5: Ministry with Hispanic Youth & Young Adults | Kathy O’Brien


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Show Notes patticc.com/5 Notas del Programa pattticc.com/s5

Glenmary Lay Missioner, Kathy O’Brien, shares her experience of ministering with youth and young adults in a rural mission with about 75% Hispanic members.

Recommended Resources:

Hispanic Ministry and the Future of the Catholic Church – https://amzn.to/2RkpibZ

Try Audible and get 2 Free Audiobooks

Try the Pimsleur Spanish Conversational Course – Level 1 on CDs

eBook: 5 Cultural Differences You need to Know to Succeed in Hispanic Ministry – http://patticc.com/resources/

Episode Sponsor:

Glenmary Home Missioners’ Vocations Office: www.glenmary.org/vocations

Other resources mentioned:

National Catholic Youth Conference: – Next Nov. 21-23, 2019 in Indianapolis

Búsqueda/Search Retreat in Knoxville, TN

Just 5 Days by the Center for Ministry Development

Called to Accompany / Llamados a Acompañar Training for Youth Ministry volunteer leaders

Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment

St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Mission




Greetings Gente Puente! We are a community of gente puente: building bridges between God and his people, and also between different cultures and languages. In today’s program, Glenmary Lay Missioner, Kathy O’Brien, shares her experience of ministering with youth and young adults in a rural mission with about 75% Hispanic members.

Si no tienes ninguna idea lo que acabo de decir, no te preocupes. El podcast Gente Puente tiene episodios en Ingles y otros en Español. Si no eres bilingüe todavía puedes leer la entrevista y ver todos los recursos de hoy en las notas del programa que se encuentran en Patticc.com/s5. No quieres perder la entrevista con la misionera Kathy O’Brien quien comparte su experiencia en la pastoral juvenil en una misión donde 75% de sus miembros son hispanos.

I am Patti Gutiérrez from Patti’s Catholic Corner. We are a team, with experience in ministry, who provide Catholic translations from English to Spanish or from Spanish to English. I am your host for these interviews. This podcast is for you if you are a leader in a Catholic ministry. You will hear interviews about the Hispanic/Latino Ministry best practices from all over the United States to get practical ideas, strategies and resources that can help you in your ministry! You will also receive encouragement from other ministers who understand all the joys and struggles that come with ministry.

But before I start, I want to thank our sponsor of this episode: the Glenmary Home Missioners Vocations Office. You can find a link to their website glenmary.org/vocations and all the resources mentioned in this episode, as well as a summary of the episode in English and Spanish, in the show notes found at patticc.com/5.

I also encourage you to join the conversation on Facebook. Next week’s episode is about Día de Muertos and I’d love to hear about ways that you have celebrated in your home or parish. Who knows, your idea may even be featured in next week’s episode! Be sure to add some pictures of your altares so we can get some ideas too! Just look for Gente Puente on Facebook to find us and be part of our closed Facebook group.

Today, Oct. 3rd, marks the beginning of the Synod on Youth in Rome! The Catholic Bishops from around the world are gathered with Pope Francis to discuss “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” And so, this episode is focused on youth and young adult ministry. Some of you listening may be noticing demographic changes in your area which have brought more and more Hispanic young people to your area or your parish. You may be wondering how to begin reaching out to this population or how to integrate them into your existing ministry or trying to discern the best way to support Hispanic young people who have already been active in your parish for a long time. No matter what stage you are in, I believe you can learn something from the interview you’re about to hear.

Especially for those of you who are not very familiar with Hispanic ministry in the United States, I would love to recommend getting Fr. Kenneth Davis’ audiobook, Hispanic Ministry and the Future of the Catholic Church. You can find a link in today’s Show Notes at patticc.com/5 with an offer to try Audible and get 2 free audiobooks. Fr. Ken’s audiobook is actually an audio course that is broken up into 25-minute segments and it covers a broad range of topics about Hispanic Ministry, including an introduction to the culture and the history of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. Fr. Davis is a quote-unquote white guy, as he says, who encourages other well-intentioned Catholic “white guys and gals” who love the Church to think long and hard about the blind spot that we sometimes have for Hispanics with regard to our ministries. Describing what some have called a statistical tsunami in the Catholic Church of the explosive growth of Hispanic youth and young adults, he says, “We know about all these Hispanics, we’re just not doing anything about it…to me it’s like saying ‘I’m on the Hindenburg airship and I know people are playing with firecrackers, but I’m not doing anything about it.’” So, if you are listening and you want to do something about it, thank you! You rock! And like Kathy O’Brien says in this interview – do not be afraid!!

