The Story Behind the Prophetic Life and Work of Father Donald Vettese, SJ

ather Donald Vettese, SJ, born in Detroit, Michigan, is a Jesuit priest whose career includes extensive advancement, service and leadership of not-for-profit institutions.
    While visiting Central America in 1995, Father Vettese discovered many of God’s people living in the squalor of a vast garbage dump –- literally competing with wild dogs and buzzards for scraps of food amid mounds of trash.
    The Jesuit priest was appalled when he saw this 200-acre dump in Guatemala City where more than 2,000 people spend their days scavenging garbage. Children as young as seven were scrounging for plastic, paper, glass and metal to sell to middlemen who then sold the recovered materials to industry. Most appalling of all were the vultures feeding on corpses discarded from a local cemetery after rent was not received for a deceased person’s burial plot. The stench was overwhelming –- extending as far as a mile from the dump.
    Next, he visited the homes of dump workers surrounding the dump. They lived in tiny dwellings of scrap wood and corrugated metal. Safe water was scarce, as was food. Their children did not attend school because of the cost and the need for the children to scavenge in the dump.
    To address the problem, Father Vettese founded Central American Ministries, a not-for-profit organization that provides homes, nurseries, schools, micro-loans, medical services, food programs and other direct services to garbage dump dwellers.

    (The photo above shows Father Vettese at a CAM housing site under construction in Guatemala City.)

    Since its founding, the Michigan-based Central American Ministries (CAM) has expanded its mission throughout Central America, with its long-range plans targeted to similar populations in Asia and Africa.  Today, more than 7,000 people living in garbage dumps in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti and soon in Panama have received housing, schools, nurseries, adult education, micro-loans, medical/dental missions and other social services.
    What distinguishes this organization among humanitarian programs is its extensive use of  outcomes-measurement and research to improve performance. A CAM study conducted in concert with a Guatemalan university last year documented CAM’s successes in alleviating the conditions plaguing the poorest of the poor, while identifying specific needs to provide a genuine improvement in the quality of their lives.
    In 2007, Father Vettese assumed full-time presidential responsibilities at CAM. Previously, from 1992 to 2007 Father Vettese was President of St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio.
    In July, 1999, he received the Distinguished Humanitarian Award from the President of Guatemala.  In June 2007, he received the Jefferson Award (“A Program of the American Institute for Public Service”) in Washington, D.C.  This is a national award for outstanding public service presented by U.S. Senator George Voinovich.
      Father Vettese holds three masters degrees, including a Master of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California; a Master of Arts in Philosophy and Humanities from the University of Detroit; and a Master of Arts from the University of Michigan.   

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