Green Bay priest directs DR planning effort
Fr. Bill Hoffman plays a key role in how the church meets needs
Editor's note: In June, Compass editor Tony Staley was part
of a group from the Green Bay Diocese that visited the
diocesan mission in Elias Piña, Dominican Republic.
Second in a five-week World Mission Month series
By Tony Staley
ELIAS PIÑA, Dominican Republic - Two years ago, after
serving for 15 years as the pastor of St. Teresa of Jesus
(Santa Teresa de Jesus) Parish, the Green Bay Diocese's
mission in Elias Piña, Fr. Bill Hoffman took on a new
The Klondike native became rector of St. John the Baptist
Cathedral Parish in San Juan - the diocese in which Elias
Piña is located.
Fr. Hoffman also serves as the diocese's pastoral vicar,
which means he's responsible for the diocesan planning
During our Dominican Republic stay, Fr. Hoffman made the
45-minute drive to Elias Piña one day to visit and to
discuss his work as pastor of one of four - soon to be five
- parishes in the diocese's largest city.
With a population of 100,000, San Juan has about as many
people as Green Bay. And there, just as is in the Green Bay
Diocese, lay people are assuming more responsibility in the
church because of the small number of priests.
The San Juan Diocese has 28 priests - all but three are
members of religious orders - 20-25% as many priests as in
the Green Bay Diocese. They serve a population of 265,000,
most of whom are at least nominally Catholic - about 100,000
fewer Catholics than there are in the Green Bay Diocese.
There are a dozen dioceses in the Dominican Republic, which
with an area of 18,816 square miles is about 1.5 times the
size of the Green Bay Diocese. The country's population is 8
million, compared to Wisconsin's 4.9 million people spread
across 56,145 square miles.
In the San Juan Diocese, five or six women religious serve
as parish directors, about the same number of parish
directors as in the Green Bay Diocese. "There are priests
assigned to each one as sacramental ministers, but the
sisters are doing the work," Fr. Hoffman said.
While there are similarities between church life in the San
Juan and Green Bay Dioceses, there are differences too. For
example, Fr. Hoffman said, about 15% of the population don't
have birth certificates - a necessity to get a job.
The certificates are issued free at birth, but many parents
never bother. So the church has been working with the
government and the people to have birth certificates issued
- particularly for children under 13 since it's much easier
with that age group, Fr. Hoffman said.
Sr. Roseanne Mellert had been working on the birth
certificate project in St. Isadore the Farmer (San Isidro
Labrador) Parish in El Llano - also a mission parish of the
Green Bay Diocese. Sr. Mellert, a Sister of Notre Dame
recently returned to the order's mother house in Chardon,
While obtaining birth certificates may sound easy, Sr.
Mellert said, there are always complications in finding
records, getting the paperwork done or finding the right
people to approve them.
There also has been a rumor that the church is working to
provide Haitians with Dominican Republic birth certificates,
Fr. Hoffman said.
That's a sensitive issue because the two countries border
each other - Elias Piña sits right on the border. Relations
between the two countries are sometimes tense, akin to those
between the U.S. and Mexico with Haiti in the Mexico role,
working at low-paying jobs the natives do not want.
But there's no truth to the rumor, Fr. Hoffman said. The
church does help Haitians - but to get Haitian, not
Dominican Republic birth certificates, just as it helps
Dominicans to get Dominican Republic birth certificates.
As pastoral vicar, Fr. Hoffman plays a key role in the
national and local church planning process. Each year, the
Dominican church sponsors a three-day national pastoral
encounter attended by the bishops, vicars and parish
representatives. Participants work to develop a national
10-year plan - they're working to develop the third one now
- and to enact the current 10-year plan.
The plans look at ways to address practical concerns. For
example, duty-free zones are being developed across the
country. They lure many people from rural areas to the
cities in search of jobs, usually in making clothes.
The church, in turn, must figure out how to continue
ministering to the declining populations in the rural areas,
while meeting needs in the growing cities, Fr. Hoffman said.
The national plan covers eight areas of church life,
including social concerns, liturgy, youth, family,
catechesis and vocations.
Each diocese then has its own annual Diocesan Pastoral
Council - attended by 12-15 people from each parish - to
determine how to adapt the plan to meet diocesan pastoral
needs, Fr. Hoffman said.
Then, parishes hold additional meetings, workshops and
activities to make the plan a reality. This month, as part
of an evangelization effort, Catholics will visit each
household in every parish, similar to last year's Operation
Outreach in the Green Bay Diocese. By December, each parish
is to have its own plan developed for the next year.
"It's a lot of work and a lot of meetings - probably more
than even in the states," said Fr. Hoffman, who is in charge
of the process for the San Juan Diocese.
Nationally, he said, the church is concentrating on
religious formation of the laity. In San Juan, Bp. Jose
Grullon believes strongly in lay leadership and integrating
evangelization into the culture.
Fr. Hoffman said the Dominican church also is committed to
increasing the number of native vocations and in meeting
One thing he said he has learned from his time in the
Dominican Republic is that while the people are poor, "you
don't needs lots of material goods to enjoy the meaning of
Dealing with unexpected
By Tony Staley
Being a priest in the missions means finding ways to deal
with the unexpected.
One Sunday, for example, Fr. Bill Hoffman was to officiate
at an 11-couple wedding ceremony in a rural settlement or
campos. But not everyone was ready for the ceremony to
start, so he was told to stall while the final preparations
He asked the couples' parents - each of whom had been
married 25-30 years - to talk about how they had met each
other and then got married.
One man, Fr. Hoffman said, told how he had seen this young
woman and fallen in love. Back then, the man said, young
people told their parents everything. So, he told his
father. Soon after, the man's parents met with the woman's
parents and arranged the marriage without the young man even
talking to the young woman about it. Now, the man lamented,
children tell their parents nothing.
Another man told how he used to watch this young woman go to
market every day to buy supplies for her ill mother. He told
his father he wanted to marry her - and he did.
"Stories like those turned the day into one of the best
homilies I've ever heard," Fr. Hoffman said.