Fr. Adam Laski accompanies a large group at St. Joseph’s Church in Rice Lake for Mass and a celebration Dec. 14 in honor of the Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The participation of a mariachi band, Minneapolis-based Estrellas de Minnesota, added to the authentic flavor of the gathering. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

After much preparation and orientation, the three Mexican Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Therese nuns have started the first of their five-year mission in the Diocese of Superior.

Based in Chetek, where the sisters are living in the former rectory, the women will focus their work with the Hispanic and Latino communities in Barron and Rusk County. Across the 16 counties within the Diocese of Superior, information from the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau estimated the percentage of Hispanics in the population to be at or above 2 percent.

The highest concentration of Hispanics, according to the census data, exists in Ashland, Barron, St. Croix, Sawyer and Vilas counties. According to data collected yearly by the diocese, parishes with the highest number of Hispanic parishioners were located in Barron, Rusk, Polk and St. Croix counties.

Using this data, assessing where Hispanic ministry was already taking place, where Hispanic leadership existed in parishes and potential housing for the sisters, it was determined that Chetek presented the best home base.
The Eucharistic Missionary sisters will focus their work with a total of 17 parishes comprising clusters based in Rice Lake, Ladysmith, Barron and Cumberland.

Local services for the Spanish-speaking people in those communities have been sparse. The longest running has been an outreach ministry in the Rusk County Catholic Community, headed by Sr. Cecilia Fandel, OSM. Through a handful of gatherings over the year, Hispanics have met at St. Mary’s Church in Bruce for various feasts. Each event includes a cultural celebration, some catechesis and information on immigration issues and social services.

St. Anthony’s in Cumberland has groups that gather socially at the church, and St. Joseph’s in Barron is looking to rejuvenate their outreach to local Hispanic and Latino population.

The most consistent has been a weekly Mass in Spanish offered by Fr. Ed Anderson at St. Joseph’s in Rice Lake since 2018.

The Diocese of Superior is part of the second cohort for this particular Catholic Extension grant, funded by the Conrad Hilton Foundation. Other participating dioceses include Amarillo, Texas; Baker, Oregon; Biloxi, Mississippi; Charleston, South Carolina; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Gaylord, Michigan; Kalamazoo, Michigan; New Ulm, Minnesota; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

According the Steve Tarnowski, diocesan Director of Stewardship and Development, who was key in obtaining the grant, the diocese closest in comparison to Superior from the first cohort was Bismark, North Dakota. For the Bismark diocese, close to 3,000 Hispanic Catholics were engaged in their parishes by the end of the five-year period.

Overall, the goal of the sisters’ service is to train and inspire leaders within the Hispanic and Latino communities to carry on evangelization and faith development within their clusters.

During their first year, the Eucharistic Missionaries will focus on getting to know who makes up these communities and learn their spiritual and cultural needs. After this initial assessment, they will work with cluster leaders to formulate plans to meet parishes’ need and then train local individuals to work with the parishes.

Assisting the nuns is a liaison, Ana Cristina Marquez, who works out of Ladysmith. Her primary role consists of meeting the sisters’ day-to-day communication and operation needs.

Three diocesan staff members have been given responsibilities for the new Hispanic Ministry program.

Peggy Schoenfuss has been named the coordinator, overseeing that grant requirements are being met and serving as liaison between the sisters and leadership and staff of the clusters where they are working, as well as overseeing orientations, communications and budgeting. Schoenfuss is the diocesan Catholic schools superintendent and director of the Office of Catholic Formation.

Tarnowski will serve as an associate coordinator for financial aspects. Kathy Drinkwine, whose diocesan roles include safe environment coordinator and assisting with coordination of administrative services, will help the sisters with diocesan protocols and paperwork, among other needs.

Through a survey, the diocese has identified which of the diocesan priests are fluent in Spanish. Two of the priests in the clusters being served by this program – Fr. Ed Anderson and Fr. Tom Thompson – are fairly fluent and able to celebrate Mass, preach a homily and hear confessions. In addition. Fr. John Anderson and Fr. Adam Laski also have those faculties.

Others, in particular Barron cluster’s Fr. Bala Policetty and Fr. Papi Reddy of the Ladysmith

Who are the sisters?

The three sisters are members of the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Therese, and their charism is pastoral care and ministry to the poor.

Sr. Gabriela Luna Diaz (Sr. Gabby) was born Feb. 11, 1980, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. She is the third of four siblings and began her postulancy with the order Aug. 15, 1998, and the novitiate one year later. Sr. Gabby made her perpetual profession July 26, 2008.

Sr. Gabriela Martinez Tinajero was born Nov. 1, 1971, in Michoacan, Mexico, the third of six children. Sr. Gabriela entered the order in July 1995. Her first profession was July 16, 1999, and she took perpetual vows July 22, 2006.

Sr. Juana Celaya Ruiz (Sr. Juanita) was born Feb. 8, 1972, in Oaxaca, Mexico. She is also the third of six siblings. Sr. Juanita entered the postulancy Oct. 1, 2006, made her first profession two years later, and made her perpetual profession July 16, 2017.