Friday, August 20, 2010

Remembering Padre Wasson, Part 1

This past Monday, nine NPH houses around the world celebrated the 4th anniversary of the death of William Bryce Wasson – a guy from Arizona who had a plan, which didn’t work out, which would then go on to change his life, my life, and as of 2010, the lives of over 16,000 children.

William Wasson was the founder of NPH, creating this organization in 1954, and his story is a good one.

He grew up in Arizona, graduated college, made a plan to join the priesthood. Then after years of studying for it, the U.S. denied him ordination based on a thyroid deficiency – talk about getting the short end of the stick. When it seemed like his world was over, his mom suggested he take a break and spend some time in a foreign country – how about Mexico? So, he did.

After falling in love with the place, he decided to stay in Mexico. He was ordained in the city of Cuernavaca and was given his own church. A few months later, when a poor local boy was arrested for stealing money from the church’s poor box, Wasson asked the police to drop the charges and give him custody of the boy instead. Relieved, the police did, and a week later they called up Wasson one more time: “Would you like 8 more boys?” And practically overnight, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos was born.

For nearly 30 years, Mexico’s NPH house grew and grew, while fundraising offices popped up all around the globe. In the 80’s, Wasson saw a chance to expand NPH in places it was needed throughout the hemisphere, so homes in Honduras (1985), Haiti (1988), Nicaragua (1995), Guatemala (1996), El Salvador (1999), the Dominican Republic (2002), Peru (2004), and Bolivia (2005) came to life. When he died in 2006, Wasson left behind a total of 16,200 children who had grown up in an NPH home, and today, right now, at any moment in time, more than 3,000 children are being raised by NPH.

Wasson became a true father to every child living in every single one of these homes, and I have never heard of a person so revered. To ask the NPH Guatemala kids and my co-workers (one of which, an ex-pequeño, named his son Bryce after Wasson) what it was like “to be here in the days of Padre Wasson,” they universally describe a man who is part father, part saint, and part Superman. Such a person doesn’t even seem real.

During his life, Wasson became internationally renowned for his work with children, and an up-and-coming magazine (you might have heard of it) entitled People featured him in a 1975 issue, years before he’d even taken NPH global. However, I’d be willing to bet he’d never planned on all this fame, on all this traveling from country to country, and on all these thousands upon thousands of kids in his life. Yeah, I’d say he definitely had other plans.

And that’s what’s so comforting about his story. At a moment in my life when p-l-a-n often resembles a dirty four-letter word (read: I’m in my 20s, the economy sucks, and the multitude of choices available to my generation means we constantly worry whether we’re picking the right one), it’s nice to know that sometimes life doesn’t care so much about your plan.

Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t, but you never really have any clue what might be around the corner. I guess you just make decisions along the way that make you feel fulfilled (maybe it’s move to Mexico, maybe it’s move to Guatemala), and you see where you end up. Don’t freak out people, I’m not saying I ever want 16,000 kids during my lifetime; I’m just saying that plan or no plan, we’ll figure it out.

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