Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Marists Expand Outreach To Hispanic Community

Published March 14, 2013

This February Marist School hosted more than 130 young Hispanic men and women for a seminar to teach them how to become pastoral leaders in their community. The seminar, put on by the nonprofit organization, Fe y Vida, is part of a major initiative by the Society of Mary to better serve the Hispanic community in Atlanta.

According to Marist Father Ted Keating, provincial for the Society of Mary’s U.S. province, “The United States will be more than one-half Catholic within 20 years; it will be mostly Hispanics leading that increase. If we don’t develop young Hispanic lay leaders now, how will we do it then?”

The need for more pastoral leaders in Atlanta’s Hispanic community is a recent development. The closing of Our Lady of the Americas in Doraville when the mission moved to Lilburn left many in the community without a parish to attend. Our Lady of the Assumption Church, in Brookhaven, welcomed the parishioners as they did the Indonesian community many years ago but struggled to meet the needs of the population because the identity of the parish was very different, and the needs of the parishioners varied.

Many of the new parishioners were low income and without cars to drive to Mass. The Marist School Men’s Bible Study organized the use of the school’s buses to pick up groups of parishioners at the Chamblee MARTA station and deposit them at Our Lady of the Assumption—a group that has grown to roughly 300 people.

“In the immigrant experience, people become so stressed that religion becomes critical to them. It holds them together culturally, courage wise, faith wise—even more so than in their own country,” said Father Keating.

Because each place, parish, and group of people is socially different, it is critical to develop lay leaders who truly identify with and understand the needs of the community.

This led the Society of Mary to bring in Fe y Vida, the only organization in the nation that focuses solely on the formation of young Hispanic leaders. Their goal is to institutionalize leadership in communities through ongoing formation and development programs. The February seminar was the first step.

Father Keating insists that this initiative is separate from the Society of Mary’s vocations work, and in fact, many of those participating in this program do not have the education necessary for admittance to a seminary program. Instead, he says, “It’s preparation for the future but also to strengthen this community and take people who might not have other education opportunities for leadership and form them as leaders in the parish and hopefully in society as well.”

Another way that Marist School is reaching out to the Hispanic community is by offering GED courses on campus in the evenings.

The school initially expected at most 100 people, but the popularity of the program has spread so much that there are now about 500 participants.

Sal and Mary Anne Arias, parishioners at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish and parents of two Marist alumni, and Carlos Vizcaino, the coordinator for the Hispanic community at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, have recruited more than 30 volunteer teachers and 20 Marist student volunteers who are the backbone of GED program.

“Sal, Mary Anne and Carlos are passionately committed to responding to the plight of the Hispanic immigrants. Without their involvement and leadership, the Hispanic Adult Education and Formation Center at Marist School would remain a dream and not a reality,” said Father Bill Rowland, SM, alumni chaplain and assistant to the president at Marist School.

Father John Harhager, president of Marist School, has committed Marist’s resources—including classrooms, cafeteria, and educational technology—to be available for use by the adult learners. The teachers have permitted their classrooms to be used on Thursday evenings. The cleaning and grounds keeping staff have also contributed their services.

“It is a wonderful example of the laity and the Marist religious forming a partnership to make this program happen. Both will attest that this is truly ‘a work of Mary,’” Father Rowland said.

According to Father Keating, “The name of Marist School has spread throughout the city and the migrant communities. … They see it as a place of welcome, comfort and safety, where they can flourish and get the education training by way of GED that they can’t get anywhere else. It has blossomed more than any of our expectations.”

The Society of Mary’s initiative to work within the Hispanic community is one that is lasting. “This work of bringing people and nations together in communion in Christ is the church,” said Father Keating. “It’s not a distraction or project. It’s being a church.”