Fr. German Mehler, SVD
Restoring Beauty, Restoring Hope
by Bro. Dennis Newton, SVD
Father German Mehler, SVD, devotes much time and energy to arranging plastic surgeries. No, he is not ministering in Hollywood; in fact, he is working in a very poor area of Mindoro, Philippines.
He was born and raised in Germany. After his ordination, he was assigned to the
Philippines. Fr. Mehler has served as a pastor in a number of remote areas of the Philippines and has undertaken a special medical ministry in addition to his regular duties as pastor. His current assignment is pastor of Conception Parish on the tiny island of Sibale in Romblon. The parish encompasses the entire island, which has a population of approximately 4,500. Most of the people live in poverty.
For over forty years, Fr. Mehler has arranged restorative surgery for children with cleft lips and cleft palates. Babies born with a cleft lip have an opening in the upper lip between the mouth and nose. A cleft palate is created when the roof of the mouth has a hole in it. The defect is routinely corrected by surgery when an infant is around three months old. In developing countries, especially in poor areas, cleft repair is not usually available because of the cost. The psychological and social impact on children with clefts can be dramatic.
Fr. Mehler traces his ministry to an American Divine Word missionary, Fr. Raymond Kolk, SVD. While assigned to the University of San Carlos in the Philippines, Fr. Kolk began a medical program for children with birth defects and other medical conditions.
When Fr. Mehler began his program, the children were transported to a regional hospital in Calapan, but the hospital there had problems, including frequent electrical brown-outs which interrupted surgeries. Fr. Mehler then began sending the children to the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. The head of surgery, Dr. Angel Agbulos, was already helping children with cleft lips from other poor areas of the Philippines.
Only indigent children are eligible for the program. Ideally, the children are selected when they are about one year old, although cleft lips can be repaired into adulthood.
Ordinarily, Fr. Mehler arranges transportation to Manila on a Monday. The children are checked in at the hospital and they receive an examination by a hospital pediatrician. The surgeries begin on Tuesday morning, and the team can usually accomplish ten surgeries. Children remain at the hospital on Wednesday for recovery and return home on Thursday.
Fr. Mehler recounts the story of meeting a fifteen-year-old boy with a cleft lip in Santa Cruz. He was working at an ice house, pulling ice blocks. When Fr. Mehler explained to him that his cleft lip could be repaired, he could scarcely believe it. In fact, he was so sure that nothing could be done that he did not show up for his appointment. Fr. Mehler went to boy’s home and personally brought him to the hospital. The boy, a talented artist, created a beautiful charcoal portrait of Fr. Mehler to show his appreciation.
Over 4,000 children have been helped through Fr. Mehler’s efforts. When Dr. Agbulos, the first doctor, retired, other doctors, including Dr. Melvin Sibulo and Dr. Fe Yabot, stepped forward. Because of the generosity of the hospital, doctors and staff, the total cost for the surgery, medicines, and hospital stay is held below $250.
The children and their families are joyful and relieved at the transformation resulting from surgery. Without this life-changing surgery, the children could become disadvantaged outcasts. Because of it, they can grow up and be productive members of society.
About the Author: Bro. Dennis Newton, SVD, originally from Waterloo, Iowa, entered the high school seminary run by the Divine Word Missionaries in East Troy, Wisconsin, in 1966. After high school, and graduation from Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa in 1974, Bro. Dennis worked two years in Japan. He entered the novitiate and professed first vows in 1977. He worked at the Holy Rosary Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana, for six years before professing perpetual vows as a Divine Word Missionary. Bro. Dennis served for five years as Treasurer for St. Augustine Seminary in Mississippi and eleven years at Divine Word College in Iowa as Business Manager and National Vocation Director. He is currently Director of the Mission Office at the SVD Province Headquarters in Techny, Illinois.