PETIONVILLE, Haiti — The beaming smile on Stephan Destin’s face said it all.
Destin was standing on the foundation of the new St. Theresa Church in this suburb of Port-au-Prince, watching dozens of construction workers on the job under a blazing midday sun.
“This is what it’s all about for you,” I said.
“It is,” Destin told me, his smile widening. “It is.”
In reality, working to better his country is what he’s always wanted to do.
Destin, 38, is director-general of the operations and construction unit of the Partnership for Church Reconstruction in Haiti, known by its Creole acronym as PROCHE. He said working for PROCHE is his way of giving back to his homeland.
Since joining PROCHE in November 2011, Destin has helped guide the reconstruction of churches, schools and convents. Eight projects have been completed and another 40 are in various stages of construction and planning.
“I must admit ever since I got here, it doesn’t feel like I’m working because this is what I enjoy doing, this is what I wanted to do. It fits in where I wanted to be,” he said during an interview in his office earlier in the day.
“Some days it’s just amazing the stuff that we accomplish,” he added. “It’s a privilege for me to play that role, to get the opportunity to build churches, the house of God, and to make a difference in society. This is one of the things that I wanted.”
Getting to this point took a while.
Inspired by his father, also an engineer, Destin enrolled in the Polytechnic Institute of New York University in 1995. When he left for the U.S., his intention was to “come back to Haiti straight after that.”
But his engineering career unfolded and thoughts of returning to Haiti were put aside.
He eventually married his longtime girlfriend, Mathilde, after five years of long-distance dating, first when she lived in Los Angeles and in southern Florida. The couple settled in New York and later relocated to Florida. They now have two sons and a daughter.
The draw of Haiti welled up again in the Florida sun.
Then came Jan. 12, 2010, and Haiti’s massive earthquake. Destin returned home, leaving his family in Florida. He envisioned building a new community in the town of San Michel de L’Atalaye in central Haiti. It would welcome 5,000 displaced people from Port-au-Prince as well some of the poorest residents of the town. He said political “obstacles” caused him to abandon the project.
That’s when he heard about PROCHE. Clergy urged him to consider the position.
At first he hesitated. He was unsure he could work with bishops professionally because of his Catholic upbringing.
“Then I spoke with another bishop and he urged me to think of them as clients,” he said. “Fine, I could picture when they’re blessing me as a bishop, and when I’m not in church at Mass, they are a client.”
The rebuilding of Sacred Heart Church, which collapsed in the earthquake, is one in which Destin has taken particular pride. The landmark church in Port-au-Prince was where Destin made his first Communion and was confirmed.