Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Volunteer brings years of expertise to Guatemala mission projects

by Lisa Sharkey, for the Inland Register

(From the May 21, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Volunteer Paul Heinzen spent several months providing invaluable assistance and expertise in the Guatemala Mission. He is seen hiking back from coffee fields located about 30 minutes from the nearest road. (IR photo courtesy of Pat Sharkey)

Last March I returned to Guatemala with a group from Walla Walla. We had a long list of accomplishments that we hoped to achieve and only two weeks to get them done.

Dr. Joe Wujek and his wife, Donna, were scheduled to work with Dr. José Miguel on understanding the ultrasound machine that had been donated to the medical clinics there. This was a huge success, as they discovered a set of twins that had not previously been known, and found a tumor in a man’s stomach that was able to be removed in the office.

Dr. Pat Sharkey, a dentist, brought a hygienist, Christy Myers, to work with him on a dental education program. They went to the public schools in old Ixtahuacán and to Our Lady of the Highway Preschool to set up a teeth brushing program and talk about the danger of eating junk food and drinking pop.

Chris Pinney, an engineer, helped figure out a solution to the water leaks in Father David Baronti’s apartment and worked with Pat on the solar and hydroelectric power of the fish hatchery.

I spent the whole two weeks working on restoring the hand-carved Marian Center doors. Desales High School did a collection before we left to fund this project.

However, we could not have accomplished as much without the help of volunteer, Paul Heinzen. Paul had been in Guatemala since November, helping around the church and assisting Father Baronti. He was especially helpful to Father Baronti when the priest became ill, driving one-and-a-half hours to take him to the doctor and to get medicine.

Paul had done some repairs on the church and refinished its doors, so he had a lot of helpful information for the Marian Center door restoration project. He worked with all of us on our various projects and was especially good at picking the avocados that overhung the Marian Center roof. When they were ripe and fell from the tree onto the tin roof, it was like a gunshot, so we were glad to get them picked. We gave the avocados to the parish to raise money for the church.

Paul began his volunteering at the age of 20 when he joined the Peace Corps and was sent to teach in rural Northwest Canada. It was there that he met Rick Wallander, who later told him about our mission in Guatemala.

Since then, Paul has traveled the world, working when he needed to and volunteering when he could. He has been to many of the countries that were part of the former Soviet Union, as well as Afghanistan, Nepal, and all over Africa. He now speaks five languages. He was an International, Non-Governmental Organization project manager and his area of expertise was agriculture. Paul worked on building dairy herds in Afghanistan, on Russian wheat production, and helped develop irrigation practices in various countries. His latest efforts were selling excess U.S. commodities to foreign countries.

Since being in Guatemala, Paul has painted the bell towers of Santa Caterina Church in Ixtahuacán, repaired kneelers, removed the old tile from the rooftop patio so that it could be sealed, finishing the sealing of it, finished applying a membrane to the roof over Father Baronti’s apartment, supervised the completion of the concrete work on the Marian Center, replaced the clear sheeting of the awning, and put in the central water heater. Paul also used his agricultural knowledge when he consulted with the Family to Family coffee plantation on improving growing practices.

With his valuable help, much-needed maintenance was completed on the Santa Catarina Church, rectory, and Marian Center.

Paul left Guatemala on May 4 to return to his native Wisconsin. May God bless him for his contribution to the people of Guatemala, and we extend our gratitude to him as he returns home.

(Lisa Sharkey is a member of the diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)


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