The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 24, 2001 Issue
Local News

Green Bay priest serves many roles in DR

Fr. Bill Hoffman guides the Diocese of San Juan in meeting its spiritual needs

By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

"The longer you stay, the more jobs you get," said Fr. Bill Hoffman jokingly describing his responsibilities in the Dominican Republic.

Fr. Hoffman, a native of Klondike, serves as rector of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in San Juan, vicar of the diocese, pastor of a rural parish in Vallejuelo, spiritual director for a Charismatic Renewal group and director of the diocesan radio station where he fills three one-hour spots each week.

"It's certainly challenging," said Fr. Hoffman, who has served in the Dominican Republic since 1983. "When I first came here, there was no long range planning. I had no intention of staying this long. It's been interesting and rewarding."

Fr. Hoffman spent his first 15 years in the Dominican Republic serving in Elias Piña. In 1998, seeking a pastoral change, he became rector at the Cathedral. Six weeks into his new position, Hurricane Georges struck San Juan.

"It was so devastating," he said. "The people are still dealing with the effects. We had 3,000 to 4,000 families displaced. There are still 2,000 families waiting for the government to respond to their housing needs. They are living in wooden barracks. It's a very unhealthy situation."

San Juan, which has a population of 100,000, includes residents ranging from the very wealthy to the extremely poor.

"Some of the wealthy people regularly visit the United States," said Fr. Hoffman, who recently returned to Wisconsin to visit family and friends and preach about the missions at diocesan parishes. "The majority of the people are poor. Many live in what would be considered in the United States as slum areas."

The rural parish in Vallejuelo is located 30 kilometers outside San Juan. Fr. Hoffman or his associate, a young priest from the Dominican Republic, celebrate Mass at the rural church once a month. Four nuns from Brazil provide the day-to-day pastoral services.

"The sisters do a wonderful job," said Fr. Hoffman. "It's a challenging parish. Previously, there were no resident priests or missionaries there."

The parish serves 20 small surrounding communities. Because the area was previously unchurched, it was open for evangelical churches to develop a presence.

"We are really beginning from scratch in building small faith communities," said Fr. Hoffman.

One of the major areas of progress in the rural communities is an agricultural program developed by the sisters. They cultivated a piece of land deemed poor for growth into a crop producing property. The sisters also developed a goat project as a source for milk.

"At times there is opposition to change, but you hope that the people see that we are not out to hurt anyone or put anyone out of business," said Fr. Hoffman. "The goal is to work together so everyone can provide for themselves. The sisters knew they could grow crops on this land because of their experiences in Brazil."

Spiritually, the people of the Cathedral parish have many more opportunities than those in the rural communities, said Fr. Hoffman. Many lay people in the city participate in Bible study or prayer groups.

The people have a strong dedication to saints, he added. In some cases, the dedication is too strong.

"Some people, through their strong dedication to the saints, have superstitions or beliefs that are not correct, but have helped them sustain their faith," said Fr. Hoffman. "It's important that their dedication to the saints is connected to Jesus Christ. We do not want altars where the saints are in the center and the statue of Jesus is off to the side."

Faith formation planning efforts at the national and local church level continue to grow in San Juan under the guidance of Fr. Hoffman. He plays a key role in the process, which includes annual three-day pastoral encounters at the national and pastoral levels.

Planning is carried out at the district, community and parish levels. Lay leadership in the parishes includes the ministry areas of social concerns, liturgy, youth, family, catechesis and vocations.

"The priests think there are too many meetings, but it really helps the lay people," said Fr. Hoffman. "Bp. (Jose) Grullon (bishop of the San Juan Diocese) emphasizes the movement for formation."

Although his calendar is often full, Fr. Hoffman still finds time to serve the day-to-day needs of the people, especially visiting the sick.

"Our lay people in the communities identify people with special needs," he said. "One of our catechists was afraid to tell me that her neighbor's son was dying of AIDS because she knew I would go. She had a fear that I was going to get AIDS. It was a good opportunity to teach."

Fr. Hoffman is unsure what the future holds for him in the Dominican Republic. He would eventually like to return to serve in the Green Bay Diocese.

"I feel an obligation to return to the diocese for the support I have received in the missions," he said. "Bps. Wycislo, Maida and Banks have been so supportive of our efforts there. I would like to come back and in a sense repay for the support I received. As for priests from the diocese serving in the Dominican Republic, there is still a need for our presence there. I don't see that changing anytime soon."

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