in the School of Education in the graduate program. Rose Mes recently completed her master’s in special education with the emphasis of learning disabilities. She is currently a learning consultant in at Our Lady of Guadalupe and working with her students in Belize.

For more information on 2018 Atlas Week programming, click here.

Growing Pains—Tragedy—Tragedy #2—His Honor—Have Holy Water, Will Travel—Something to Sink Your Teeth Into—A Little Sunshine

By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/February 28, 2018/Belize City, Belize


The congregation at St. Martin’s has been growing ever so steadily. That is the good news. The bad news is some people leave in a huff because there are no seats available. That really distresses me. We definitely need a bigger church. Drier, too, as yet a new leak appeared recently. But in the meantime I have my ace maintenance man Esidoro building benches to go along the walls. We also have room for a few more pews.

Statistically speaking it was bound to happen despite the most earnest of hopes and the most fervent of prayers. A 12 year-old boy in one of our HEAL programs was murdered in Pregnant Alley on the South Side. He was the intended victim. An adult was also killed, apparently in an effort to shield the child. So many of our boys know the older they get the greater the likelihood becomes of them being killed. I wish I could say they were being melodramatic, but they aren’t. Death hounds our boys.

Last Saturday in a house directly across from our pre-school playground a husband murdered his wife as she slept, then took his own life. The bodies were discovered and the gawkers gathered as HEAL held a BINGO fundraiser in SWIFT HALL. This ghastly event has sent a chill through the neighborhood. And this tragedy is just one more bloody moment that colors the horizon of our children. Horizons of hope can be hard to come by on the South Side. Her funeral repast was held in SWIFT HALL.


On Thursday St. Martin’s hosted a Mass of Thanksgiving for outgoing Mayor Darrell Bradley. It has been the Mayor’s habit in his two three-year terms to have Masses for his Civic Employees at St. Martin’s. In his remarks at the end of Mass he credited his Jesuit Education at St. John’s and at St. Louis University for making him all that he is as a man of service. He told the crowd his parents could not afford post-St. John’s education but that he had been awarded a Jesuit scholarship to SLU. Frankly, in my view, he was a darn good mayor, and I am gratified that he publicly lauds his Jesuit training.

On Friday night I blessed a train. That’s right, a train. The new train at Old Belize. I also blessed all the Belize Tour Guides present who are the face of Belize to thousands of tourists who visit this beautiful country.


St. Apollonia. Do you know who she is? She is the Patron Saint of Dentists. And through her intercession, I regularly receive my oddest donation. My dear old friend Dr. Bob Butler, DDS, whose marriage to the lovely Ms. Tina I happily presided at years ago in St. Louis, keeps the gold he extracts from the mouths of his patients, with their permission of course, and when his drawer is full, he sells the gold and sends St. Martin’s the check. Splendid fellow. A bit macabre, but I’ll take it!

Yes, life on the South Side can be rough, but not unremittingly so. God sends us sunshine to keep us hopeful. Last week that sunshine arrived in the form of beautiful little bundle Madison Arthurs born into this world February 19th, the child of HEAL employee Pheona Staine and Michael Arthurs of our Parish Council. Mother and child are happy, healthy, and home. Congrats Pheona and Michael.