November 5, 2021

Marian starts new program to build up Latino Catholic congregations

(En Espanol)

By Mike Krokos

Oscar Castellanos described it as “reading the signs of the times.”

And when examining the growing Latino presence across Indiana and beyond, leaders at Marian University in Indianapolis agreed with that sentiment.

The result? The school has launched its Latino Parish Renewal Program, or Renovación (Spanish for “renewal”), funded through a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The program will provide the support and resources needed to strengthen Latino Catholic congregations by providing a parish-focused certificate program, curriculum and congregational support.

“The proposal [for the grant] was to connect Renovación [parish renewal] to the Latino leadership initiative that started about three years ago here at Marian,” said Castellanos, who was hired by the university to serve as the program’s founding director and whose title is director of the Initiative for Parish Renewal. Castellanos previously served as the director of intercultural ministry for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

The school’s leadership initiative provides networking to support Latinos who are considering attending Marian University, he added.

Adam Setmeyer, Marian’s vice president for mission and ministry, saw that one of the ways to connect the university’s Latino initiative with Lilly’s Thriving Congregations Initiative was “precisely to address the needs of parishes that are considered Hispanic, Latino- serving communities,” Castellanos noted. “So that’s how the idea [for Renovación] came about.”

The program will offer college credits via a two-year certification through 12 modules, or courses, on “Latino theology and Latino pastoral realities” in the U.S., Castellanos said. Participants will earn a certificate in Latino Ministry Leadership through Marian.

Through Renovación, parish pastors and congregations will receive support in growing faithful, creative and collaborative engagement in their communities; lay leaders will obtain certifications and lead retreats in parishes; and small Latino parish communities will be created to support the spiritual lives of families. These parish communities can, in turn, implement innovative mission plans to meet the needs of the parishes and the local communities.

“At Marian University, we are committed to putting faith into action,” said Daniel Elsener, the school’s president. “Renovación contributes to strengthening Latino parishes … by fostering synergies between pastors and congregations.”

One of the beauties of the initiative, Castellanos noted, is that pastors or parish life coordinators will be choosing those participating in Renovación.

“Ideally, it will be three [individuals] from each parish,” he said. And the goal is that parish leaders chosen for the initiative are young adults who are bilingual. “They are the perfect candidates to bridge any community that is multi-cultural,” he added.

“Renovación is a response to the Fifth Encuentro [Spanish for ‘encounter’],” Castellanos noted. The 2018 national Encuentro gathering in Texas offered a discernment process that allowed the Hispanic community to understand its call in the Church in the U.S.

Among the priorities of Encuentro, he continued, are leadership development, family, and evangelization and catechesis.

“Small faith communities [that will form in parishes through those participating in Renovación] are an opportunity for parishioners and those on its peripheries to congregate … inside a parish or in homes, and do a little bit of evangelization, but especially some consultation,” Castellanos said.

Like the Encuentro process, it hopes to identify where people are, what obstacles they face “and what can we do to bring [those who have fallen away] home, what can we do to connect a bridge,” he continued.

The leaders participating in the modules will help facilitate retreats at their parishes and will be working with the pastor and parish leadership and staff to organize small faith communities.

Instead of doing a graduation paper or capstone project, the students “will congregate at some point and collect the data, information, experiences and stories,” Castellanos said, which will be used to formulate a pastoral plan.

“The pastor can use it as a method of evangelization,” he notes. “Hopefully, the pastor and staff or pastoral council can use it as a resource.”

The program’s first module, or series of courses, is set to begin in January. The initial goal is to have nine parishes with Latino communities take part. The plan, Castellanos notes, is initially to have parishes from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the Indiana dioceses of Evansville, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Gary and Lafayette, and the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., involved.

The goal is to split how courses will be offered, with 10 courses taught online and two on the Marian campus. Classes will be taught in English, though the majority of the instructors will be bilingual.

As Renovación moves ahead, Marian University hopes to regionally expand its program reach beyond parishes in Indiana and Kentucky, to includes parishes in Ohio and Illinois.

The hope, Castellanos noted, is for participants to leave with a great education.

“We’re trying to put together something realistic of what happens in a Hispanic parish or a Latino-serving community,” he said. “I hope they take that with them. … There will be an invitation for them to go really deep into the experience.”

He also hopes the participants experience leadership “because they are going to be put in front of these communities. …

“They might not end up working for the Church, they might not end up in a position of authority, but we’re definitely looking to stretch all possibilities for leadership development.”

Finally, Castellanos is looking to parish leaders to embrace what the program will offer.

“We’re hoping pastors get involved with the communities at this level,” he said. “What I mean by ‘involved’ … is we’re not going to ask the pastors to do more work. We actually want to take some work out of their busy agendas. This will be an opportunity for them to engage in a different way, to understand more what’s happening at the lower, grassroots level.”

Castellanos, who is working on a doctor of education degree in organizational leadership at Marian, said he is excited to lead the initiative, which he believes is the first of its kind.

“Ministry is my passion. This is my first experience in higher education,” he said. “I was attracted to a position that could bridge pastoral ministry, faith formation, Spanish/Latino ministry and higher education. I think it’s unique.

“I hope we can put Marian on the map,” he added.

The Lilly grant, which covers a five-year commitment, Castellanos said, shows how the Indianapolis-based endowment works with its local partners.

“It’s an example of how they really live up to their commitment to support education, faith and charity,” he said.

(For more information on Renovación, go to, contact Oscar Castellanos at 317-955-6508, 317-797-8937, or e-mail him at

Local site Links: