Priest enjoyed years serving diocesan mission
Fr. Bill Hoffman is now the St. Therese, Appleton, pastor
Last in an October Mission Month Series
By Joanne Flemming
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
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
Getting to some of the remoter ones could take an hour or two by
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
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
"I feel so thankful for the opportunity and the financial
support from the diocese for so many years," he said.