Hispanic Ministry in Mississippi, a history

By Sister Patricia Brown and Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – The first celebration of the anniversary of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Jackson was 40 years ago, it was not only a success but also the seed that, over time, began the creation of the Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Jackson.
On Sunday, Dec. 16, 1979, at 4:30 p.m. Bishop Joseph Brunini, auxiliary Bishop William Houck, Father Mario Vizcaino, SchP., founder of Southern Pastoral Institute (SEPI), and Father Paul Madden celebrated the first Mass in Spanish at St. Peter’s Cathedral. About 200 Hispanics from the Jackson area attended that celebration.
In January 1980, a pastoral council was organized in Jackson, meeting regularly and the Sunday Mass was celebrated at St. Peter’s Cathedral in the afternoons. Religion and English classes were offered, social and religious parties were held, and a newsletter was distributed to 95 families.
The United States Census in 1980 indicated that the population of Hispanics in Mississippi was less than one percent. Many of these were migrant farm workers dispersed in the Delta area and in chicken processors in the center of the state.

Although Sister Thea Bowman did not speak Spanish, she helped the Hispanic community to continue celebrating the Eucharist in Spanish and their activities in the Jackson area.
During the 1980s, Father Michael Flannery and Father Richard Smith assisted migrant workers, near Clarksdale.
The 1990 census counted 9,752 Hispanics in the 65 counties of the diocese. The Diocese of Jackson asked Sister Patricia Broderick for a study of the Hispanic community and a plan to meet their needs. The suggestions of that proposal, written in November 1990, remain valid today, only the numbers have increased, and the needs have multiplied.
In 1991, Father José Daniel López, began celebrating Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral. Deacon Roberto Jiménez began assisting Father Lopez, and Father Anthony Quyet, in St. Michael parish in Forest, began celebrating Mass in Spanish on April 7, 1991. Prior, Father Madden celebrated Mass in Spanish at the residence of the Echiburu family in Morton.
In 1993, Sister Jeroma Day began visiting Hispanic homes in Rosedale. Gene and Mary Helen Grabbe, lay missionaries of the Glenmary order, formed a stable community Hispanic family in the St John Neumann Mission. In September 1994, the Diocese of Jackson established the Office of the Hispanic Ministry under the direction of Sister Patricia Brown. Sister Patricia Godri arrived in Carthage in September 1994 to work as a pastoral minister in St. Anne’s Church. In 1995 the missionaries of the Glenmary Order sent Father Francisco Pellissier to serve as a sacramental minister in six counties in northeast Mississippi. On Dec. 17 that year, Father Pellissier celebrated the first bilingual mass at San Christopher Mission in Pontotoc.
Father Steve Pawelk, Sister Nancy Schreck, Father Jerry Peterson and Father Gerry Richardson were some of the first religious who served in the Hispanic community in New Albany. Sisters Patricia Sullivan, Rosemary Empen and Kris Vorenkamp oversaw services in Chickasaw and Calhoun counties. In 1996, the Catholic Center in Morton was inaugurated. The first Spanish mass in Ripley was celebrated on Dec. 12, 1997. Father Jerry Mattingly started Mass in Spanish at San Martín Mission in Hazlehurst since 1997.
In 1999, Christian Brother Ted Daush assumed the leadership the Hispanic Ministry until June of this year, giving twenty years to this ministry, supported by Guadalupean Missioneries sisters and parish leaders. Last July the Diocesan Intercultural office was created where Hispanic and Black Catholic Ministries were merged.

The establishment of the Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Jackson allowed the increase of religious, social and cultural services to the Hispanic community in the 65 counties of the diocese.

(This article was published in Catholic Messenger on Dec. 17, 1999. Elsa Baughman updated it for this edition. Read the article in its entirety on MississippiCatholic.com.)