Some people know her as the Haiti Lady who collects school supplies and shoes for children in need. But, in fact, Gerry Barsotti loves the whole world.
Gerry’s involvement with the Haitian community of Lamontagne Jacmel began through her son Domenic, who helped to install water purification systems in the remote village when he was in college. After college, he continued to volunteer with a non-profit organization based there. With his encouragement and the blessing of Father Michael Rush, Gerry sent out the call in our parish for school supplies and shoes for 100 schoolchildren. The response? “Incredible,” she said. “Backpacks, notebooks, and thousands of pencils.”
A few years ago Gerry and her husband visited the seminary in Tanzania where Father Thomas Kochalumchuvattil, a visiting priest in St. Damien Parish, serves as rector. “We were able to view the secondary school under construction as well as dormitories for the seminarians,” she explained. “We like to support the school because we have seen what they are doing.” The Barsottis also went on safaris in Tanzania and Kenya during that visit, even camping in the Serengeti. “We saw pretty much every animal that Africa has,” she said.
This past winter Fr. Thomas invited the Barsottis to visit his family home in the Catholic region of Karala, India and to attend his niece’s traditional Indian wedding. Fr. Thomas officiated. “Everything in the ceremony was surrounded by prayer,” according to Gerry. Afterwards the Barsottis traveled around the region, staying at Fransalian retreat houses ringed by fields of tea, coffee and bananas.
How did Gerry acquire her international outlook? She thinks she always had it but was helped by marrying into a family of Italian immigrants. Over the years, Gerry’s husband, Domenic, a chemist, traveled regularly to Riva del Garda, Italy, for a professional conference and sometimes Gerry and their two sons went along.
Even stateside Gerry’s life has been adventurous. While living in South Philadelphia she served as a software engineer for the Naval Development Center working on navigation and antisubmarine projects, then moved to the Federal Aviation Administration and worked on collision avoidance systems and a microwave planning system. After the Barsottis moved to Vineland, Gerry joined a civil engineering company. While a resident in Vineland she served as president of the YMCA during a major building project. She also taught accelerated math in a parochial grade school and provided shelter for expectant mothers. Currently she serves on the advisory board for an area home for expectant mothers that will open later this year.
The Barsottis have lived permanently in Ocean City for about two years. Son Domenic, recently married, lives in Tennessee. Her other son Jess and his family recently moved from Massachusetts to Linwood, bringing Gerry’s eleven-year-old granddaughter closer to her. “I am really enjoying that,” she said.
These days, Gerry’s service to St. Damien Parish is generous. She is a lector and a Eucharistic minister. She assists with Adoration. She helped to teach ESL and worked on the capital campaign. Recently she trained to be a member of the cancer care ministry. The contemplative side of her Catholic faith has been growing in prominence. As a current member of the Holy Love prayer group, Gerry engages in intercessory prayer. “My name, Geraldine, means prayer warrior,” she continued, “and I am a powerful prayer warrior. I am listening to God and God is listening to me.”
There was a time in Gerry’s life when she had walked away from the church. “I left, I explored, and I returned,” she said. Looking back, she believes she needed to go through those experiences in order to intensify her faith and accept Catholicism as her own. Calling herself a “former nail biter,” she added, “Worry is not part of my life anymore. Where God takes me, I go.”