Meeting the needs of burgeoning population
Appeal helps parishes provide for spiritual needs of growing Hispanic Catholic population
Fifth in a series on the Bishop's Appeal
By Linda DeVries
|HISPANIC MINISTRY: Bp. David Zubik (left) and Fr. Philip Dinh-Van-Thiep distribute Communion at a Spanish-language Mass in St. Joseph Church, Wautoma. (Josh Diedrich photo)
Wautoma is a small town - its population hovers around 2,100 - but the Catholic parish maintains an active, ever-changing ministry.
St. Joseph Parish attends to the needs of this largely agricultural area, serving residents in up to six counties, said Sr. Pat Flanigan, who oversees St. Joseph's Hispanic ministry. The summer months are especially busy, when the population swells with the arrival of migrant workers. At times, she said, the numbers become overwhelming.
Most of the transient labor force comes from Mexico, following the harvest of crops from Florida, California, or Texas to the northern states. Many do not speak English, making it difficult to meet their various physical and spiritual needs. Nearly 99% have Catholic roots.
Fr. Philip Dinh-Van-Thiep, pastor, celebrates a Spanish Mass every Sunday at 3 p.m. in the church. In the summer he often celebrates Mass in the fields also. Because the area is so vast, some worshipers drive more than an hour to attend Mass in their native tongue. Attendance varies from 100 to 300.
Sr. Flanigan teaches religious education at the Hispanic Center next to the church, and each summer takes the classes into the camps. Fr. Dinh-Van-Thiep said he recalls seeing her under a tree one summer surrounded by 10 children, deep in study.
Besides preparing young people for First Communion and other sacraments, Sr. Flanigan teaches English and math in the jail and at the Redgranite prison. She offers translation services in the courts, medical clinics, and hospitals and spends a day a week at the Division of Motor Vehicles, helping Spanish-speaking residents fill out drivers' license registrations.
Although several Hispanics live year round in the area, most come in April and stay through October. Those who work on Christmas tree farms stay into December. In the winter, when it's difficult to find work, many return south to start the process again, while others move to larger cities in the area. Sr. Flanigan has helped many migrants get year-round jobs on dairy farms.
"Waushara County is poor," Sr. Flanigan said, "and the migrant people are poor. Those with more education tend to go to Appleton or Green Bay. We serve them any way we can."
"Sr. Flanigan is a tremendous person," said Rudy Pineda, the Green Bay Diocese's consultant for Hispanic pastoral ministry. "She sees to [migrants'] everyday needs as well as their spiritual needs. She advocates for good residential accommodations, and most of the farms in the area trying to cooperate."
Many migrants live in trailers, and Sr. Flanigan encourages them to save to buy their trailer because rent is so high. "It's a new concept for many people who are so transient," she said. "There is pride when they learn to take care of something that is their own, and in the long run they're saving money."
Sr. Flanigan and a team of volunteers work with other organizations to provide for the migrants' physical needs, such as medical care, clothing, and furniture.
It's not unusual for Sr. Flanigan to get a call from the District Attorney's office to help translate for a Hispanic resident who has been picked up for driving without a license.
"They don't know where to go to get a driver's license," she said, "and they often don't have the language skills or paperwork they need to get one."
"Many don't know how to get the necessary documentation for work permits, Social Security numbers, or other things," added Fr. Dinh-Van-Thiep. "Sr. Pat also helps them open bank accounts. Language difficulties lead to many other problems for people trying to fit into an English-speaking community."
Most migrant workers don't have a home parish because they move so often.
"Sr. Pat tailors the religious education programs to their various levels of understanding," Fr. Dinh-Van-Thiep said. "They bring whatever studies they have with them, whether they've been in Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, or wherever they were before they ended up here. As they leave each place, they receive a record of where they are in sacramental preparation, and we try to tie up the loose ends."
Pineda said, "Only recently have migrant families begun settling down here, finding ongoing jobs, partly because of the advances in farming. They are family-oriented individuals with a good work ethic. They tend to be close-knit, and they help and support each other. The younger ones are usually bilingual, which is helping them become better integrated into their new communities."
When Pineda began working with Hispanics in the diocese five years ago, there were four Hispanic ministries in place. That number has grown to 10, said Pineda, whose work as a diocesan consultant to parishes having or wanting to start Hispanic ministry is supported in part by the annual Bishop's Appeal.
"It takes about five years to get a Hispanic ministry going in a parish," Pineda said. "These are the introductory years. The next five years are the formative years, and then comes the 'delivery,' after 10 years or so. For example, St. Willebrord had a Spanish ministry for 15 years, but only this year was there a complete melding, which came after the parishioners worked together on a project. After supporting each other through the project, they said, 'We are now a parish.'"
The need is growing as more Hispanics move into northeastern Wisconsin, Pineda said "There would be more Hispanic ministries in this area, if we had more personnel available. The bishop himself recently said that all seminarians should learn Spanish by immersion to understand the cultural process as well as the language."
Sr. Flanigan learned Spanish by immersion when she spent six years as a missionary in the Dominican Republic before coming to Wautoma four years ago. She worked on the extremely poor
northern coast of the island with her order, Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. She did evangelization and helped people obtain food and health care. When she returned to the States, she wanted to continue to work with a Spanish-speaking population.
To increase awareness of how Hispanic ministries could be integrated into more churches, Pineda recommends the video I Work the Land, which is available through his office. "It shows a family going through their daily routine and helps Anglos better understand the Hispanics' family connections and work ethic," he said.
Between one-third and one-half of the funding for Wautoma's Hispanic ministry comes from the Bishop's Appeal. It is otherwise supported through grants from the diocesan office and private donations.