Personality: September 2015
● By Aimee Cormier
M.P.’s Mission of Mercy
By Anne B. Minvielle
Known in the Acadiana region as a contractor and astute businessman, Millard Philip “M.P.” Dumesnil, 87, has always enjoyed two things – his work and his relaxation, which often takes the form of travel. As a devout Catholic, M.P. especially values pilgrimages to religious destinations. One year, his ventures took him to Assisi, Italy. At the time of his visit to this quiet, humble town, M.P. probably did not know how much his life would be affected by the pure words of holiness attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. One line of the saint’s prayer reads, “For it is in giving that we receive.” M.P., as he is known in the business world as well as to his friends, had always known that God had gifted him, but St. Francis was lying in wait to see when M.P. would experience the renewal that many experience when they learn that there is much more in life than what we secure and accumulate.
His early life was spent around the Glencoe community. His great -great -great grandfather on the Dumesnil branch of the family acquired land designated a Spanish land grant. Built around 1835, his family home is still there and is still a part of the Dumesnil family. His mother died at an early age of a reaction to penicillin given to her for flu. M.P. went to live with his grandmother in Broussard.
Because M.P.’s grandmother spoke only French, he started school at a disadvantage. These were the days when children were punished for speaking French, but it was all M.P. knew. As time passed, M.P. adapted and ended up graduating from Lafayette High School. Anyone familiar with M.P.’s work as a contractor might not initially believe that his high school graduation marked the end of his formal education. He might not have had degrees, but he knew the value of perseverance and willingness to learn.
In July of 1947, M.P. built his first house. He credits both of his grandfathers with preparing him for the role of contractor. As for his work ethic, he had been working as a paper deliverer since his mother died, when he was 11 years old, and he had learned to be responsible at an early age.
“After that first house I built, I continued. By 1959, I had built 91 houses,” M.P. says. His 91 houses span many areas of Lafayette. He bought the lots, built the houses and assigned real estate developers sell them. As to why he stopped this profitable enterprise, M.P. laughingly says, “I had 92 women on my case through the years, and I was ready to get out.” His wife had yet more plans for him. In 1960, he built the home he still lives, which is complete with swimming pools and tennis courts.
At that time he changed his focus to municipal business, and became occupied with laying water and sewage lines, establishing sewer treatment plants; and building pump stations over a four state area. He recalls, “Someone asked me to do some water lines and I decided I liked the work. And I just continued, from one job to the next.” During that time, he did elevated water tank work. According to M.P., “I built the foundation under the tank and then let the tank workers go on with the tank. I did this from 1963 and continue today. It has been a super business for us.” M.P. works with his three sons. He also has a daughter who is a real estate agent and sells much of what he builds.
Ironically, M.P. is now back in the building business, and is presently developing a subdivision in Sunset and building the houses in it. He is well respected for his work, regardless of its nature.
Perhaps one of his most interesting jobs was completed in 2000 when he laid 39 miles of water lines under the water of Barataria Bay, from Lafitte to Grande Isle. He still recalls the ceremony in Grande Isle when the first faucet was turned on. And for the first time, residents and visitors could turn on a faucet and have fresh water. He was indeed the hero for the day, and as with other jobs, he gained the respect of professionals and the good will of the people he was able to serve.
M.P. was the focus of engineering journal articles and was the man to go to with a construction problem. However, he was never one to limit himself to jobs with financial gain. He recalls the days when he was a friend of Louis Michot of Lafayette, and the two met a priest who had come to the city to attend classes at UL Lafayette. The priest was from Guadalajara, Mexico and had adopted an Indian mission in Copper Canyon, Mexico.
According to M.P., “I got involved with Louis Michot in helping this priest. We built roads, a water system, churches and a hospital. We even furnished the electrical system. Father actually built an airstrip for us. Louis was a pilot and we would leave Lafayette and fly down there to Creel, Mexico and do what we could.” M. P. recalls when he first went to Creel, the Indians had nothing. They even lacked pots and pans. There were no roads, until the twosome began to send equipment to the priest to use to build roads.
“Out of five babies born, they were able to save one or two. Once we had a clinic and a nursery, we watched Father nurse those babies back to life,” M.P. says. As more babies were saved, the philanthropists recognized the need for schools, and that became the next project. Many of the children that the priest saved, grew up to do missionary work with their priest.
Once M.P. saw the light that would shine in the eyes of those who were helped, he knew that missions would always be a part of his life. As a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church parish in Broussard, M.P. often donated his time, talent and treasure to various causes. When Father Richard was pastor of the parish, he started a medical mission team to go to Honduras. M.P. remembers when Father Richard asked for his help with the Mission of Hope.
M.P. joined other parishioners in raising enough money to buy a four- wheel drive truck for use in the missions. Thus, Father Richard’s mission became the mission of the church parish as well as the parish elementary school, St. Cecilia School. As the children at St. Cecilia’s learned about the Mission of Hope, they became involved by raising funds that Father Richard could use to reach his goals in Honduras. During Lenten seasons of prayer, almsgiving and fasting, the students presented Father Richard with $20,000 for the truck fund. The parish added the balance and “mission accomplished.”
Parishioners and friends in the medical profession plus a few, who could speak Spanish, joined Father Richard in trips to the mission. Groups of about 18 would accomplish whatever they could to help the nearby villagers. Doctors, dentists, nurses and other professionals were able to operate a clinic in the remote village of La Fortuna. The group would treat as many as 60 villagers a day.
M.P. became a unique part of the mission when he was summoned to evaluate a wooden plank bridge that served as the pathway over water from one village to another. “On my first trip down there, I wanted to see what was needed and what materials were available there. I found the lumber I needed. And the things needed for the cable were assembled here. Everything was boxed in wooden crates and I brought them to New Orleans to be shipped to Honduras,” M.P. says.
When he first went to evaluate, he found that the people had no idea how to approach the project. Sacred Heart Parish and M.P. provided the funds for the bridge, but this successful contractor realized he didn’t have a trained crew. The bridge that was there was not functional.
M.P. learned that the men in the villages spoke no English and had never even used a drill, but they were willing to learn. He drew his plans, gathered his equipment and then prayed. By demonstration, M.P. taught his crew how to accomplish each step in the process of building the bridge. Over a seven-month period, the Lafayette contractor was successful, but what was important to him was the pride the villagers had in the work they had done.
Father Richard celebrated Mass when it was time to open the bridge for travel. The villagers provided the music. They decided to honor Father Richard by naming the bridge in his honor. Today, as many as 350 people cross the bridge, and the gratitude they feel for M. P. cannot be measured.
That job is finished, but M.P., at 87, doesn’t have time to rest. There is another area that needs a bridge and he is ready.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta once wrote, “Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people.” M.P. Dumesnil is gifted in many areas, but the one most valuable is gifting people such as those in Honduras with the light that will transform their hearts.
To contribute to M.P.’s mission projects or for more information, call Father Louis Richard (337) 278-0365 or M.P. Dumensil (337) 962-8242.