Dr. Michael McGrath is a Professor of Spanish at Georgia Southern University and the editor of Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs. He has made over 30 conference presentations, and he is the author of nearly 50 publications. His wife, Dr. Leticia McGrath, also works as a Spanish professor at Georgia Southern University. They have two smart and beautiful kids: Matthew and Luke.
Besides being a professor, editor, scholar, husband and father, Dr. McGrath participates actively as a deacon in the St. Matthew Catholic church (Statesboro). His contribution to the Catholic Hispanic Ministry has been and continue being extraordinary. He is a very loving and essential member of the Hispanic Catholic community.
1. Can you tell us the history of the Hispanic Ministry in your church?
The Hispanic Ministry at St. Matthew’s began in 2002. The pastor then, Fr. David Stachurski, recognized the need to offer Mass in Spanish, even though he did not speak Spanish. The first few years, a priest from another parish celebrated Mass in Spanish one Saturday a month, and I celebrated a Communion Service in Spanish the last Saturday of each month. The pastors who followed Fr. Stachurski also supported the Hispanic Ministry in many ways, including celebrating Mass in Spanish. The success of the Hispanic Ministry, however, is due to the people. Their attendance at Mass and participation in community events continue to enrich all of us who participate.
2. Can you tell us about the Hispanic catholic population in the dioceses of Savannah?
A majority of the Hispanic Catholic population is not registered, so it is difficult to know how many Hispanic Catholics live in the Diocese of Savannah. Currently, the Diocese has nearly 80,000 English-speaking Catholics. It is estimated that the Hispanic population could be close to that number. Hispanics have a great devotion for their faith, and especially the Virgin of Guadalupe. Due to circumstances beyond their control, namely work schedule, many Hispanics are not able to attend Mass on a regular basis. When they do, however, it is truly a family event. There is a large number of young children aged 10 and below who attend Mass at St. Matthew’s and receive the Sacraments when they are old enough to do so. In addition, the Hispanics take care of each other.
3. As a deacon of the Hispanic Ministry, Can you tell us what are the two or three most significant ceremonies or celebrations during the year?
The most celebrated Mass and event, in terms of attendance, is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 11th. Other big celebrations include the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15th, All Saints and All Souls days on November 1st and November 2nd, respectively (these days coincide with the celebration of the Day of the Dead), and Christmas and Easter.
4. I am sure that there are cultural differences in terms of being Catholic and Hispanic Catholic, can you tell us a couple of anecdotes that you have experienced during your time as deacon?
Hispanic Catholics, especially Mexicans, have a very strong devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe. In addition to what she represents in the Catholic religion, she is of national importance in Mexico. Father Miguel Hidalgo, who led the War of Independence in 1810, and Emiliano Zapata, who led the Mexican Revolution in 1910, ordered that the flags they carried into battle had the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Due to this strong devotion, we pray the “Hail Mary” during Mass each week, which is not done during an English-speaking Mass.
The celebration of the Sacraments is important for Hispanic Catholics. Due to their strong family bond and close friendships, the celebration of Sacraments, and quinceañeras as well, are well attended and usually followed by a community-wide get together. The quinceañeras, especially, are large celebrations, and the family and friends of the girl who is turning fifteen invest a lot of money in the event.
Even though the younger members of the community (younger than age 7) have not made their First Communion, all of them come forward during Communion to receive a blessing from me or Fr. Doug Clark. It is amazing to see their eyes light up when they receive a blessing. They are the future of the Catholic Church.
5. How do you see the future of the Hispanic Ministry?
The future of the Hispanic Ministry at St. Matthew’s is very bright. Over the years, I have noticed the many ways in which the Holy Spirit is working in the community. The choir, under the leadership of Candy Guillén, is FANTASTIC! The beautiful music adds a lot to the spiritual nature of the Mass.
6. Last month a group of Hispanic parishioner of St. Matthew’s church traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana where they participated in an immigrant’s rights protest. Do you think that the Hispanic Catholic Church can change the direction of illegal immigration in the US?
I don’t think the Catholic Church can have a direct impact in terms of changing policy, but the Church’s position is to accept and to love all people. It is my hope that the Church’s position may influence how others view the issue of illegal immigration.
7. Do you encourage your church to participate and to give financially to missions related with Hispanic associations such as GLAHR or others Hispanic entities?
St. Matthew’s engages actively in any issue that benefits Hispanics whenever possible.
8. What have been some of your biggest concerns in starting the Hispanic ministry?
The biggest concern was how many people in the area would attend Mass on a regular basis. We do not fill the church yet, but the number of people in the community has exceeded our expectations.
9. What specific practices or attitudes help non-Hispanics and Hispanics Catholics work together as one entity?
The most important attitude is to love and to accept others as Jesus teaches. The relationship between the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking communities at St. Matthew’s is a positive one. In spite of the language barrier, the members of each community make an effort to know people from the other community. Several English-speakers, for example, attend the Spanish Mass each week
10. If you were giving advice to another non-Hispanic church interested in starting a Hispanic ministry, what kind of advice would you give for a successful Hispanic ministry?
It is important to meet the people where they are, both physically and spiritually. I suggest the leaders of the ministry visit areas where Spanish-speakers live, not only to inform them of the ministry but also to find out what their needs are.
For more information: http://www.saintmatthewsparish.com/