By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — One dentist spoke of her work among the poor in India, another dentist and his wife spoke of their work among the poor in Guatemala.
So naturally, the evening was stolen by a fourth grader with a perfect, 200-watt smile.
Madigan Brown was one of two recipients of St. Thomas More Parish’s Bill Waris Award Feb. 4, given annually at the parish’s Souper Bowl dinner to a young person and an adult who live out the Gospel mandate of service to the poor in line with the life of the parishioner for whom the awards are named.
The other Bill Waris Award was earned by Liz and Dr. Joe Spalitto for their work in leading medical missions to remote towns and villages in and around the parish’s Guatemalan sister community of San Andres Itzapa.
As traditional at the annual event, proceeds raised by ticket sales benefitted a charity, this year Homes of Hope, where another St. Thomas More parishioner, Dr. Cathy Taylor-Osborne, last fall helped establish a dental clinic for the poor in Banglagore, India.
Madigan, a student at St. Thomas More School, was honored for being a workhorse at the Holy Family Catholic Worker House in midtown Kansas City, where she helps serve hot meals to the poor.
In addition, she also volunteers with Harvesters, the community food network, in sorting out food for distribution to dozens of area food pantries.
“I love helping the poor. They are nice and they say, ‘Thank you,’” said Madigan, who said she was inspired to service by her family and her school.
Taylor-Osborne knew the date she was inspired. Last June 5, she heard Stewart Padley of Homes for Hope speak at St. Thomas More. Following his talk, she introduced herself as a dentist and asked what she could do.“He looked at me and said, ‘We just had an entire dental office donated to us, and we need someone to set it up,’” Taylor-Osborne said.
After hearing the plight of children begging on the streets of India’s third largest city, and a city known as that nation’s Silicon Valley, Taylor-Osborne said it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
That October, she was on a plane for a trip halfway around the globe.
The dental office equipment “got there literally three days before I did,” she said. “It had to be taken up three flights of stairs into a room with one electrical outlet and no plumbing.”
Taylor-Osborne said Homes of Hope paid for electrical and plumbing work, and she helped round up laborers off the street to get the equipment in place.
By the end of the month, the clinic with three dental chairs, two x-ray machines, a compressor and a vacuum system was up and running.
And while that was going on, Taylor-Osborne was seeing patients as well as she could.
“I was able to go to an orphanage and screen the 60 girls who were there,” she said. “Twenty needed dental treatment badly. Five were in extreme pain.”
It was just one example how big things sometimes start small, and sometimes with one person.
“Without this starting here at St. Thomas More, none of this would have happened,” she said. “If anyone is compelled to do anything like this, it’s there, waiting for you.”
The Spalittos were compelled in 1994, the first year they volunteered with a parish group making a mission trip to San Andres Itzapa.
The Spalittos fell in love with the people. Hard.
So hard, in fact, that Spalitto rounded up as many as 30 doctors and dentists who continue to make regular mission trips to Guatemala to give whatever service they can to as many as they can under conditions that are far from ideal.
“We were on national television (in Guatemala) once in which we had 8,000 people lined up on a mountain waiting for the medical team we had brought,” he said.
The days are long, and often heart-breaking because the doctors and dentists can’t possibly see everyone who needs medical help, Joe Spalitto said
But there are results that will never be forgotten, such as the plastic surgeons who can repair a child’s cleft palate.
Sometimes, a patient can’t be saved. Joe Spalitto told of a family who came with one old man near death.
“He had pulmonary disease and the doctors said he was going to die any minute,” he said. “The family asked if we could put him on clean sheets so we could help him to his death. So we did.”
And sometimes, the stories give them a smile.
One older man couldn’t see because of cataracts. A surgeon on the team was able to remove them just as the church bells nearby rang out the Angelus.
“The old man was screaming, ‘God has cured me!’ while the church bells were ringing,” Joe Spalitto said. “The surgeon said, ‘Hey, don’t I get any credit?’”
Liz Spalitto said that none of their work in Guatemala would have been possible without Bill Waris, who died in 2007, or without the pastor at that time, Father Bill Bauman who died last year.
Waris established a trust fund to perpetuate the work of the parish in Guatemala. Father Bauman gave his full support to the project, and even nominated the Spalittos for the 2006 Missouri Catholic Conference Citizen Recognition Award that they earned.
“Bill Waris was always in the background, never taking the credit,” Liz Spalitto said. “But he was also the backbone of the Guatemalen Trust Fund.”