By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

St. Theresa of Avila Church in Gonzales is joining in the church’s mission of uniting faith with culture by welcoming its Hispanic population into its faith family. One of the ways is merging its Hispanic PSR and parish PSR programs and encouraging Hispanic youth to become involved in the church’s vacation Bible school and youth group.  

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St. Theresa of Avila Church in Gonzales invited Hispanic families to enroll their children in the PSR program and vacation Bible school after the Spanish speaking Mass on June 10.  Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator 


“I’m very excited,” said a beaming Father Eric Gyan, who visited with the Hispanic families during registration. “It feels so good to find that we’re moving toward being one parish.”  

Father Gyan, who is pastor at St. Theresa, said there is a positive “we can do this” outlook at the parish, which currently offers a Spanish-speaking Mass. He plans to brush up on some of his own basic Spanish-speaking skills.  

He said the Hispanic Apostolate of the Diocese of Baton Rouge works to meet the needs of the Hispanic population in church parishes throughout the diocese, and it is St. Theresa’s goal to assist the apostolate in that mission, particularly serving Hispanics within the Gonzales area.  

“There’s a unique Catholic component that comes from the Hispanic culture which we want to work to preserve,” said Father Gyan.”  

We are going to do our best to get caught up to speed with the Hispanic population.”  

According to Alice Blair, director of Christian Formation at St. Theresa, the Hispanic parish school of religion and parish school of religion were both held in the same building but were operating as two separate entities. By merging the PSR classes, there will be more continuity and assurance that all of the children will receive a continuous religious formation.  

Angela Tovar, a member of St. Theresa who teaches RCIA classes at the Hispanic Apostolate in Baton Rouge, said the success of the merger will be in making the Hispanic families feel welcome. 

She noted that many of the children already speak English and communicate with the other children at St. Theresa School and efforts are being made to provide assistance for children who do not speak English. One or both of the parents, however, may not speak English and she is making herself available to answer their questions.  

“I’ve had parents ask, ‘Are you (Hispanic Apostolate, presence) going to be there?’ I said, ‘We’re still going to be there. If you can’t speak English I want to help,’ ” said Tovar.  

Blair and Tovar stressed that details have to be worked out, and interest among the Hispanic population has to be gauged before the merger is fully implemented.  

“This is a work in progress,” said Blair.  

St. Theresa youth coordinator Edith “Duke” Soulier expressed the excitement at St. Theresa regarding its efforts to be further include Hispanics in its community life.  

“I’m scared but in a good way,” said Soulier. “I’m open-hearted and open-minded. That’s what our faith is about. We need to be inspired and engaged. We are one body.”  

She continued, “Everyone is welcomed to come here for Jesus. That’s what we’re here for.”  

Soulier is set to meet with people within the Hispanic community to talk about ways to include their teens in the St. Theresa youth group.  

Soulier said participation by the Hispanic population shows that the “church is universal.”  

“There’s no language barrier when it comes to the Eucharist,” Soulier said.  

She said that St. Theresa wants to be sure that the transition is a positive experience for everyone and that it’s a period of growth.  

“With changes there are bumps in the road, but I believe we can work together. We’re moving forward and doing what we are called to do,” said Soulier.