Pastor Michael A. Saporito and some 127 members of the township's St. Joseph Church parish welcomed Marcelle St. Jean Saturday, who survived the deadly earthquake in Haiti just 11 days before.
About seven of her family and friends guided St. Jean's wheelchair from the sanctuary to the basement reception area after the Mass.
The 84-year-old grandmother was joined by her granddaughter Julie and host Christine Etienne who were available to translate for St. Jean as she began a 10-minute recollection of surviving the 7.0 earthquake.
"I'm bruised all over," she said, occasionally raising her right forearm that was still in a sling. "But I thank God for bringing me through."
It has been projected that up to a million of Haiti's 9.75 million residents will die. Some of those who were not killed by the massive Jan. 12 tremor are anticipated to pass away from related injuries, starvation and/or disease.
St. Jean said she went to Carrefore, a suburb of Port-au-Prince's, to visit the Union Center Samaito School where her son works.
"I came to the school to give gifts to the children," she said. "Someone asked me to stay past my birthday. I turned 84 on Jan. 14."
St. Jean, also known as "T-Mama," said she was staying in one of three rooms when the earthquake struck at about 5:30 p.m. Jan. 12. There was an 11-year-old girl with her at the time.
"I felt a shaking and saw one room fold into another one," she stated. "I dove beneath a metal chair and everything went dark. I began praying to God to spare me and to use me if I survive."
St. Jean, whose audience alternated from rapt attention to laughter to applause, said that she prayed throughout her experience.
"I remember hearing voices, 'Where's T-Mama?' so I knew I wasn't dead," she said. "I saw a hole and light and tried to make that hole wider."
Some of the voices St. Jean overheard were of those trying to rescue her from the rubble. She began shouting and yelling to make the hole wider and they used the metal chair to help her escape.
"One of the workers came out with a metal saw," said St. Jean. "But they were having problems using it. I prayed to God that He'd give them the skills for the saw."
The workers cut the chair apart but, when they tried to pull St. Jean out, she yelled in pain because her right arm was still in the debris.
"When they got me out around midnight, they laid me out on the floor," she said. "I looked back at the chair's place: I would've been killed if I hadn't ducked -and the girl was dead."
St. Jean said she had to lie on the floor and wait four days for medical help. She was eventually flown out on a scheduled airliner to Newark Liberty International Airport Jan. 19 and was treated at University Hospital.
A massive international aid effort is working around bottlenecks at air and sea ports and at the country's border with the Dominican Republic. Doctors and aids from the United States, France, Cuba and Canada have set up stations to treat victims. Individuals have been rescued alive as late as Jan. 26 - four days after the Haitian government officially changed the relief mission emphasis from rescue to recovery.
But the earthquake's destructive scale is widespread. Port-au-Prince garbage truck drivers told several international reporters Jan. 24 that they have brought 100,000 bodies to mass graves - 20 percent more than the official government estimate. Haitian President Rene Preval appealed for more tents on Jan. 25, given that nearly 400,000 people in and around the capital city are now homeless.
"We have 1,000 families in St. Joseph Parish, many from Maplewood but some from Irvington, Union and Millburn," said Saporito. "About 10 percent are Haitian or Haitian-American. What affects one of us affects all of us."
He said the parish began their own relief drive, collecting about $5,000 Jan. 17. They also collected funds during their Jan. 23 Mass and Jan. 24 worship service to be sent through Catholic Relief Services.
About 29 relatives and acquaintances of the parish were killed or are still missing. According to one source, 80 percent of Haitians identify themselves as Roman Catholic. About 90.5 percent of their Hispaniola Island neighbors in the Dominican Republic consider themselves Catholic.
The program featured "before-and-after" photos of Port-au-Prince Cathedral. Its Mass, organized in part by Etienne, featured hymns and responses in English and French Creole. Port-au-Prince archbishop Joseph Serge Miot was among those killed in the quake. New York City Archbishop Timothy Dolan and CRS chairman Thomas Wenski attended his funeral Mass on Jan. 21.
"I approached Fr. Michael after the Jan. 17 service," said Etienne. "I said that we must do more than collect funds for the relief. He agreed that there are people here on this side of the earthquake who are suffering."