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  Diocese of Joliet concludes groundbreaking Hispanic leadership training

Hispanic Catholics from the Diocese of Joliet recently completed the inaugural class of a groundbreaking leadership program developed by a national, Washington, D.C.-based Catholic nonprofit.

During a Mass in Spanish at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Joliet, Bishop Ron Hicks commended the graduates for “growing in wisdom.”

Leadership Roundtable, a nonprofit focused on best practices for the Catholic Church, developed the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative in recognition of the untapped resource of the Hispanic community.

Michael Brough, a partner at the national nonprofit, praised the students for their diligence.

“You are the pioneers,” Brough said. “The confidence you all have gained, as I’ve seen you experience and grow, has been wonderful.”

Alejandra Villa of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Joliet offered a testimony on her personal growth.

“I was scared,” said Villa, who coordinates the parish’s peace and justice committee. “I thought, ‘This is for the priests, this is for the people who work in the Church. What am I doing here?’ But I learned that the Holy Spirit needs leaders like me.”

The journey for Villa and her classmates was not without challenges.

When the diocese’s Office of Hispanic & Ethnic Ministry competed and won against Catholic dioceses nationwide for the opportunity to serve as the first class of the new program, the country was struggling with the initial months of the coronavirus pandemic. Participants received a blessing from then diocesan apostolic administrator Bishop Richard Pates in September 2020 while wearing masks and sitting at least six feet from each other in the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet. Plans for in-person classes beginning in January 2021 quickly pivoted to online learning.

The students and Leadership Roundtable staff persevered, meeting regularly by Zoom for classes that included a comprehensive personal assessment and best practices on such issues as finance, operations, legal compliance, ethics, stewardship, and advocacy on local ordinances or state and federal legislation.

As the Hispanic ministry coordinator at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Glendale Heights, Laura Vargas said she now feels more confident when talking with Anglos, which is key to her future goal.

“I want to not only work with my community, but also work outside my community by evangelizing others,” Vargas said.

Those experiences are exactly what the program is trying to achieve, according to Andrea Blanco, who oversees the program for Leadership Roundtable.

“The need for leadership formation among Latinos in the United States has been underserved for a long time,” Blanco said.

About 40% of all Catholics in the U.S. are Hispanic, according to 2018 research conducted by V Encuentro, the Hispanic outreach arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. That percentage is mirrored in the Diocese of Joliet and in Vargas’ St. Matthew parish, according to the pastor, Father Gregor Gorsic, who also was part of the program.

Gorsic said he’s spent his nearly 25 years as a priest in Hispanic ministry and hopes the Leadership Roundtable program can bridge the divide between diocesan and parish efforts.

“This gives a broader connection as a diocesan family,” he said.

Leadership Roundtable is expanding the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative to the Diocese of St. Augustine in Florida and will soon announce a third site. The organization in 2019 received a $1 million grant over three years for the new program from Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry initiative.

Diocese of Joliet participants in the program are as follows:

  • Veronica Avila
  • Elizabeth Becerra
  • William Becerra
  • Manuela Botello
  • Deacon Arnulfo Cisneros
  • José Cornelio
  • Father Santiago Corona
  • Eloisa Garcia
  • Deacon Sergio Gonzalez
  • Father Gregor Gorsic
  • Monica Harness
  • Sandra Hernández
  • Rosalva Hurtado
  • Father Burke Masters
  • Claudia Molina
  • Deacon Eduardo Murillo
  • Alejandro Quezada
  • Elisabeth Román
  • Yazmin Saldivar
  • Father  Ramon Sida
  • Yovani Valdivia
  • Laura Vargas
  • Alejandra Villa

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