Former North End resident Fr. Michael Della Penna OFM is currently 30 minutes east of Guatemala where he is the Director of the Valley of the Angels Orphanage, a home and haven for 211 children.
Set against a backdrop of lush forest and rolling hills, the orphanage is in an area Fr. Michael refers to as a “Red Zone” with poverty and crime, where police won’t go because of all the gang activity.
Homes surrounding the orphanage are basically shacks comprised of makeshift roofs and miscellaneous materials, according to the Franciscan priest who took over the directorship in 2008.
Since 1991, after years of teaching and directing retreats, Fr. Michael claimed he felt a calling to go to Central America to fight poverty and finally he was sent overseas to carry on the work of the orphanage.
Assisting him in his work are two other Franciscan Friars, three Franciscan sisters and a steady flow of volunteers from the United States and Canada, many of them from Catholic high schools and universities.
Besides the religious teachings, arts, music and exercises also figure into the daily routine at the orphanage.
“It’s a beautiful place designed to remind children on their own inherent goodness and value,” Fr. Michael noted. “The children take frequent nature walks, soaking in the splendor around them.”
Fr. Michael grew up in a close knit and religious community where he received and experienced the makings of families and a true neighborhood experience, something that can’t be taught. He was also extremely involved with civic and recreational activities for many years before he took his vows.
Those who know Fr. Michael are proud of his mission to help take care of the poor and they commend him for his extremely difficult duties and responsibilities which he handles with sincere dedication.