Fr. Noonan Distinguished Alumnus

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The Fr. Noonan Distinguished Alumnus Award recognizes and honors the achievements of outstanding alumni. The McQuaid Alumni Association established the award in 1992 in honor of Richard P. Noonan, S.J., principal of McQuaid from 1966-67, and revered alumni director from 1969 until his retirement in 1995.

2019 Honoree: Fr. Lawrence Searles, S.J., '75

Fr. Lawrence Searles, S.J. says it is exceedingly easy to fall in love with Puerto Rico and its people. The 1975 McQuaid Jesuit alumnus has been stationed on the Island for the better part of 35 years, serving the Society of Jesus in a variety of roles, and most recently as pastor of the Parroquia San Ignacio with full responsibility for the parish and the Academia San Ignacio de Loyola, the parochial school.

Fr. Searles is a strong promoter of ignatian spirituality within his parish, and has an especially keen interest in helping adolescents and young adults discover the depths of their Christian faith by teaching them the art of discernment so as to be better attuned to God’s will in their lives. For this reason, ignatian spirituality serves as the cornerstone of the parish’s Confirmation program.  Ignatian spirituality inevitably leads to some form of social involvement, as is no less the case in San Ignacio Parish, which has been characterized through the years for its social involvement.  Inspired by Pope Francis’ call to parishes to be more like “Field Hospitals”, Fr. Searles has actively sought ways of encouraging the direct service of Catholics to the most physically and spiritually needy of Puerto Rico. This was never more evident than in September 2017 when the Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, one week after Hurricane Irma had passed through the easternmost part of the island.

The Category 5 hurricane was the worst natural disaster on record to hit Puerto Rico and, according to the National Hurricane Center, is the third costliest U.S. Atlantic hurricane with an estimated $90 billion in damages. The entirety of the island was declared a Federal Disaster Zone following the hurricane as 95% of the island was without power for months, and less than half the population had drinkable water.

Shortly after the hurricane, Fr. Searles found himself part of a large scale recovery operation, not only for his own parish, but in churches and communities throughout the Island. With the help of the San Ignacio parishioners, he established a pantry, originally meant to provide staple items for the elderly and single parents unable to stand in the long lines for hours at the supermarkets. The pantry ended up being an important supply center for a number of communities on the island including: Caimito, Yabucoa, Orocovis, Lajas, Ponce, Bayamón, and Toa Baja. In coordination with the Colegio San Ignacio, Fr. Searles helped to distribute needed water filters to people across the Island with no access to clean, uncontaminated water.  He was also able to raise over $200,000, which has been used to help people across the Island to rebuild their homes and their lives.  Fr. Searles also served as a contact to free containers of food and materials backed up at the docks for lack of Island-based sponsors.

The work continues.  The effects of the hurricanes are still evident.  The communities served by the pantry are pretty much self-sufficient again, so the pantry now provides food each weekday for an afterschool program in a very poor area of Cataño in the metropolitan San Juan area.  With the donations received, the parish continues to help many to buy materials for rebuilding, which remains an Island-wide challenge. Fr. Searles notes that a substantial number of homes, including many in the San Juan area, still display the blue tarps of FEMA as their only protection from the weather.