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Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
October 25, 2002 Issue

Priest enjoyed years serving diocesan mission

Fr. Bill Hoffman is now the St. Therese, Appleton, pastor

Stewardship: A Way of Life logo

Stewardship response

Persons interested in helping the Green Bay Diocese's mission in the Dominican Republic can choose from the following:

• Monetary donations (make checks payable to the Green Bay Diocese, P.O. Box 1506, Green Bay WI 54305-1506 and write Dominican Republic on the memo line).

• Pray for Fr. Mike Seis and his parishioners.

• Mission trips to the Dominican Republic are offered periodically.

More information
Mark Mogilka, (920)437-7531 or 1-877-500-3580, ext 8297.

Last in an October Mission Month Series

By Joanne Flemming
Compass Correspondent

After a few minutes of talking to Fr. Bill Hoffman, new pastor at St. Therese Parish in Appleton, you can tell his heart is still in the Dominican Republic.

The phrases, "our people," "our parish" and "our diocese" sprinkle his conversation. After serving 19 years at the Green Bay Diocese's mission in the Caribbean nation he finds it hard not to use those expressions.

Fr. Hoffman served in the Dominican Republic from 1983 to this past July. He assumed his Appleton post in late August.

In late 1982, he was serving at St. Matthew Parish in Allouez -- his first assignment after ordination -- when Bp. Aloysius Wycislo sent a letter to all priests in the diocese asking for a volunteer to serve in the Dominican Republic.

Fr. Hoffman said he thought the letter over and discussed it with both his pastor, Fr. Roy Geenan, and Bp. Wycislo. The bishop advised him to visit before making a decision. The priest added that he spoke Spanish.

During a 10-day visit in March, 1983, he fell in love with the mission and the people. "It was wonderful. I liked very much what I saw," said Fr. Hoffman, who studied Spanish in high school and college and had lived in Spain for a year.

He described the people as "inviting, open and desirous to have you in their homes. Hospitality is an important part of their culture."

He also liked the strong pastoral team -- the pastor and three lay missionaries from Spain -- and the lay volunteers. The laity had formed a parish council that met monthly.

The Green Bay Diocese's mission is in the southwestern Dominican Republic near the Haitian border. It has two parishes, the first at Elias Piña, a community of 15,000 to 20,000; the second, founded in the early 1990s, at El Llano.

Fr. Hoffman said the region is dry, almost semi-desert. The people are small, subsistence farmers who "just make a go of it. They are very dependent on rain."

The parish at Elias Piña served 30,000 people, from the city itself as well as residents in outlying rural communities. He said when he first arrived, the pastoral team visited 15-20 such communities. Over the next five years, it started visiting 10-15 more. When a new bishop, a native Dominican, took office in 1991, he challenged parishes in his diocese to visit all those communities.

Getting to some of the remoter ones could take an hour or two by four-wheel drive.

Fr. Michael Seis, who serves in the Dominican Republic now, reaches over 90 communities, Fr. Hoffman added.

Most Dominicans are Catholic in the sense that they practice what he called "popular religion." They "have not been evangelized, but (do) have in (their) culture signs of faith, of identity with the Catholic church."

They celebrate many saints' feast days. Nine days of mourning follow a death; the family stays home and prays. On the ninth day, the rosary and "popular prayers that have been memorized" are said. Fr. Hoffman said there are men and women who serve as "pray-ers". They recite these prayers and even "throw out a few phrases in Latin that they have no idea what they are saying."

Dominicans have a great devotion to Mary. Our Lady of Mercy (Sept. 24) is their patron. Our Lady of Alta Gracia (Highest Grace) is their protector, with her feast on Jan. 21.

In honor of Pope John Paul's visit to the Dominican Republic in 1992, 1,500 prints of Alta Gracia's portrait were made in Italy and were blessed by the Holy Father. Before Fr. Hoffman left in July, the bishop in the diocese where Elias Piña is located gave him one. It now hangs in his office at St. Therese.

Alta Gracia is also aiding in evangelization, Fr. Hoffman said. "The Dominican bishops are urging every home to have the ABCs -- an image of Alta Gracia, a bible, and a cross or crucifix."

To reach all rural communities, the Elias Piña parish organized the communities it serves into districts of 4-8 communities per district. The pastoral team tries to visit each at least twice a month. The team now includes two sisters who succeeded the lay missionaries.

Fr. Hoffman said the Dominicans have a strong catechetical tradition in its small communities. A community "is not a community unless it has a catechist. Otherwise, it doesn't have faith formation; it doesn't have a celebration of the Word on Sunday."

To get more catechists, the parish held training sessions on Mondays or Fridays -- market days -- when people from outlying areas get truck rides into Elias Piña early in the morning, then go back home in late afternoon.

Fr. Hoffman recalled, during his first years in the Dominican Republic, visiting a community that had never seen a priest. It had a well-kept chapel and a strong catechist who had organized the people. The men came to pray on one day; the women, on another.

He said he was moved by the peoples' faith. After he celebrated their first Mass for them, he was told, "We always knew some day a priest would come."

As efforts to reach more communities continued, Fr. Hoffman found himself celebrating six Masses on Sunday, beginning at 6 a.m., with the last at 7 p.m. Then, he broadcast a radio program from 8 to 9 p.m.

He said many Dominican couples are never married in the church. They may live together or be married civilly. His Dominican bishop declared this year a jubilee year for marriages. In November, all parishes will hold wedding services.

Fr. Hoffman said he and Fr. Thomas Reynebeau, who was also serving at Elias Piña, held such a service in the early 1990s. That day they celebrated 74 marriages. The couples with their witnesses filled the whole church.

After 15 years at Elias Pina, Fr. Hoffman asked for a new assignment in the Dominican Republic. He was given two different parishes, one of which was the cathedral. He served as his Dominican bishop's diocesan pastoral vicar.

A year and a half ago, he decided he wanted to return to Green Bay.

"I feel so thankful for the opportunity and the financial support from the diocese for so many years," he said.

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