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
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
"The sisters do a wonderful job," said Fr. Hoffman. "It's a
challenging parish. Previously, there were no resident priests or
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
"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
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
"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
Although his calendar is often full, Fr. Hoffman still finds time
to serve the day-to-day needs of the people, especially visiting
"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."