In this interview Kathy shares about her experience growing an integrated youth group, preparing young adult Hispanics for confirmation, forming youth and young adult leaders, involving the entire parish and much more. Now let’s listen to my conversation with Kathy!


Welcome Kathy!

Thank you. It’s good to be with you.

I’m going to start with a prayer. Lord we come before you in gratitude for all the blessings you have given us, especially the gift of being able to serve in your Church. We know that we are not perfect and that is why we thank you for your mercy and that you still want to use our human frailty. Lord Jesus, you prayed that we be one as you and your Father are one, pour out your Spirit as we try to be bridge people, uniting the Body of Christ. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, kindle in them the fire of your love. Amen.

Thank you for taking the time to be with us! I know you are very busy in your ministry. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about you and your ministry your vocation and how you’re connected to Hispanic ministry?

I began ministry 43 years ago with Glenmary, a mission society that does work in the rural missions of the United States. I think it’s kind of funny and it just went through my head that when I was in 8th grade I put into the class prophecy, which I wrote, that I would be a Peace Corps worker in Argentina, which would have meant I would have to learn some Spanish. But in Glenmary you didn’t usually have to learn Spanish when I joined. I didn’t become involved in Hispanic ministry until 2004.

I went to MACC in San Antonio and for a couple months and to Mexico to study Spanish. The Glenmary Lay Missioners work with the Glenmary fathers, we’re a secular Institute, we have vows and have done that since 1957.

Wow tell us a little more about that vocation I don’t think people probably know much about that?

No, they don’t because, we’re not very common in the United States and ours was just so small we never grew much but secular institutes are lay people who are living the consecrated life as lay men and women in the world coming from the world and not coming from a convent, but sisters have changed so much that you can’t hardly tell the difference these days.

But ours were founded to be lay people working in the world in able to do things sometimes that back in the 50s sisters could not do.

That make sense, so tell us what is your role now?

I’m the Pastoral Associate for a new Glenmary mission in Erwin, Tennessee. We just started in 2011 and built our first building this year. We’re a small mission and the mission is probably 75% Hispanic 25% retired.

It’s working well though. We’re a bilingual community. Some people speak only English, some only Spanish, but the majority are Hispanics who have been here a while and are bilingual, and of course all the kids are bilingual.

So there’s a pretty big Hispanic population that’s well-established in that area?

Yes, they started coming in in the 1960s as migrant workers and now there are contract workers that come in but many of the migrant workers settled here and raise their families. We’re on second and third generation.

I know you’re going to share with us today a little bit about your success in Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry can you share with me a little bit about that project, basic information about it?

Youth Ministry has always been my love. I was trained as an English teacher. I always work with high school kids and from the beginning in Glenmary missions, even when we had no Hispanics in our missions, I worked with youth groups. Then when I started working with Hispanic ministry, the group that most needed a lot of ministry where the youth, in Arkansas where I was and then now here in Erwin.

So I began youth groups, I got them involved in the Diocesan level and even National level. The youth group was a way to reach out to the whole family and to get everybody in the parish involved in youth ministry.

So the youth group has been kind of the center of the youth ministry?

Yes, the high school youth group I started with four kids. We didn’t have any buildings, so they met in my living room and I had two other adults there helping, Anglos. We had two Anglo and two Hispanic teenagers. They were the beginnings of the group in 20012, by 2013 we had about 10 kids and we took a group of 9 to the National Catholic Youth Conference, NCYC. And that really got them revved up and they became the missionaries for inviting others. Within the next year we had 20 some kids in the group and by the next year 30.

