Our Founder & his legacy
In the early 1990s, Fr. Vettese was carrying out his assignment as a Jesuit, running St. John’s Jesuit High School and Academy. During that time, he traveled to Guatemala City with a group of students. There, in the presence of a bleeding child surrounded by trash and stench, Fr. Vettese connected with the Divine in a profound way—what he calls “conversion.” Fr. Vettese heard the answer to his prayer: it was the young high school students from Toledo, Ohio, asking the same question he was, “Can’t we do something?”
For Fr. Vettese, the call was undeniable, unavoidable. In the face of such massive need, despite being busy, he took the first step and did something. One thing led to another, and over 25 years nurseries, medical clinics, housing, elementary and secondary schools, skills training, micro loans, and scholarships helped a generation of good people to no longer exist on garbage. They deserved better, and they made their lives better with help from International Samaritan.
Fr. Vettese stepped away from International Samaritan in 2018, leaving behind a legacy that we’re honored to be continuing. Thank you, Father Vettese, for stopping and changing so many lives.
A LETTER FROM OUR FOUNDER
More than 25 years ago, I accepted the call to serve the people living in Guatemala City dump. What happened then touched my heart and soul more than anything before or after. Conversion experiences often help us define who we are and where we go. With the encouragement of a group of high school students, I made a commitment to do something to alleviate the profound suffering I felt. Somehow, I knew the Holy Spirit was working through me. Becoming one with those living in such indignity, hopelessness, and despair was radically converting my soul — my way of seeing the poor, of feeling one with them, of desiring to commit myself to their service. God was at work. His presence was undeniable, His will compelling, and His voice crystal clear.
There was no money, no strategic plan. I knew nothing about the Guatemalans, their culture, or the 78 different indigenous languages the people spoke in the dump. I just knew I had to follow the Spirit, step by step. I had to trust God to lead me.
Thousands answered the call to serve: local and national governments, our own board and professional staff, volunteers, and donors. Enormously generous people of good will — so many generous hearts — joined me. Their commitment and accomplishment is humbling. I am called “the founder,” but I believe that the only true founder of anything good is God.
We started with the 40 homes of Colonia San Juan, and resulted in communities of nurseries, schools, and housing. A generation later, people are growing out of poverty into productive, meaningful lives in eight countries, from Central America to Africa.
I am deeply grateful that I chose to listen to the call to serve these people, but they served me in much greater ways than I served them. They taught me generosity. They taught me to have more faith in God leading the way. They taught me how much goodness there is in humanity. And they taught me compassion.
I learned that, for me, being with the poorest people on earth has made me more human and closer to God, with a spirituality that has marked my memory, and my soul, for life. The impression of Alvaro –that filthy, sweaty 10 year old with hands bleeding because they were cut from scavenging through glass and tin to find food as his mother sat behind him nursing her baby on a mound of trash — burned into me. That, I believe, founded this mission.
St. Ignatius teaches that God is in all things. Yes. But I believe God is in the poor most of all. And God is with me as I transition to the next phase of my life.
Yours in Christ,
Father Don Vettese, S.J
International Samaritan is a nonprofit organization with the designation 501(c)(3). Our headquarters is located in Ann Arbor Michigan.