By Gary G. Yerkey
The massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake that shook Haiti on the afternoon of January 12, 2010, destroyed countless buildings, including Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince, leaving a huge hole in the spiritual and cultural life of the largest diocese of the Episcopal Church.
Now, after a year-long search, a selection committee headed by the Rt. Rev. Jean Zaché Duracin, Bishop of Haiti, has chosen the U.S. firm of Kerns Group Architects, P.C., to oversee design of the new structure.
Bishop Duracin said that — faced with the enormous task of rebuilding most of the Episcopal churches, schools and other structures in the earthquake-ravaged parts of Haiti — the diocese decided to focus its initial efforts on reconstructing the cathedral “as a prominent landmark of God’s abiding presence with the Haitian people and the Church’s commitment to serve them. The new cathedral will be a beacon of hope to all who suffer.”
Kerns Group Architects, based in Arlington, Va., has extensive experience designing worship spaces, including the Lakeside United Methodist Church in West Plains, Md.; Church of the Holy Cross in Dunn Loring, Va.; St. Bede Church in Williamsburg, Va.; Dulin United Methodist Church in Falls Church, Va.; and Our Lady of Hope in Potomac Falls, Va.
A confidential document sent by the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti last December to the architectural firms that were being considered for the job, including the Kerns Group; Hite Associates of Greenville, N.C., and Errol Barron/Michael Toups Architects of New Orleans said the new cathedral should be a model of “efficient and environmentally sustainable construction, a vision for the future of building in Haiti. It should incorporate recycled materials. Be inspiring in appearance, as well as humble and hospitable.”
The Rt. Rev. Stacey Sauls, chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church, said the selection of the Kerns Group represents an important milestone in the effort to rebuild the cathedral, which has been made possible in no small measure by the generosity of thousands of Episcopalians.
Completing the project, however, could take some time given the continuing economic and political uncertainty on the impoverished Caribbean island, which has also been devastated by a cholera epidemic that began in late 2010.
Earlier this week, the United Nations announced a $2.27 billion plan to help eliminate cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noting that the disease has already claimed the lives of more than 7,750 people and infected another 620,000.
“Haiti has seen a dramatic fall in infection and fatality rates,” Ban said in launching the initiative. “But this will not be a short-term crisis. Eliminating cholera from Haiti will continue to require the full cooperation and support of the international community.” He said that Haiti will need nearly $500 million over the next two years to carry out its national plan to combat the disease.
Gary G. Yerkey photo of damaged art at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-au-Prince