Wow. It sounds like one of the practical, concrete ideas for building up the youth group is to get a small group of really dedicated kids that then can attract more kids. Would you say that’s true?

I would say that’s definitely true and we had top-quality kids with those early groups, really top quality. They were leaders in the high school, the local sports stars of the soccer team that just started. They were not afraid to go out and invite others to come and see.

What a great group. What are some other practical, concrete things that have helped you? Maybe events or programs or retreats that you have used that other people could try?

In Arkansas, we used Busqueda a lot, is the Hispanic equivalent to Search, which is out of the Cursillo movement. I got them to Busqueda and they became leaders and peer ministers thru Busqueda. This diocese doesn’t have Busqueda, but they do have Search. In fact, we’re going to be in our new building which isn’t all that big, but we are going to host Search for the deanery here in November. And some of our former youth members, young adults and our youth will be leading that.

Is that a program that a parish can do even if their diocese doesn’t host that?

I don’t know that they can, but most dioceses have search, I think. At least every diocese I’ve been in has some form of it.

If someone wanted to start they would have to start with looking or talking to your diocesan office about it?

I think so. Because it is a structured program. It comes from Hispanic traditions, because it comes from Cursillo which was in Spanish.

I’m wondering how you have kept an integrated youth group, because you still have Anglo and Hispanic youth, is that right?

Currently do not have any Anglos.

Just because people aged out of the program?

We had one family and they aged out. They are all beyond college now.

Okay well let’s say go back to the beginning then how was it when it was an integrated group what kind of strategies did you find work best? Because like you said in your Parish you said that there is a mix of English-speaking, bilingual and only Spanish-speaking.

From the start St Michael’s Mission here was bilingual. We have a bilingual service every Sunday, every Mass, everything we do. We have a team of translators who translate father’s homilies. Father does not speak Spanish, although he’s getting a little braver. But we have a team of translators who translate the homily. We have some readings done in English, some in Spanish. Some prayers are done in both languages. We go back and forth. It takes just a little longer, but it creates a community.

Someone is interpreting as he gives the homily or after he gives the homily they say it in Spanish?

No. After he says his homily, then it’s given in Spanish. It’s harder the other way. He manages to get his homilies written and out to the translators by mid-week so they have time to translate.

You mentioned that the youth group has been growing exponentially. What’s something else that you feel like has contributed to that growth?

The total involvement of the parish. Our Anglos in particular, have been financially and otherwise extremely supportive. They see the kids up there reading and being Eucharistic ministers and doing everything in the church. They just feel so proud of them. One of the kids is in the military right now and they write to him. There’s a good community sense. Like Sunday, will have a baby shower for four new Mama’s and of course they’re all Hispanic. But the Anglo ladies will be here with gifts. When you start something new, it’s easier to do that. The parish I worked with in Arkansas, it was a little more of a struggle bringing the Anglos and the Hispanics together. We had two separate masses and two separate communities really. But we don’t have that here. We do everything together.

And so that encourages the young people because there’s the resources backing them?

Mm-hmm. They have no trouble selling and fundraising. We’re beginning to sell tamales. We’re getting tamale orders right now. We will make 3,000 tamales and make $3,000. Tamales are our Best seller.

That is a lot of tamales, how you do that logistically?

We’ve done it different ways. We were in a house so we did them in the basement where we had church. We did them at a restaurant that one of the families had for a while. We just do them wherever we can. We have two masses on Sunday now so it’s a little harder to do them at the parish center. People want them on the weekend and we only have time to work on them on a Saturday.

You take orders ahead of time? Do they pick them up after Mass?

Yes. People can come by and pick them up or those that sold them deliver them. It’s a really good fundraiser because nobody but the Mexican ladies can make the tamales. Everybody can learn to make enchiladas or other things but they don’t easily learn to make tamales. It’s work. Believe me.

What kind of advice would you have for other people who are seeing an increase in Hispanics in the area? Maybe they have a youth group already established and they want to figure out how to either integrate a youth group with the new Hispanic immigrants or begin some kind of youth ministry with the Hispanic immigrants. What advice would you give them?

