Historical Memory of Hispanic/Latino Ministry in the Diocese of Owensboro
Hispanic/Latino Ministry began in the Diocese of Owensboro in 1993 through the impetus of Sr. Francis Mary “Fran” Wilhelm OSU, better known as “La Hermana Panchita”, with the support of Bishop John J. McRaith, may they both rest in peace, with the opening of Centro Latino in the outskirts of Owensboro.
Bishop McRaith opened the diocesan office in 1997 and appointed a part-time Diocesan Director of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, Fr. Stan Puryear. In the following years the Hispanic/Latino community continued to grow in various parts of the diocese and more parishes began to have Masses in Spanish and ministries directed toward Hispanics/Latinos.
During this stage:
- The first sisters of the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Ad Gentes (MAG) arrived to serve in Paducah and Mayfield (later they would also serve in Owensboro and Murray) The Sisters who have served in the diocese are: Sr. Celia Sánchez Coatl, Sr. María Ofelia Hernández Vázquez, Sr. Lucia Morales, Sr. Isabel González Pérez, Sr. Adelina Rito Saavedra, Sr. María Imelda Quechol, Sr. Esperanza Rivera Gómez, Sr. Leticia Rojas Ramírez, Sr. Ofelia Ramírez Valencia, Sr. Ester Ordoñez, Sr. María Luisa Morales, Sr. Eloisa Torralba Aquino, Sr. Pilar Hinojosa and Sr. Gloria Ramos Hernández.
- Glenmary Home Missioners served the Hispanic communities in the parishes of Beaver Dam, Morgantown, Elkton and Guthrie, Those who served the Hispanic community are: Fr. Frank Ruff, Fr. Fid Levri, Fr. Vic Subb and Bro. David Henley.
- Various priests from the Diocese of Owensboro learned Spanish and began serving the Hispanic/Latino community: Fr. Anthony Shonis, Fr. Stan Puryear, Fr. Ken Mikulcik, Fr. Tom Buckman, Fr. Ray Clark, Fr. Eric Riley, Fr. Jason McClure, Fr. Albert Bremer, Fr. Andy Garner and Fr. Robert Drury.
- Some priests from Latin America came temporarily to help and
- Several other parishes hired lay people and bilingual sisters to serve the Hispanic community: Vanessa Argüello (Bowling Green), Byron “Paco” Macías (Hopkinsville), Sr. Luisa Bickett OSU (Beaver Dam/Morgantown), Paul Witte (Elkton/Guthrie), Aida Badillo (Elkton/Guthrie)
In 2004 Bishop McRaith hired Patti Murphy as the full-time Diocesan Director of Hispanic/Latino Ministry and she served until 2007. The Hispanic community had expanded and grown throughout the diocese. In order to find a way to better support parishes with Hispanic/Latino communities from the diocesan offices, a pastoral planning process was carried out with teams from eight parishes. They studied The National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry (1987) and Encounter and Mission (2002) and prepared the Diocesan Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry (2007-2011). This plan focused on Formation, Missionary Option, Collaboration (Pastoral de Conjunto), and Liturgy & Prayer, all within the context of the New Evangelization. During this stage, Fr. Carmelo Jiménez from Chiapas, Mexico arrived in 2006 to help Hispanic/Latino Ministry. More collaboration began among parishes with Hispanic/Latino ministry for diocesan initiatives and supporting each other. Parishes hired Abraham Brown (Henderson) and Christopher Gutiérrez (Owensboro). The diocese participated in the national process starting in the parishes leading to the national event of the First National Encuentro of Hispanic Youth & Young Adult Ministry in 2006.
In 2007 Bishop McRaith hired Luis Ajú as Diocesan Director of Hispanic/Latino Ministry who served until his retirement in 2014.
During this stage:
- Many of the programs and initiatives of the diocesan pastoral plan were implemented with the collaboration of parish Hispanic/Latino Ministers,
- The parish Hispanic/Latino ministries were strengthened and the Hispanic/Latino population continued to grow in number, Glenmary turned over the parishes in its care to the diocese, parishes hired: Patti [Murphy] Gutiérrez (Sebree), Carl Schmidt (Hopkinsville), Alma Reeder (Hopkinsville), José Gallegos (Bowling Green/Elkton/Guthrie), Gina Holmes (Bowling Green), Deacon Heriberto Rodríguez (Guthrie/Elkton), Sr. Patricia Sullivan (Russellville)
- The diocese received a grant from Catholic Extension and hired a Diocesan Director of Hispanic Youth & Young Adult Ministry (pastoral juvenil hispana) from 2012 to 2016: the first was Luis Ajú, Jr and the second was Susana Solorza,
- Several Catholic schools were able to enroll many Hispanic families,
- In 2009 Fr. Juan René Kalombo arrived to help Hispanic/Latino Ministry.
