By Helen Klein
The stunningly beautiful scenery of the Galapagos Islands impressed Paul Franzetti, an amateur artist who rarely is found without a pencil or paint brush in his hand.
The Canarsie native -- who was educated at Canarsie’s recently closed Holy Family School and at the long closed St. John’s Prep on Myrtle Avenue -- was equally taken by the area’s amazing wildlife.
But, what moved him, almost beyond words, was a simple home for people suffering from Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
There, Franzetti found a shelter for people suffering from a misunderstood illness, who needed help in day-to-day living. The refuge, Damien House, was founded and is still run by Sister Ann Credidio, a woman who, Franzetti is convinced, will one day be a saint.
Spending a day at the shelter left Franzetti and son Joe wanting to do something to help its residents, who live with a quiet dignity enhanced by Credidio’s efforts, but who -- because of their physical limitations -- cannot experience such locations as the Galapagos.
“It was humbling,” Franzetti noted. Sister Ann, he noted, was, “So overtly giving and focused on others. Her legacy is to give all these people hope.”
Franzetti’s first idea was to do some paintings of the Galapagos to hang at Damien House. That morphed, eventually, into an idea to create a calendar that could be sold in the United States, with all profits going to Damien House.
Together, Paul and Joe produced their first Galapagos Wildlife wall calendar in 2009, gracing each month with a painting by Paul and a sketch by Joe. Their first year, they sold 2,000 calendars featuring glowing renditions of the area’s birds and animals, and sent the profits off to Sister Ann, who is, Franzetti stressed, “Always two weeks away from closing the hospital,” which she founded, almost literally, on a prayer and a shoestring. “That she’s survived for 15 years is amazing,” he contended.
Now, the 2010 calendar, with all new illustrations, is ready to ship, and Franzetti is hoping that it will make even more money for Damien House.
His visit to Damien House, while coincidental, wasn’t precisely haphazard, Franzetti recalled. In 2006, the year that he and Joe visited the Galapagos for the first time, he had intended to go to Israel but changed his plans because of unrest in the Mideast. When he broached the idea of going to the Galapagos, Franzetti’s oldest son, James, who had worked in Ecuador on behalf of the Rostro de Cristo lay missionary program and who was originally supposed to accompany him as well, urged him to visit Damien House. That visit almost didn’t happen, but did eventually come off. What Paul and Joe saw there amazed and moved them, setting in motion their project.
Franzetti, an untrained artist whose day job involves teaching English to both high school and college students, painted his illustrations from photographs. He has painted since he was in his teens, but never done it for money, he said. While the compulsion to create art for its own sake is strong with Franzetti, even stronger is to paint in order to provide a benefit to those in need, he said.
“I’m working now more than I ever have, and I’m much more focused,” Franzetti confided.
While the refuge needs all the money it can get to keep its doors open -- the main reason the Franzettis have committed themselves to their annual calendar project -- this could be a good year for Damien House, Franzetti opined. Father Damien, who worked with victims of Hansen’s Disease on the island of Molokai, will be canonized in October, an event that he hopes will raise awareness of the ailment and the needs of those who have it.
Painting and producing the calendar, Franzetti noted, allows him to give back, something he has yearned to do. “I said to Sister Annie, you need help. I want to help. Your dream and my dream have met,” he stressed.
Calendars cost $15.00 a piece, plus $2.84 for shipping. People interested in purchasing one can get further details by emailing Franzetti at firstname.lastname@example.org.