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Franciscans live out vocations ministering to Hispanics
By Sean Gallagher
Today, 19 parishes in nine of the 11 archdiocesan deaneries are reaching out to Hispanic Catholics. Father Tom and four other Franciscan friars have played integral roles in this expansion.
Beyond being prepared for Hispanic ministry by the experiences of their own lives and their prior ministries, these friars also acknowledged their Franciscan vocation as well-suited to this ministry.
“We have a commitment pretty much with the people who are on the margins of society and so [Hispanic ministry] fits very well with that part of our charism,” Father Tom said.
Nevertheless, Father Tom, who grew up as a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, said that when he entered the Franciscans’ Sacred Heart Province, headquartered in St. Louis, in 1953 he “had no idea” that he would eventually minister to Hispanic Catholics, let alone in his hometown.
His interest in this ministry took root in the early 1980s when he was involved in advocating social justice in Central America.
After ministering in El Salvador, Guatemala and San Antonio, Texas, Father Tom came to Indianapolis in 1993. Since then, he has helped start Hispanic ministry at several Indianapolis parishes, including St. Patrick, St. Philip Neri and St. Monica.
Currently, Father Tom is serving Hispanic Catholics at St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis and St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville. He also ministers at the Marion County Jail to both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking inmates.
Reflecting upon the expansion of archdiocesan Hispanic ministry over the past 12 years, Father Tom saw the work of God in bringing him home.
“I just feel grateful to God that I was able to be here at this time and to be able to respond,” he said. “I can’t understand either how God kind of prepared me for this, but I really think that there the hand of God was in this, that I would be so well prepared for this and be able to come to my own hometown.”
Like Father Tom Fox, Conventual Franciscan Father Tom Smith is also a son of the archdiocese who has returned to minister among its growing Hispanic population.
Raised as a member of St. Mary Parish in Navilleton, Father Tom Smith entered the novitiate of the Conventual Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Consolation in 1974. It is headquartered in the archdiocese at Mount St. Francis in the New Albany Deanery.
He first ministered to Hispanic Catholics in a Milwaukee, Wis., parish in the late 1970s, but not full time until 2000 when he returned to the archdiocese.
Now Father Tom Smith serves Hispan-ics at St. Mary Parish in New Albany, St. Michael Parish in Charlestown and St. Joseph Parish in Corydon. He also serves in this ministry in the Louisville Archdiocese at St. Rita Parish in Louisville.
He said that his current ministerial focus fits in well with the historic Franciscan emphasis on proclaiming the Gospel.
“Francis was very clear about evangelization and working with the poor,” Father Tom Smith said. “And I find that even though many Latinos are Catholic, that their sense of awareness of Catholic teaching, their formal education, is often limited. They have great faith, but not necessarily a lot of training in it. So there’s a real sense of evangelization there.”
Franciscan Father Al Jost, who also came to the archdiocese in 2000 to serve Hispanics, shares Father Tom Smith’s focus on evangelization. He was the first member of the Sacred Heart Province to join Father Tom Fox in his base of ministry in Indianapolis.
But in just a few months, Father Al branched out far from the city, regularly celebrating Mass in Spanish at St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour, St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus and St. Andrew Parish in Richmond—in addition to doing so at St. Monica and St. Anthony parishes in Indianapolis.
“I was a traveling missionary to the Hispanic communities in different spots in the archdiocese,” Father Al said. “Almost every day, I had something different [to do].”
Now looking forward to starting a
sabbatical in June, Father Al looks back over his more than five years of ministry to archdiocesan Hispanics with satisfaction.
“It’s hard to put it all into words, but it’s been a very positive experience working in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and especially experiencing the wide diversity of the Hispanic community,” he said. “There are a whole lot of good folks, and they’ve got a good future.”
Franciscan Father Arturo Ocampo, a member of the Sacred Heart Province, is looking forward to this future.
Since September 2004, he has been the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis, which boasts one of the archdiocese’s largest and most vibrant Hispanic communities.
But in anticipating what is to come, Father Arturo said that it was in part his own history in the archdiocese that prepared him to lead many Hispanics.
He spent a year at St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis in 1980-81, four years before his own priestly ordination, serving under retired Father Mauro Rodas, then the parish’s pastor.
During that time, then Brother Arturo traveled thousands of miles across the archdiocese visiting Hispanic families.
Reflecting on the recent celebrations of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 in many archdiocesan parishes, Father Arturo was able to see great development over the past 25 years.
“When I was here in ’80-’81, it was a big celebration, but no big deal,” he said. “But [this time], it was a big celebration at St. Patrick’s, a big celebration at St. Mary’s, a big celebration at St. Philip’s, and it goes on and on—St. Gabriel and St. Monica—huge celebrations.”
Father Arturo said that the Sacred Heart Province can reach out well to Catholics of different cultures because its own members come from diverse backgrounds that include Vietnam and Mexico. Others are American with roots in Africa or other Hispanic countries.
“That is the gift that comes to us in the province,” he said. “We acknowledge it. We celebrate it. We live it.”
One of the province’s newly ordained friars, Franciscan Father Juan Carlos Ruiz, was sent on his first pastoral assignment to St. Patrick Parish to serve as associate pastor.
Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Father Juan Carlos is well suited to minister to the many Hispanic Catholics in Indianapolis who also came from that city.
Describing himself as a “missionary here in the U.S.,” Father Juan Carlos said that his first few months of priestly ministry have been “a dream come true,” but also very busy.
“Sometimes I’m in the office until late because people call or because I have appointments,” he said. “They just want to come and talk. They need someone that can listen to them in their own language and not judge them.”
Father Juan Carlos has also sought to foster Franciscan vocations among those whom he serves.
To that end, he is helping organize a Franciscan vocations retreat to be held on Feb. 25-26.
Father Tom Smith is also encouraging Hispanic men to be open to priestly and religious vocations. He does that in part because of the satisfaction he has found in his vocation and in ministering to Hispanics.
“The Lord touches each person in their own way, whatever their vocational call is, and then provides ways for us to witness to the Gospel, to speak the word of the Lord,” Father Tom Smith said. “And, for me, that’s exciting. It’s very gratifying. There’s a sense that I’m making a difference here.”
(For more information about the upcoming Franciscan vocations retreat or to register, call Mario Soberanes at St. Patrick Parish at 317-631-5824.) †