Depends on what the Hispanic background is. It was very different in the two parishes I’ve had. These have been here long enough that we do everything in English. If we need to, we do in Spanish because there’s no problem doing that. But in the other parish, most of them were not born in the United States so that was harder getting them integrated with things. But here it’s been very rewarding. The families are good families and strong in their faith – the core group of families, not all of them. That’s what I’m feeling now, our group is down in numbers and down in enthusiasm because we’ve lost that family. For a little while, there’s more of them coming up, but right now they’re not in high school age. We’re talking about a family that there were 11 siblings with kids. They were a good group to start with. They still, I mean their parents, are involved and I’m having a youth ministry training for volunteers with youth ministry right now, doing a monthly course. I have like 11-12. For a small parish that’s amazing number of adults.

What are you using for that training?

I’m using some videos out of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, on their website, plus the materials.

The Accompany program?

Yes. And then also all the materials that our diocese has. Our goal in Glenmary is to get them as connected to the diocese as possible because these are small, rural parishes. They need to know the Catholic church is bigger and there’s more for them out there. So I don’t do a lot of big programs in the parish. We take them to things in the diocese and the deanery. And we’ve had two of our kids serve on the Bishop’s Advisory Council and two of them have gotten the Timothy award from the diocese. So they excel wherever they go.

Break – Episode Sponsor – Glenmary Home Missioners Vocation Office

We will continue with my interview with Kathy in a moment. But I want to share a little more about our sponsor, the Vocations Office of the Glenmary Home Missioners. As Kathy mentioned, she is a Glenmary Lay Missioner. The Home Missioners of America, better known as Glenmary is a community of priests, brothers, sisters, lay missioners and volunteers serving in what they call Mission-Land USA. Glenmary is dedicated to establishing a Catholic presence in rural areas and small towns of the United States where the Catholic Church is not yet effectively present. Glenmary serves in rural counties where the Catholic population is less than 1% and the poverty level is over twice the national average. Many of their missions include ministry with Hispanics. If you or someone you know are discerning a call to religious life, I highly recommend finding out more about Glenmary. I worked closely with Glenmary missioners while I was diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Owensboro where at the time they had their formation house and a few parishes. They do incredible work in places where it’s difficult for a mission Diocese to sustain ministry. Glenmary regularly hosts Come and See mission trips for young men who are discerning their call to religious life. The next weekend is coming up October 19-21. For more information visit Glenmary’s website.

Now we continue the conversation with Kathy O’Brien.

In such a small, rural area how did you attract so many adult volunteers do you think?

Well they’re strong and they wanted a Catholic Church here. The nearest Catholic churches are at least a half hour away and more. They wanted their own church in this community and they want to do anything that’ll make that happen.

That’s great. So, people who were maybe already involved in a parish further away and now they’re excited to use their gifts close?

Right, like the family I mentioned, they would have gone to mass in the parish north of us and they would have been involved in the parish, but not as involved in something that took extra time during the week because they all working. That’s why we reached out to the young adults and we had a confirmation program, because many of them had not been confirmed.

Tell me more about that.

There were about a dozen young adults who never had been confirmed because they – the tradition here in the Hispanic Community is when you’re 16 you go to work. I mean a full job and school. With that, they couldn’t meet the requirements that the bigger parish up there had for confirmation. So they were never confirmed. Our Bishop was pushing for young adults who never got confirmed, because it was a diocesan-wide problem. We had a meeting with them and did what we had to do to get them ready for confirmation. And now some of them are now helping with youth.

Great. Did the bishop come for confirmation or did you do it with the Easter Vigil?

No. Because they had made their first communion and everything else. Some were confirmed with the younger kids and some of them, the bishop has an annual mass now on Pentecost, so some of them went to that mass and were confirmed there. A diocesan adult confirmation mass.

That’s a great idea. What kind of program do you use for formation?

Formation depended on the young person. I used some RCIA materials because they needed to review their faith. But it depended on them. I worked individually with them because their schedules wouldn’t allow a group meeting.

Was there some home study involved and they would come to talk about it with you?

Yes. In English or Spanish depending on what they were most comfortable with.

