James Tupper got his first close look at medical deprivation and poverty in 1960 while traveling to the South Pole abroad a U.S. Navy ice-breaker bound for Antarctic. The 26-year old Medical College of Wisconsin graduate couldn’t believe his eyes when the shipped docked along the coast of South America. He went ashore and saw families living in shacks built on islands of trash in open sewers, children with swollen bellies sat listlessly in front of mud-and-stick hovels and adults coughed up blood into dirty rags. These images haunted James for many years.
When his military service was completed, he entered the Franciscan Order. After his ordination, Father Luke was assigned to Brazil and began the overwhelming task of bringing medical care to the people of that region.
In 1970, as Father Tupper continued his mission abroad, his brother, Jerry, an attorney in Phoenix, Ariz., incorporated the nonprofit organization, Esperança, to support Luke’s tireless efforts.
During this time, Luke encountered about 250,000 people in the Central Amazon Region who needed medical care, but it took them up to three days to travel by boat to reach the Esperança clinic. In 1972, Esperança solved that problem with the purchased of the San Diego passenger ferry, the Point Loma, for $15,000. Over the course of 18 months, with donated materials and volunteer labor, the Point Loma was converted to the hospital ship Esperança.
Ten years after arriving in Brazil, Esperança’s medical and surgical facilities were moved on shore. Today, the Fundaçao Esperança occupies a full city block with up-to-date medical facilities. They are a self-sustaining operation after 30 years of financial support from Esperança, Inc.
Father Luke worked tirelessly and selflessly for six years (1969-1975) in the Amazon jungle. He returned to the U.S. to pursue a residency in ophthalmology, but sadly, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1978. But, his legacy of service and sacrifice lives on today through Esperança’s work in 14 countries.