Ministry helps Latinos build healthier lives

Latino parishioners of St. Edward Church in Jeffersontown posed for a photo recently with clergy who serve the community. Photo Special to the Record
Latino parishioners of St. Edward Church in Jeffersontown posed for a photo recently with clergy who serve the community. Photo Special to the Record

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
As the Hispanic community has grown in the Archdiocese of Louisville, the scope of Hispanic ministry has expanded, too.

A dozen or so parishes around the archdiocese now serve Spanish-speaking Catholics — mostly immigrants who know little English. The ministries serve not only to strengthen faith, but also to educate, create support networks, build community and help people live healthier lives.

St. Edward Church is one of those parishes that has, in recent years, seen its ministry to Hispanic parishioners grow.

A few years ago, when Father Joseph Graffis started noticing an increasing number of Hispanics in the parish’s Jeffersontown area, he became “an advocate” for the creation of an Hispanic ministry, said Maria Scharfenberger, director of Hispanic ministry for the region.

Father Graffis retired from St. Edward last month, but the parish now has a thriving ministry. The church offers all the sacraments in the Spanish language, as well as a monthly family formation class.

Ninety-two Hispanic families are registered parishioners of St. Edward and the majority are from Mexico, according to Ana Vasquez, Hispanic ministry coordinator for region 6 of the archdiocese. There are also parishioners from Guatemala, Venezuela and Cuba.

Scharfenberger noted that for many Hispanic families, the Catholic Church is the one central place for socializing. Hispanic communities tend to be isolated due to language barriers, she said. Having the presence of an Hispanic staff member at the church, such as Vasquez, helps to build trust, she said.

Both St. Edward and St. Bartholomew churches have established programs to foster a sense of connection between Spanish-speaking families and the church. For example:

  • St. Edward offers an annual family retreat. “It keeps people connected to each other and the church,” said Scharfenberger.
  • On Monday evenings at St. Edward, the parish offers “Convivencia,” a time when parishioners gather to socialize after Mass. Scharfenberger, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist, said this time is crucial for mental health. Women, she said, are often isolated because they are not connected to the world of work outside the home.
  • A woman’s group meets weekly during the school year at St. Edward. This group aims to build English language skills. A similar group meets monthly at St. Bartholomew, where members learn skills to help them better communicate with their husbands, partners and their children. A psychologist, who is a member of St. Bartholomew, usually facilitates this group meeting.

Scharfenberger said that helping women handle the challenges of immigrant life is one way the church can “faithfully walk with people in the situation they are in.”

She said this ministry is a challenge, but integral to strengthening faith.
Vasquez said she has seen an increasing openness in the Latino parishioners as a result of the parishes’ efforts.

“They feel welcomed,” said Vasquez, who noted that 31 families participated in a formation program to have their children baptized last year at St. Edward. “They feel they can come to the parish with their needs,” she said.

She also noted that Hispanic parishioners have become more comfortable with one another and are enjoying their time together.

For many Latino parishioners, the church is also a central source of information, said Yolanda Moore, outreach coordinator for Hispanic ministry at St. Rita Church. Keeping the community informed is necessary, she said, noting that part of her job is to help connect those parishioners to resources in the community.

Moore’s office works with institutions such as Norton Healthcare, Bellarmine University and the University of Louisville’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center to offer health fairs and preventative care, such as cancer screenings.

St. Rita also is working with the Louisville Metro Police Department’s (LMPD) seventh division to bring members of the Hispanic community together with police officers in an effort to build trust. The LMPD’s seventh division encompasses the Okolona, Highview and Ferncreek areas.

“Many Hispanics come from countries where the police are feared,” said Moore. “We want to change that.”

Her office also coordinates a program to teach new police recruits and detectives basic Spanish.

Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the Archdiocese of Louisville, said this is an “exciting time” for the local church.

“The families and parishioners I’ve spoken with tell me they like this community and want to settle here,” said Reynolds. “Hispanic ministry is only going to grow.”

Reynolds also said the growth will enrich the archdiocese.

“This will create an awareness in the whole archdiocese that we are a diverse church,” he said.

Ruby Thomas
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Ruby Thomas
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