When parishioners of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol learned that there was an urgent need for clean water in a small Mexican village, they decided to spring into action and established the San Jose Monteverde Water Project in collaboration with the Vergennes Rotary Club and other partners.

The effort grew out of the Burlington Diocesan Synod process after parishioners contemplated ways they could better share God’s love and better serve the migrant worker community in Addison County. Not only could they arrange Masses, sacraments and social activities for the mostly Mexican farm workers, they could help their relatives back home in Mexico access clean water and thus have healthier lives.

The project began in 2020 with fundraising following the next year; funds or the nearly $150,000 project came from a Rotary International grant, donations from parishioners, Colorado-based Healing Waters International (the contractor) and fund raisers.

Last year, Father Yvon Royer — former pastor of the two churches and a Rotarian — visited San Jose Monteverde with a Rotary representative and a translator. They saw how work was progressing to bring water over a mountain via solar-powered pump to be purified and distributed to the village of about 1,200.

“It’s important people of faith … put some action behind their words,” said Father Royer, now pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski. “It’s easy to call ourselves Catholic; it’s more important for us to be Catholic. To be Catholic means we put God’s love into action.”

Father Royer, Rotarian Scott Gaines (who wrote the Rotary grant with Father Royer and traveled with him to San Jose Monteverde), the translator and four Addison County migrant farm workers from the area of the water project gave a presentation on it March 26 in the St. Peter Parish Center.

“These folks are extremely grateful for what this group has put together,” Gaines said. “The beauty of this is … it’s changing lives.”

Rotary has a proven track record of helping bring clean water to communities in need, and members of the Catholic Migrant Ministry of Addison County joined forces to improve water quality and increase water access for the people of San Jose Monteverde.

“We are all so spoiled. We go to the faucet and turn on the water. It’s filtered and you have a clean glass of water,” Gaines said.

But because the water supply in San Jose Monteverde was not purified and residents still drank it, many got sick. They had to bring containers to collect it and carry it home, and often people arrived after the supply had gone dry. “We are very grateful to have access to clean water [in the village] because that means better health for the people,” a migrant worker from San Jose Monteverde named Rubid said through a translator. “We are happy and grateful to everybody who has been part of this process.”

She is among some 300 migrant workers in Addison County.

The labor to bring the water into San Jose Monteverde to be sold for the minimal price of 10 cents per five gallons is being done by the village residents. (The cost will help the system remain sustainable.) The system will bring water from a spring about two and a half miles from the other side of the mountain that dwarfs the village. It will increase water capacity from 300 to 900 liters a day and give villagers access to sufficient water for daily domestic use.

One of the migrant workers on the panel in Vergennes said he hopes his village could have a

water project similar to San Jose Monteverde, and Gaines said he and Father Royer would be available to advise other groups who would like to take it on.

—Originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.