Our Founder

Fr. Nick Amico // May 1, 1926 – March 29, 2009

Father Nicholas Hugo Amico was born on May 1, 1926 in Detroit, Michigan.  At age 14, he left his family to study with the Benedictines at the Monastery of St. Sylvester in Northwest Detroit and in Rome, Italy, where he was ordained on February 17, 1951.  For several years, Father Nick was an assistant at Saint Scholastica Parish – adjacent to the Monastery of St. Sylvester – and taught at Benedictine High School.  From 1964 through 1988, Father Nick was a professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.  You may remember him as Father Hugo or Father Amico, but today he prefers ‘Father Nick’, or just ‘Nick’.

His mantra to his students was “do something with your education to help those less fortunate”.  He followed his own advice, and in the early 1970’s, Father Nick contacted several Bishops around the world.

In the end, it was Monsignor Cándido Rada, then Bishop of Guaranda, Equador, who captured Father Nick’s interest.  Like himself, Bishop Rada was a man of action.  The Bishop had just started an organization called Fondo Equatoriano Populorum Progressio (Equadorian Fund for the Development of Peoples), or FEPP.  FEPP began in 1970 as a lending agency that provided credit to small groups of indigenous peasants for the purpose of starting up small-scale businesses.  Bishop Rada’s inspiration came from an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI.  The encyclical begins:

The progressive development of peoples is an object of deep interest and concern to the Church. This is particularly true in the case of those peoples who are trying to escape the ravages of hunger, poverty, endemic disease and ignorance; of those who are seeking a larger share in the benefits of civilization and a more active improvement of their human qualities; of those who are consciously striving for fuller growth.

All this brought Father Nick to Equador in the summer of 1972, and during his teaching years at DePaul University, Father Nick continued to spend his summers in Equador.  It didn’t take long for the people of Equador to capture Father Nick’s heart.

During his trips to Equador, Father Nick helped to establish micro-coops.  These coops consisted of two or more people who wanted to start up small businesses in order to support themselves.  The coops included many enterprises from raising chickens to making and selling woolen and woven goods, mushrooms, candies, cheeses, sausages – you name it, they made it.

Also, Father Nick observed that the mountain schools were only in session about two days a week.  This was because the teachers were living in the urban areas of Equador and would only visit the mountain villages about two days a week.  He noted that these teachers had difficulty relating to the children of the mountain villages because they simply didn’t have the same experiential background.  Father Nick – together with FEPP – convinced the government that it would be to everyone’s benefit to have the indigenous people (indiginas) themselves teach the children – even though they were not certified.  As a result, several local students took on the challenge to become certified teachers. These home-grown teachers were able to use examples from their own culture, and not surprisingly, the educational experience for the indiginas improved significantly.

During the school year, when Father Nick was back in the United States, he didn’t relax his efforts.  He raised money through the Latin student organization at DePaul University to build one-room school houses.  Father Nick’s idea was to provide a place for the new teachers to eat and sleep, as well as to provide a healthy environment for learning during a five-day education week (not just a two-day week).  It worked!

Father Nick also did what he could to address special medical situations, like a young 10-year old boy with so many years to look forward to, but for his hump back.  Believing that a hump back could be corrected through surgery, Father Nick took pictures of the boy and convinced the Shriners to arrange for the corrective surgery.  The Latin student organization at DePaul University agreed to provide room and board to the boy and his father for the entire time they were in the United States – at least one year.

With so much yet to do, in 1978, Father Nick founded the Overseas and Continental Independent Mercy Association (OCIMA) – a non-profit organization for the progressive development of peoples.  At the outset, OCIMA was devoted only to projects in Equador.  The projects were all based on Father Nick’s personal experiences in Equador.

And then, Father Nick agreed to serve as a missionary in Guatemala during 1984 and 1985.  He served 112 communities in the Dioceses of Izabal.  This was a time of great unrest in Guatemala – a time when priests were accused of working with the guerrillas.  For this reason, Father Tulio Maruzzo – along with one of his catechists – was executed on the way back to his parish in Quirigua, Izabal on July 1, 1981.  Coincidentally, this was the same parish Father Nick was to find residence in 1984 and 1985.

Things started out slowly, but soon, Father Nick became integral to the community.  He hired local people, at decent wages, to upgrade the church and church buildings.  When they finished one task, he would find something else for them to do – just so they would not have to return to the fields as slave labor.

While in Izabal, Father Nick met a group of Dominican sisters who had arrived from Italy, looking to establish a community in Latin America.  The Bishop had asked Father Nick – since Father Nick was himself Italian – to convince the Sisters to start a mission in Guatemala.  The sisters were already considering this, but when Sister Celina explained to Father Nick that she thought it was a “sign” that the Bishop was also Dominican, Father Nick agreed, saying: “You’re right!  It’s a sign!”  Sister Celina is still in Guatemala today and the sisters have several foundations in Guatemala!

And Father Nick and OCIMA are right there with them.  In Guatemala, OCIMA works through the sisters.  Our projects are based on ideas from the sisters and from Father Nick’s visits to Guatemala.  Currently, there is a school, nutritional center, orphanage, day care center and clinic.  See projects for more information.

Father Nick doesn’t have the same physical energy he once had, but his ideas continue to be plentiful.  Starting in 2006, Father Nick made a connection with an organization called Kids Against Hunger.  OCIMA raises the money to buy the food and materials from Kids Against Hunger and works with youth groups to package highly nutritious meals to ship to Guatemala.  Father Nick’s primary purpose in this endeavor is to raise the awareness of children in developed countries so that they might continue their social involvement into adulthood.  See food program for more information.

Father Nick started to invite visitors to Guatemala and Equador starting in the mid to late 1990’s and continues to do so today.  Several of these visitors have donated time and money to OCIMA over the years and have come to understand the needs of the people in Guatemala and Equador.  In 2005 and 2006, Father Nick restructured the organization so that OCIMA could continue beyond his lifetime.  Through OCIMA, Father Nick hopes to have a lasting positive influence.

Although focused in Guatemala and Equador for its first 30 years, Father Nick’s vision and OCIMA’s influence could expand to other places.  What is critical in any project we undertake is the progressive development of peoples who are trying to escape the ravages of hunger, poverty, endemic disease and ignorance, who are seeking a larger share in the benefits of civilization and a more active improvement of their human qualities, who are consciously striving for fuller growth.

Written By:  Maria Cardinale Curreri 1/2010