Immigration: Role of the Parish

Submitted by: Jim Bacik

Historically, Catholic parishes in the United States played a prominent role in helping the millions of European Catholic immigrants who came to America before 1924 to overcome the nativist prejudice and make it socially, economically and politically in their new country. In their pastoral letter “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us” published in 2000, the American bishops confessed that too often our parishes have not done as well in meeting the spiritual and institutional needs of the new largely Hispanic immigrants. They went on to suggest ways to improve parish ministry to the new immigrants: respect their rich diverse cultures; incorporate their distinctive liturgical and devotional practices into the prayer life of the parish; draw on diocesan and community resources to help immigrants meet their social, economic, legal and educational needs; pay special attention to young immigrants who often feel a tension between the traditional culture of their parents and the new American way of life; and work in solidarity with community organizers to empower the new immigrants to find their own way to live as productive happy citizens of their new country.

Among the many Catholic parishes providing excellent pastoral ministry for new immigrants, let us raise up St. Adalbert parish in South Bend, Indiana. The parish was founded in 1910 to serve the large influx of Polish immigrants who settled in the South Bend area. Today, it serves some 1,000 families, 90% Hispanic. The parish grade school is dedicated to meeting the needs of its almost entirely Hispanic student body. The parish extends its ministry to the Hispanic community by partnering with a local community center known as “La Casa,” a secular non-profit organization that maintains a close relationship with the parish. For youth, the center provides after-school programs to help them keep up academically and master virtual learning opportunities. For adults, it offers classes to learn the English language and to navigate the path to citizenship that includes passing the required exams.

St Adalbert hosts “Know Your Rights” sessions put on by La Casa to help immigrant families understand their legal options and how to interact with law enforcement. The parish also hosts meetings of the local Faith in Action group that promotes faith-based organizing to secure justice for immigrant communities. For instance, Faith in Action succeeded in getting the city of South Bend to issue municipal IDs to immigrants who are unable to get official Federal IDs so they can access local banks, schools and government offices. It went on to work with others to extend this ID initiative to the state level.

The outstanding ministry of St. Adalbert parish to new Hispanic immigrants provides concrete examples of proposals made by the U.S bishops. It is especially helpful in demonstrating the importance of partnering with other agencies such as community organizations and faith-based advocacy groups.


What could my parish do to improve its ministry to new immigrants?

About the Author

Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at

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