Fr. Inna Reddy Pothireddy, standing with two local ladies, dons an Aztec headdress at the Rusk County Catholic Cluster’s Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration Dec. 11 in Bruce. Sacramental minister for the cluster, Fr. Inna went to Mexico in December on pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine, and he also learned enough Spanish to celebrate the Mass. (Submitted photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

When Jackie Aune, religious education coordinator at St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Hammond, learned Spanish-speaking Catholics in town held their Christmas Mass in an unheated building, she reached out.

“Don’t ever do that again,” she told one local man. “You can use this church. This is your church.”

Aune has worked for the parish since 2009. St. Mary’s has always had a few Latino families, she said, but this is the first year they have established a specifically Hispanic ministry.

The effort grew out of relationships that have developed over time. As Aune got to know the families better, she learned more about their needs and those of other local, non-member Catholic immigrants.

In November, December and January, St. Mary’s offered Spanish/English Masses one Saturday evening each month. They’ve added a Spanish faith formation option, and they hope to invite bilingual priests to celebrate four Spanish Masses a year, including Masses for Easter and Christmas.

Aune also sees the need for Spanish-language adult faith formation and sacramental preparation, among other services, and she has been publicizing the translated Masses at local farms.
Word must be getting out, Aune said, because this summer, Hispanic families just started coming to the church.

“Oftentimes, they did not speak any English,” she added. By using translators and calling the Mexican restaurant in the next town for help, St. Mary’s staff was able to communicate.

In one instance, it was a family with a small child. Aune could tell they wanted something; with the help of a translator, they figured it out.

“What they needed was a Mass to have a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus blessed,” she added.

The parish wants to be inclusive, so when Hispanic children receive sacraments, the readings and Gospel are translated, and the choir sings one song in Spanish.

“We want to include them as much as we can, to make them feel welcome, because this is their parish, too,” she said.

Diocese aids parishes

Across the diocese, other parishes – one example is St. Francis Xavier, Merrill – are launching their own outreach to Spanish-speaking Catholics.

A diocesan-level ministry has not yet been initiated, however, because Hispanics only account for 2 percent of the population.

“From a diocesan level, we are not planning any specific programming right now, as our Hispanic/Latino population is rather small compared to the total population,” explained Peggy Schoenfuss, diocesan director of Catholic formation.

“We are acting as a resource for parishes (that) are implementing opportunities for their Hispanic/Latino populations and encourage parishes to continually keep us abreast of the needs in this area, so we can gauge future need for diocesan programming,” she added.

Steve Tarnowski, diocesan development director, said in past years, Catholic Extension has offered grants for an exchange program that brings Latin American sisters into a diocese to minister to Hispanic Catholics.
With the bishop’s blessing, Tarnowski plans to apply for the grant, if it is offered in 2017.

Rusk County Catholic Community

Led by Servite Sr. Cecilia Fandel, the first official Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Superior started with outreach to farm workers’ families in Rusk and Barron counties.

Creating a self-sustaining community of Spanish-speaking Catholics was the objective more than three years ago when the outreach committee at Our Lady of Sorrows, Ladysmith, first met.

“I think it’s really coming along,” Sr. Cecilia said. “It’s evolving organically, you might say.”

In December, the six-parish cluster held an Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration in Bruce, all organized by local Hispanic women. The ladies hosted a bake sale of Mexican desserts and a tamales sale to raise money for the costumes, which they had made in Mexico.

They wore the cultural costumes of Aztec natives, with pheasant feather headdresses, Sr. Cecilia said. The women performed traditional dances for the Blessed Virgin, and everyone shared a Mexican dinner, which was catered by a family member.

The celebration was a success, and the parish’s Council of Catholic Women has now asked the Mexican women to perform the dance for Our Lady of Guadalupe at their winter gathering. Sr. Cecilia believes the invitation is a significant step forward.

“We’re really excited about it, and I think the ladies are excited about it,” she added. It’s a good way to showcase the culture and “break down some of the mental barriers people might have.”

English as a Second Language classes are their next project. Although the Servite sister hasn’t been trained to teach ESL, the center where she worked in Chicago offered the classes, so she has an idea of how to proceed. She’s ready to give it a shot.

“The children are learning English because they are in school, but the parents are lagging behind,” Sr. Cecilia said. She will be partnering with the Indianhead Community Action Agency, a regional anti-poverty agency also based in Ladysmith; they hope to have a few students signed up by next month.

They are also brainstorming how to begin English instruction for the men.

“If the farmers could allow us time on their farms and the space, maybe Nancy (from ICAA) could recruit enough teachers to go out on a farm and have class before their work time begins,” she added.

Sr. Cecilia is also in conversation with Tony Gonzalez, former director of the Merrill-based, diocesan-funded Comunidad Hispana, who is looking to host a town hall discussion on immigration legislation, migrant workers’ rights and related topics.

“It’s not a partisan thing,” Sr. Cecilia said. “This is an issue, and it doesn’t matter which side of the political fence you are leaning on.”

Three years ago, Sr. Cecilia referred to Hispanics as  a “hidden population.” Now, she sees them emerging.
“I think more people are becoming aware that we have Spanish-speaking people in our cluster, and I really haven’t heard any adverse reaction to it, but rather a welcoming attitude,” she said. “If they feel welcome, they’re going to be a great asset to our cluster.”