The farewell Mass and dinner on Sunday, June 23, at St. Peter, Cameron, marked the conclusion of a five-year Catholic Extension exchange program that brought three Mexican sisters to the Diocese of Superior to serve the local Spanish-speaking population. See inside for more photos. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

The departure of the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Therese after five years of ministering to Hispanic and Latino communities in Barron and Rusk County marks a shift, not an ending. As part of Catholic Extension’s Latin American Sisters Exchange Program, the Diocese of Superior has plans in place to build on the Hispanic ministry work begun.

The diocese was notified in March 2019 that it had been awarded one of the multimillion-dollar grants, offered by Catholic Extension in partnership with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Alongside the ministry offered to Spanish-speakers in the region, the grant included education and training for the sisters that would benefit their religious orders upon completion of the program.

A Mass of farewell and celebration was held for the Mexican nuns at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Cameron on Sunday, June 23, at 4 p.m. Fr. Chandra Ery, sacramental minister for the Barron cluster, presided with Fr. Ed Anderson and Fr. Balaraju Policetty, who was ministering to the cluster when the sisters arrived.

The three nuns, Sr. Martina Cabrera, Sr. Gabriela Martinez and Sr. Gabriela Luna, have been living in the rectory building at Chetek’s St. Boniface Catholic Church, working with Spanish-speakers in the Ladysmith, Rice Lake, Barron and Cumberland areas.

Steve Tarnowski, the diocesan development director who helped obtain the grant, said the Mexican sisters’ goal would be, “to evangelize the Hispanic populations in the four clusters, help build leadership qualities among them and draw this population into active participation with the parishes.”

The sisters had come, in their own words, “to be a presence of God’s love in these communities,” and to be “a bridge between the Hispanic and Anglo-American communities.” They added, “When we arrived, we did not imagine the challenges and blessings that awaited us here as part of a multicultural church that welcomes everyone and in which we are all part of the face of God.”

The farewell Mass was entirely prayed in Spanish, including the homily, with the music all in English. The sisters sang in the choir. Hymns chosen also had Spanish lyrics which were provided in the Mass booklet with English and Spanish side-by-side.

The first reading was proclaimed by Ana Cristina Marquez, who was initially hired to work with the sisters in a supporting role. She has since been moved into a leadership role in diocesan Hispanic ministry and will continue efforts moving forward.

During the homily, Fr. Ery addressed the central theme of storms and turmoil in the liturgical readings. He preached that we can relate to the experiences of Job and the apostles being thrown around on rough seas – overwhelmed by circumstances.

“In today’s liturgy, we are witnesses, with Job and the Apostles, of the omnipotent power of God,” he said. Reproached for sleeping during the storm and not doing something before they sink, Jesus rises and with only his word calms the waves and winds. He then rebukes them for their lack of faith.

“Who is this that even the wind and sea obey him,” Fr. Ery repeated the questioning disciples. He answered, “Jesus no nos salva de las tormentas, sino en las tormentas…

“Jesus doesn’t save us from storms; he saves us in the storm.” Difficulties are simply a fact of life and we have to accept the reality that at times in life our boat will be buffeted by strong winds and frightening waves and we literally can feel ourselves sinking, possessed by fear.

“Para esos momentos es la memoria y la fe. (Memory and faith are for these moments.),” the priest encouraged. “We have to remember that Jesus has been and continues to be with us. We have to believe that he can calm the storm again, bring calm anew.

“This is the good news … Our faith is weak like the disciples and we live in this paradox: we value the light when we feel ourselves in darkness, warmth when we feel the cold,” he continued.

God never stops pouring out his grace on us, in our lives. It doesn’t stop the storms in our lives, or in the church, but Christ is the captain at the helm, he added. “It is difficult to get to the other side,” Fr. Ery concluded. “At whatever age, change surprises us, if not startles us.

“It is our responsibility to be attentive, following the movements and word of the Lord… In part, it depends on our fulfillment of God’s will that we arrive in safe harbor. What will you do to make sure that happens?”

Before the final blessing, a brief thank you was offered, and applause was given to recognize the sisters. The three Mexican nuns sang the recessional in Spanish, “Alma Misionera.” The song, speaks about giving one’s heart and life to the Lord.