I want to hear if you have any stories about ways that God has really shown up or a specific youth or young adult that you’ve seen – without revealing their identity – but like a story that you could share with us about the success or the way God has moved through this ministry.

I’ll take two that both happen to be boys. I have one young man in Arkansas who is now working with immigration rights. I connected him with a group that was working for things for immigration, there was no DACA yet, and he just fell in love. “This is what I want to do.” He finished College. I found someone who gave him financial help through college, because he was not born in the United States. He couldn’t receive most any kind of aid. He got his college education and a business degree and he’s working for the Coalition in Arkansas on immigration rights. He’d make a great interview for you. He does programs around the country on DACA, has gone to Washington, D.C. to lobby. I mean very involved, constantly involved.

One of my previous guests talked about Catholic Schools Enrollment and increasing Hispanic enrollment she was talking a lot about DACA too, so we definitely need a whole episode devoted just to DACA. Who was the other one?

The other one is a young man who is now in the Army Reserves, getting trained there and getting finances for his college by doing that. He was a real leader all the way through his high school years here. He’s one of those that got the Timothy award, which is the highest award a diocese gives to a young person. The bishop kept his eye on him, wanted him for vocations. So far he that’s not his response but he is just an outstanding leader. I think he was President and Vice President of his class the last two years of high school, star soccer player. But a kid that could get up there – he led Search Retreats. He just participated to the fullest in the parish life and school life and military life now, in college. Just as a model of what a young person should be. Of course, he’s got an excellent mom and dad, that makes a big difference.

I’m sure his participation in youth ministry also helped him to have that confidence and learn as a leader.

Oh yeah, he told me one day, we were riding somewhere. And he says Miss Kathy if you and Father hadn’t come, I probably had been a Methodist. Because there was no Catholic presence in this community and a lot of the kids were and still go to an after-school program the Methodists have for Hispanic kids. And he had no experience of active Catholicism until St. Michael’s started here.

Thank you I’m excited that you’ve been able to share so many concrete ideas and strategies that I’m sure a lot of people are going to learn from and try themselves. What else is going on in your ministry right now what are you excited about or what’s a challenge that you’re facing?

I think the challenges that we don’t have that quality of kids in our youth group right now. Except we have potential. We have freshmen who just are starting in the youth group who we have taken as middle school kids to a program called Just 5 Days. It’s a mission program out of Washington state. Search Just 5 Days, you’ll find it. It was a week-long program that they went to and it was just as fulfilling for them as NCYC was for our first group. They have a lot of enthusiasm now and we have to build on that and keep them involved. Because they’re also a group that has potential leadership. I don’t know that they’re quite as involved in school, but maybe they will be once they get confident in their involvement in the parish and the diocese.

How can people find out more about you? Maybe if they want to support your mission or your ministry in some way, or learn more about it. How can I find you?

They can find me directly at St Michael the Archangel Catholic Mission, about to be declared a parish, in Erwin, Tennessee. Or through glenmary.org. The Glenmary magazine, the Glenmary Challenge, has written several articles on our kids and on what we’re doing, so they could search there and find some information as well.

Thank you. Over the years of ministry and all the different places where you’ve been, can you share with us something that you’ve learned about how to balance your ministry and other aspects of your life? Or how you nurture your relationship with God throughout those years?

You have to, have to, have to, have a day off. You have to have time every day for prayer. That’s part of my vocation and my life. Without that, I couldn’t do any of what I do. You have to reach out and get others involved. You can’t do it alone. I had a heart attack in May and it just emphasized I’m not getting any younger, and I know that. I’ve got to plan for slowing down, but now the people know they can’t ask Kathy to do all we ask Kathy to do. We’ve got to do it. My pastor said, pump it for all it’s worth.

Not that we’re suggesting that but if it happens, take advantage.

No. Don’t do that. To get people involved. The more support you have, whether it’s financial support, just driving kids, filling out forms. Whatever it is people can do to help, it helps.

What I’m hearing from what you shared is that you’re not only asking people to help, but then you actually equip them to be able to do it well, which I think is it important piece I think we sometimes miss.


