The Humble Life of Vincent Pescatore

Farm of the Child

by Colleen Smith (Feb. 18, 1996)

Leaving his job as a highly paid corporate auditor, he set out to build houses for the poor. On a recent mission trip, at age 35, he was killed. When Vincent Pescatore’s plane crashed Jan. 3 in Honduras, he left behind not only his wife, Zulena, five children ages 7 to seven months, relatives, friends, and associates. Those mourning the 35 year-old Pescatore also include scores of Latin American men, women, and children who found a home, education, and health care at Pescatore’s Farm of the Child.

“Preaching the Kingdom of God,” Pescatore liked to call his missionary work. He and his brother-in-law, Wayne Schultheis, along with Scott Camp, died on their journey to Trujillo, Honduras, where the men were to construct a chapel for Pescatore’s second Farm of the Child.

A Villanova University graduate who also studied engineering at the US Naval Academy, Pescatore abandoned a lucrative Price Waterhouse auditing career in Washington. The Mount Laurel, NJ, native forsook a lifestyle that included skippering ocean-racing sailboats. He left his comfortable home and took up residence amidst squalid conditions in Latin America, where he began a life of carrying out the corporal works of mercy on behalf of the impoverished. Upon leaving his career, Pescatore first affiliated himself with Covenant House, the Manhattan counseling center for troubled youths. Covenant House sent Pescatore to Guatemala to work in an orphanage. There, Pescatore met the woman he would marry and the mission he would father.

He also met Rafael Sagastume, a Guatemalan businessman. With the support of Sagastume and others, nine years ago Pescatore founded Farm of the Child in El Petén, Guatemala’s northern rainforest region. In establishing the mission, Pescatore met with constant struggle; a lack of modern conveniences, including running water, horrendously unhygienic conditions; a diet limited to beans and tortillas; and transportation problems associated with a site located a six-hour drive from the nearest town-not to mention superstitions and government corruption. “I don’t think I could have survived any of this without a corresponding growth in faith,” Pescatore said in a 1988 interview.

Pescatore demonstrated the courage of his convictions, relying on faith, 18 months ago when he enlisted the assistance of the Daughters of St. Joseph. He entrusted the Guatemalan religious order with operating Farm of the Child’s orphanage with 30 orphans, the Catholic school with more than 200 students and the health-service center that treats more than 300 patients monthly.

Terry Werner met Pescatore about seven years ago. A pilot, Werner was associated with Wings of Hope, an organization that helps supply airplanes to missionary groups. The two met when Pescatore was looking for an airplane to transport doctors to his remote northern Guatemalan site. “We hit it off right away,” Werner said of Pescatore.

Pescatore’s spirit and spirituality impressed Werner immediately. “His zeal, his energy, especially in trying to bring about God’s kingdom on earth,” said Werner. “It wasn’t just a warm and fuzzy phrase he used; he was out there trying to do it.”
And once he made progress in Guatemala, Pescatore went elsewhere to continue his work. Two years ago, he secured a second site on 22 acres along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, near Trujillo. Assisted by benefactors and volunteers, over the last 18 months, Pescatore spearheaded the construction of another school, an orphanage and volunteer housing. Construction remains incomplete, but commitment to the project is whole.

Three recent graduates from the University of Notre Dame are among the volunteers. While a Spanish student at the University of Notre Dame, Felicia Johnson picked up a pamphlet describing Pescatore’s mission. After graduation, she joined the effort in Trujillo, where she has served for four months. Johnson will remember Pescatore “as someone committed to his faith and his work. He was very hard working, and always working for the truth.” And that truth was based on the Gospel, according to Patricia Donahoe. The director of the Homeland Foundation-a provider of private support for mostly Catholic educational and cultural projects -Donahoe first met Pescatore in 1991 at a Notre Dame symposium on Catholicism.

“I knew about Farm of the Child a year or two before we met and I was impressed with the project itself, especially its authenticity and simplicity— and that doesn’t mean unsophisticated,” Donahoe said.

“When I did meet [Vincent], what struck me was that he was living something right out of the Gospel. And that wasn’t just my impression; others were amazed at the way he viewed and confronted and handled things. Nothing was complex for him. It was like a total emptying of self-not that he didn’t have a personality.” Back issues of Pescatore’s newsletter document that personality: his sensual appreciation of his environment, his mature conscience, his sense of humor, and his outspoken politics. For example, these excerpts from the February 1990 newsletter: “Guatemala specializes in Swiss cheese education (lots of holes) so we’ve even established our own requirements to advance a grade…Our school is real important. The government school system in Guatemala is very politically corrupt. In Guatemala, the corruption starts at the top and runs all the way down.”

“South of Mexico. West of the Caribbean. North of nowhere. After darkness falls over the rain forests of the Yucatan, a warm breeze gently rustles tall palm trees‚ silhouetted against the starlight. Fireflies race through the shadows of our three huge thatch bungalows, where all our orphaned children are sleeping. The air tingles from the scent of lime trees growing all around the bungalows.” Pescatore recalled a similar evening on which a Salvadoran man came to him appealing for help. Pescatore went to the man’s Mayan wife, eight months pregnant, with the baby’s foot and umbilical cord dangling from her womb. Pescatore wrote, “Between her thighs was a perfectly still, mysterious little dark foot, blue and brown, and about eight inches of umbilical cord lying looped alongside. I worriedly searched for the baby’s pulse, but found none.”

“I struggled to finesse him into the world. I purged his lungs and tried CPR, all the while wondering if I had arrived an hour, or only five minutes too late, but definitely too late.”

After cleaning up the woman’s blood, Pescatore treated her daughter for malaria. Pescatore closed his newsletter as follows: “I slowly drove the boat back around the river marsh alone. This time, each star seems personal, each glittering throne in heaven knew me, they all are looking at me, judging me. ‘Had I done OK?'”

The countless orphans and uneducated children, campesinos and ill people touched by Pescatore’s compassion, courage and charity know that he did much more than OK.

His family, friends, and associates carry on in memory of the man who “preached the Kingdom,” faithful that he is now there, jubilantly ensconced. Still, reconciling the tragic death of a young man of such tremendous goodwill is not easy. And filling his hoes might be even more difficult. Johnson and her classmates are committed to staying. “We have a lot of support,” she said. “There are more volunteers joining us.”

“Vince’s death is like that of a modern-day-saint,” said Werner. “We had the role model before us; we will walk in his footsteps. It’s like Paul said: Imitate me. I look at Vince like that. He did more in the last 8 years than most of us could do in a lifetime. He fought the good fight, and it’s time to carry on. But we’re in desperate need of a director of the Honduras Farm of the Child.”

Pescatore’s widow, a native Guatemalan, remains in Honduras, at the mission site, where she will stay to carry on her late husband’s vision. One of the last things Vince told her was that he felt the need to “preach the Kingdom” even more.
The Farm of the Child, Zulena Pescatore said, “is God’s work, and it must continue.” From her home at the Farm of the Child under construction near Trujillo, Zulena intends to do just that: “For me to continue the project will be the most satisfying thing for myself, for Vincent and for God.”

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