Marquez made a few announcements regarding the continuation of Hispanic Ministry in the diocese and then invited those present to the reception, where Bishop James P. Powers was waiting to give the meal blessing. He said that with his “non-existent Spanish,” he’d offer his gratitude and prayers for them in English.

In a June 15 post on the Sisters’ Facebook page,, they shared the following: “If we could sum up everything we’ve received from God these five years, we’re sure it’s thank you!

“Thank God for such a welcome; for giving us the opportunity to live in Wisconsin and carry with us new names, new faces, new friends … Thanks to the people of the Hispanic and Anglo-American community, because without a doubt, they were, for each of us, the manifestation of God’s love and tenderness.”

To the Diocese of Superior and parishes to whom they ministered they shared thanks for “the opportunity to work for the kingdom in these places.

“We have a heart full of gratitude because we are confident of God’s faithfulness to the mission,” they concluded, trusting that he would continue to be present in the lives of those they served.

The sisters discussed with the Catholic Herald the difficulties the initially encountered: a minimal number of priests in the Diocese of Superior who could speak Spanish; the working conditions of the people on farms that presents an obstacle to their participation in the life of faith; the distances and local weather that made it difficult to visit people in their homes or places of work; and the very process of adaptation and inculturation of migrants who live in tension between their own culture – even after living here for two decades – and learning American culture and new ways of relating in and to local rural communities.

Patty Gerber, parish director for the Barron cluster shared her own thanks. “Our cluster parish family happily opened the doors of the St. Boniface Rectory to the sisters in 2019. As they resided within our cluster, they frequented all of the parishes and Masses and quickly became a beautiful part of our parish family.

“While we initially looked forward to their outreach to the Hispanic community, their impact extended to all demographics,” Gerber noted. “Their infectious smiles and laughter became a heartfelt gift to all of us, illuminating every Mass and event they attended and bringing joy into the lives of those around them. Their presence will be missed by our entire community.

Tarnowski reflected on “the profound impact this initiative has had on our diocese and the communities we serve.” He noted the invaluable education and training opportunities the sisters received and how “this program has fostered mutual enrichment between the participating congregations and our local faith communities. … By beginning an understanding and addressing the reality and needs of the Hispanic families in our region, the sisters have played a crucial role in identifying local leaders committed to the common good.”

The sisters said the challenges of reaching Hispanics in the region led them to be creative and resourceful: “In the visits to families and workplaces, we began by carrying out a process of integral formation in which people began to recognize themselves as an important part of a community.”

Peggy Schoenfuss, chancellor for the diocese who formerly directed the Hispanic ministry program, commented, “It’s hard to believe it has been five years since the sisters arrived and began to work with us. It has been a blessing to our diocese to have the sisters here to shepherd us in rejuvenating our ministry to the Hispanic families. We are looking forward to carrying on their work and growing our support and journey with those from Spanish-speaking countries.”

Now heading up that ministry, Marquez shared, “We are currently in the process of seeing how we can expand Hispanic ministry offerings and offer sacraments to a larger Hispanic population throughout the diocese.”

As a first expansion effort, Marquez is working with Fr. Jerry Hagen in Woodruff and Fr. Dan Tracy in Hudson.

“We have visited people in their workplaces and we will continue to communicate with them,” she said, with the goal of helping with their immediate needs and including them in Hispanic ministry celebrations, catechesis and sacraments. As well, she hopes to reconnect these Spanish-speakers to “reconnect with their traditions, culture and language within our church.”

Before the sisters arrived, the only Spanish Mass in the diocese was a weekly Mass offered by Fr. Ed Anderson in Rice Lake since 2018. The longest-running ministry had been started by Sr. Cecilia Fandel, OSM with a few annual gatherings in the Ladysmith area. St. Anthony’s in Cumberland had had some requests by Spanish-speakers to gather socially at the church.

As the sisters return to Mexico and their next assignments, Marquez assured, “Our goal is to, little by little, visit parishes in our diocese where the Hispanic community is present and over time it will not be necessary to say ‘the community of this or that,’ but rather that we can see ourselves as a single church. At the end after all, the word ‘Catholic’ means universal and includes us all, where each of us is an important piece and where our participation in each activity generates a positive impact in our society.”