- All seminarians began to be required to learn Spanish. The priests ordained during this stage who have served the Hispanic/Latino community are: Fr. Daniel Dillard, Fr. Ryan Harpole, Fr. Steve Hohman, Fr. Joshua McCarty and Fr. Brandon Williams.
- In 2013 the first Hispanic/Latino priest of the diocese was ordained: Fr. Julio Barrera,
- In 2013, Fr. Julio Cesar Palarino began to come every January from Argentina to support Hispanic/Latino Ministry,
- The Hispanic/Latino community was very involved in the 5 seasons of the Arise program from 2012 to 2014,
- More Hispanic/Latino leaders began to emerge in the parishes and more parishes began Masses in Spanish.
In 2009 Bishop McRaith retired and Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop William F. Medley in 2010. The Diocese of Owensboro developed a 2012-2015 Strategic Plan with six goals and it was adapted to the Hispanic/Latino community to guide Hispanic/Latino Ministry efforts. The goals focused on the New Evangelization through fostering spirituality, a commitment to faith formation, the mission of evangelization, stewardship, and vocations.
In 2014 Bishop Medley hired Christopher Gutiérrez as Diocesan Director of Hispanic/Latino Ministry and he currently continues in this position.
During this stage:
- In 2016 the second Hispanic/Latino priest of the diocese was ordained: Fr. Basilio Az Cuc.
- In 2017 Christopher Gutiérrez (Sebree) and Roberto Cruz (Hopkinsville) were the first Hispanics/Latinos ordained as permanent deacons of the diocese.
- In 2019 the first class of Hispanic/Latino permanent deacons was ordained: René Amaya (Bowling Green), José Blanco (Mayfield), Baltazar Rafael (Sebree), Edwin Pacheco (Guthrie) and Trinidad Soriano (Hopkinsville).
- Centro Latino was closed in 2018 when Sr. Fran retired; she passed away in November 2020 at the age of 91.
- Parishes hired Alyssa [Maty] Magnuson (Sebree), Mayra Tirado (Hopkinsville), Sr. Aida Badillo GHM (Beaver Dam/Morgantown).
- Antonio Dávalos (January to September 2016) and Fr. Lustein Blanco (2018-present) from Chiapas, Mexico arrived to help Hispanic/Latino Ministry.
- The priests ordained during this stage who have served the Hispanic/Latino community are: Fr. Michael Charles Abiero, Fr. Gary Clark and Fr. Will Thompson,
- We are also grateful for the effort that our Bishop William F. Medley made by spending two months in the Mexican American Catholic College in Texas studying Spanish which has helped him when he presides over the Eucharist with the Hispanic/Latino community.
The Diocese of Owensboro developed a 2016-2018 Pastoral Plan with three priorities: Go! (Be a Church of mercy, open and welcoming to all), Make Disciples (Foster a sense of discipleship, vocations, and stewardship), and Teach (Provide ministries to promote human dignity, family, and the teachings of Jesus). As part of this plan an Ad Hoc Committee on Evangelization was created which resulted in opening a Diocesan Office of Evangelization in March 2017 and a four-year focus on evangelization. Each year focused on a theme based on the 2017 USCCB document Living as Missionary Disciples: Encounter (2017-2018), Accompany (2018-2019), Community (2019-2020) and Send (2020-2021). At the same time, at the national level, the process of the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry began.
In 2017, in our diocese several parishes participated in the sessions of the V National Encuentro with prayer, study and consultation with those in the peripheries following the themes of encounter, getting involved, accompanying, bearing fruit and celebrating based on the vision of Pope Francis for the universal Church expressed in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). This consultation process continued with Parish Encuentros, a Diocesan Encuentro in August 2017, a Regional Encuentro in February 2018, and a National Encuentro in September 2018. Delegates from the Diocese of Owensboro participated at all levels, including a National Virtual In-Service in October 2020 to study The Proceedings and Conclusions of the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry. The official delegates were: Miguelina Young (Paducah), Mayra Tirado (Hopkinsville), Baltazar Rafael (Sebree), Claudia Valladares (Bowling Green), Fr. Carmelo Jiménez (Spiritual Director for Hispanic Ministry), Dcn. Chris Gutiérrez (Diocesan Director of Hispanic Ministry) and Bishop William F. Medley. To see the statistics collected by the V Encuentro about the Hispanic/Latino community in our diocese visit https://vencuentro.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/534-Owensboro-EN.pdf.
The process, consultation, and conclusions of the V Encuentro prompted the beginning of another pastoral planning process for Hispanic/Latino Ministry in the Diocese of Owensboro from July 2020 to March 2021. This new plan goes into effect on July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2026.