Catholic Herald Staff
In March 2019, the Diocese of Superior was notified it had been accepted as a participant in the U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program, funded through Catholic Extension’s partnership with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
As a result, three religious sisters from Mexico will come to minister among the Latino immigrant population for a period of five years.
Need for Hispanic outreach
The grant, with an estimated value of about $800,000, will serve to “enhance congregational vitality for religious sisters in the global south,” as is the Hilton Foundation’s goal. While the sisters are here ministering to Hispanic communities, they will also receive education and training that will benefit them and their orders upon returning to their home countries.
The Eucharistic Missionaries of Saint Therese (Misioneras Eucaristicas de Santa Teresita) have been paired with the Diocese of Superior for the program. The order’s Mother Superior, Sr. Susana Caballero Cruz, visited the diocese at the end of June, accompanied by Sr. Maria Govea.
They were able to tour the St. Boniface Church rectory in Chetek where the religious will be housed as well as meet with leadership and representatives from the parish clusters they will serve during their stay.
A total of 17 parishes and two elementary schools in Barron and Rusk counties will be the sisters’ ministry focus. As employees of the diocese, the sisters will work exclusively with the parish clusters based in Barron, Rice Lake, Ladysmith and Cumberland. The four parish clusters will share in the expenses and the ministry with the parish community of St. Boniface, providing the living quarters and home base.
Ana Marquez, a newly hired diocesan employee whose salary is being funded through a special gift/grant, will work directly with the sisters for their logistic and translation needs as well as communications with contacts in the communities where they will be working.
These diocesan efforts are being led by director of Catholic Formation and Superintendent of Schools Peggy Schoenfuss as the overall coordinator, with Development Director Steve Tarnowski assisting with the grant, budget and immigration processes. Safe Environment Coordinator Kathy Drinkwine will also help to handle some of the paperwork and parish communications.
The three Eucharistic Missionaries sisters assigned to this program have as their primary goal, according to Tarnowski, “to evangelize the Hispanic populations in the four clusters, help build leadership qualities among them and draw this population into active participation within the parishes.”
Their initial objectives will be “to listen, learn, and respond to the pastoral needs of Hispanic Catholics in the areas of formation, education, youth and social justice,” he said.
With the largest population of Hispanics estimated to be in the Almena area, working on farms and in area factories, the sisters spent time acclimating in the area served by the Cumberland cluster in a meeting with Dcn. Steve Linton and Fr. Thomas Thompson.
While only a few Spanish-speaking families are registered parishioners, St. Anthony in Cumberland is requested for use by the community; Fr. Thompson celebrates a few baptisms and quinceañeras each year. Some do participate in the parish religious formation cluster, although Dcn. Linton mentioned some may be attending faith formation classes at a Lutheran church in Almena.
Dcn. Linton, parish life coordinator for the cluster, said, “We know there’s a need because they are asking, but we need help.
“I believe that the sisters could just thrive here; all it needs is somebody to do the outreach … and we’re willing to help, in any way possible,” the deacon added.
With pauses for translation, provided principally by Marquez and Diocese of Superior seminarian Isaiah Schick, the conversation indicated similar assessments of the needs in the other three areas the sisters will serve.
There was an acknowledgement of a unique opportunity for openness to serving Hispanic communities by English-speaking Catholics, given the recent years’ exposure to priests from India and the long-standing history of Catholic evangelization among Native Americans.
Even with the English-Spanish language barrier, the sisters recognized the desire of priests in the Diocese of Superior to “want to serve (the Hispanics), because a lot of priests don’t.”
“I have no doubt that the diocese is very blessed,” Sr. Susana, said referring to her encounters with the four clusters.
One issue brought up regarded laws against using church or school registration information in immigration cases. The sisters said correcting any misinformation would be helpful in dispelling unnecessary fear that might be keeping Spanish-speaking Catholics from formal involvement in parishes.
Communication in Spanish was another topic of discussion – making local news and event details available online or in the Catholic Herald. Marquez will play a role in bridging this gap and helping connect the sisters with local contacts and finding which avenues will be effective for disseminating information.
The partnership between the diocese and the Eucharistic Missionary sisters will be mutually beneficial. While many English-speaking Catholics in the region might not be as aware of the Hispanic population, the priests and parish leadership assure the sisters they will be kept busy.
For the sisters, undergoing challenges for their order with lack of vocations and governmental pressure counteracting their ministries, their mission in the Superior diocese will give them a new mission field.
“Please feel welcome,” Dcn. Linton said. “It’s kind of frightening (the sisters coming do not speak English), but we’re ready. We know there is part of our population that we need to reach out to. We know that they want us to. It’s just making that connection.”
Sr. Maria affirmed the need to canvas the communities parish leadership know are there, but don’t know fully their needs. She said any needed materials – regarding special feasts, posadas and quinceañeras – could be brought along with the sisters when they come from Mexico.
“These celebrations should not be missing – they are those that motivate our people with a sense of festival – we the Mexicans are party-people (fiesteros). We celebrate baptisms, the presentation, birthdays and all kinds of celebrations,” she explained, smiling and sharing how important a festive spirit is in their culture.
With the immigration process and paperwork underway, the sisters are expected to arrive the last week of August. The sisters want them to arrive prepared to jump right in and help where needed.
Sr. Susana iterated how pleased she is to see the openness of the priests to serve the Hispanic population, “and all of you. You’re all open to this opportunity to grow, to grow together and learn from each other.”
They were edified by the support shown to their order and their Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters.
“The beautiful thing is to see the interest and desire to serve those who are not being served,” the Mother Superior shared.
“God is helping you through us, but we are leaving even happier to see what we can do as an order with your help.”