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VOL. 125 | NO. 107 | Thursday, June 03, 2010

Former Memphian Changes Haiti’s Future, One Child at a Time

By Andy Meek

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Patrick Moynihan speaks at a recent ceremony in Rockford, Ill., where the Haitian missionary efforts he leads were celebrated among supporters.
Photo courtesy of Chris Warkocki

Patrick Moynihan had it all. A six-figure salary. A comfortable home.

He’d come to Memphis in the early 1990s to work as a trader for Allenberg Cotton Co. The job left him so well off he was soon paying in taxes what he once earned as a high school math teacher in Connecticut.

But the work also left Moynihan, a devout Catholic, without the fulfillment and meaningful life he felt God wanted him to pursue. He wanted to give back.

In 1996, he left Memphis for Haiti.

Moynihan is now a missionary on the island nation, where he also uses his business skills to run a Catholic boarding school outside Port-au-Prince.

Moynihan’s local ties mean the school gets a steady stream of donations from Memphis. About 10 to 15 percent of its annual support comes from Memphians, who so far this year have contributed more than $60,000 to the school.

A fundraiser was held in the fall at Café Ole. Scott Herlihy, whose nonprofit group PeacePassers collects and distributes unwanted soccer gear to kids and adults around the world, was among the people who showed up. He donated 12 soccer balls to the school, part of his group’s spread of “peace through soccer.”

“And we’re trying to help the school more with more donations,” Herlihy said.

Moynihan’s work took on a new urgency earlier this year, when a catastrophic earthquake left several hundred thousand Haitians either dead, injured or homeless.

Moynihan’s family e-mailed supporters requesting things like bottled water, rice and diesel fuel for generators.

After the quake, Moynihan heard from Allenberg employees in Memphis who wanted to help. He also stayed in touch via e-mail with his brother, Brian, the president and CEO of Bank of America, who gave more than $150,000 to the school in 2009.

It was his banker brother who steered the younger Moynihan to his current job after Patrick had a life-changing awakening.

“God spoke to me in Memphis,” he told The Daily News by phone from Haiti.

It happened as he was driving on Sam Cooper Boulevard.

“I experienced a moment of truly feeling God’s love in a manner that made me confident that we would never be alone in this process or without His help,” Moynihan said.

Before he left Memphis for Haiti in 1996, Patrick told Brian about his newfound zeal. Brian, then an executive at Massachusetts bank Fleet Financial, told his brother to consider remaining a trader.

That way, the money would be enough to fund several charities instead of working for just one.

Patrick was unmoved. So Brian suggested he take a look at Haiti’s Louverture Cleary School, information about which is at http://haitianproject.org.

Brian had been sending money to the school, which at the time needed a new director. That’s where Patrick decided to go.

Their contrasting jobs got the brothers profiled in “The Banker & The Missionary,” the cover story in the May-June issue of Brown University’s alumni magazine.

The story discusses Patrick’s success and skills as a businessman, which have proven as important to the Haiti school as money.

Moynihan stood on a picnic table after the January quake to reassure a group of boys and girls still frightened by aftershocks.

He told them to remain strong and to realize their country would look to them as its next generation of leaders.

Meanwhile, Moynihan has busied himself with everything from shopping for bare essentials for students to asking businesses and U.S. officials for engineering help.

He used to split his time between Haiti and the U.S. After the quake, he decided to stay on the island “ad infinitum.”

“It was time for me to give back, and I had the freedom to do so,” Moynihan said. “A lot of people never get that freedom.”

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