Thank you. Could you close with a few words of encouragement? Maybe there’s a minister out there who is just starting, getting their feet wet and not sure where all this is going to go. Or someone who’s hit a wall and they’re frustrated. Give them a little bit of encouragement and then if you would close us out in prayer for all of us who minister in the church, please.

I’ll say first of all do not be afraid. Those are the words of the Gospel, the words the Popes have used. For me, at 54, learning Spanish was – oh my gosh – do I have to do this? And the people taught me. Do not be afraid. Just get out there and communicate. It doesn’t matter what the grammar. All we want is somebody that will communicate with us. Eventually the fear dropped and I was able to speak Spanish enough to do my work. I don’t want to ever say that I’m fluent, because every once in a while I’m struggling for the right word. Like the other day what is a gutter? I’d say be not afraid. Just get in there. If language is a barrier, work to overcome it, little by little. I strongly recommend a long-time, in-depth immersion experience. Don’t be afraid if you’re 50 or more. If you’re 60 or 70 if it’s pretty difficult, but don’t be afraid otherwise.

Still don’t be afraid even if you are 60 or 70!

No, don’t be afraid. But learning language really does get harder.

So if you’re listening and you’re young – now is the time!

Do it! Do it! I think that’s my big advice: pray and do not be afraid.

Thank you, would you close out in prayer?

Dear Lord, we ask you to bless all those who work in Hispanic ministry and work with Latinos of any country or nation. There are many of them among us now and we need to be reaching out to them. If we do not, others will and we will lose some of the best energy and best spirituality that we could possibly have in the church today. And the energy that involves families and leads to the values that we believe as Catholics. Please be with all those who minister to youth, to Spanish-speakers in our nation and inspire them to vocations of service to their own people as well. Amen.

Amen. Thank you Kathy! It’s been great to talk with you.

Thank you. Good luck with your ministry.

Thank you.


What an inspiring interview! Kathy serves in a very unique mission, but I am sure that all of us can say we learned something from her experience.

Here are some of my important takeaways:

  1. One of the best ways to build a ministry with Hispanics is relationship-building. If you want to learn more about Hispanic cultural differences and how it affects ministry, check out my eBook in the Show Notes. Kathy started out by focusing her energy on building relationships with a few youth and giving them a chance to Encounter Christ and the broader Church. Then those youth built relationships with other youth and invited them to join.
  2. Hispanic youth & young adults are diverse in their language preferences. Seek out programs like Search & NCYC that offer their materials or tracks in English & Spanish to give all youth a chance to have a common experience no matter what their language of preference. For links to these and other bilingual resources check the Show Notes page.
  3. Involve the entire parish. Do not try to do everything yourself. Take the time to train other adults & youth leaders with programs such as Accompany provided bilingually for free by the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
  4. Involve youth & young adults in Diocesan programs to help them see there is a bigger church, especially those from small, rural parishes.
  5. Create flexible confirmation program for adults who are Catholic but were never confirmed. Consider creating a diocesan confirmation celebration for all of these individuals.
  6. And lastly, like Kathy says: “Be not afraid, just get in there!” If language is a barrier, work to overcome it. In the Show Notes page you will also find some links to resources for learning Spanish.

I hope you received a lot from this interview too!

If you want to donate toward her ministry at St. Michael’s mission, soon to be parish, you can find the link and all the resources mentioned in this episode in the program notes at patticc.com/5.

Do not forget to join the Gente Puente Facebook group to be part of our growing family of Catholic leaders who share their experience and encourage each other! You can find us at http://www.facebook.com/groups/gentepuente or simply look for Gente Puente on Facebook.

In the next episode we will hear from Fr. Carmelo Jiménez who has been the pastor of predominantly indigenous parishes both in Chiapas, Mexico and here in Western Kentucky. We will be discussing the traditions around the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) and how to balance respect for popular piety and different cultural traditions with the official Catholic teachings and the meaning behind the traditions. So, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast Gente Puente on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or your favorite podcast application so you do not miss any future episodes!

Thanks for listening today. May God bless you and your ministry as gente puente!

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