Spanish-language Mass adds new dimension to ‘a great parish’
by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Father Harry Schneider has a ready answer for anyone who asks him about the Cathedral of St. Peter here.
“It’s a great parish — period,” said Father Schneider, who is in his fourth year as rector.
The parish has always drawn from a surrounding neighborhood that is full of life, he said, but it has actually blossomed in a new way in recent months.
After adding a midday Spanish-language Mass in September to its regular Sunday schedule, the parish is now seeing the sidewalks filled with people walking to Mass on Sunday.
Before the addition, those seeking to attend a Spanish Mass had to drive out of their neighborhood to find one.
Adding a Spanish-language Mass — and, over time, all of the accompanying Hispanic ministries — just seemed natural to Father Schneider, especially after studying the demographics in the neighborhood and the needs the church might be able to fill.
“In eastern Wyandotte County, the Hispanic presence continues to grow, and it was pretty obvious that there’d be a need for a Spanish Mass in the neighborhood,” he said.
Data showed that within the several blocks around the cathedral, the Hispanic population is 62 percent.
“It was a real need for people in the area,” said Father Schneider.
Carmen and Gerardo Oregel live less than two blocks from the cathedral, but were registered at All Saints Parish in Kansas City, Kan. Although they cherished their longtime association with that community, the couple wished they could find a service in Spanish at the church so close to home.
“They listened to us,” said Carmen Oregel.
Now, the Oregels help plan Spanish- language liturgies at the cathedral.
“Father Harry opened his arms to us,” said Oregel. “Not only the church and the cathedral — he opened his heart to us. He’s helping us.”
Father Schneider, along with the new animator for Hispanic ministry Father Livio Stella, CS, and associate animator Father Jesus Olivares, CS, are all helping.
But it is Father Schneider who works with the training of lectors, eucharistic ministers and the baptism preparation team, and is always available to talk with people or answer questions at the parish.
Sharing faith, language
But the parish has decided not to stop there.
“Something unique that we’ve done is to start an English as a Second Language program,” said Father Schneider, “because of the desire of many to learn English.”
Every Tuesday evening, Antonette Nicotera team-teaches English to a group of about 20 adults with her husband Ross Warnell and another couple, Eduardo and Judith Oregel.
“English is hard to learn because it’s so different from Spanish,” Nicotera acknowledged. “They’re trying to get their verbs and their adjectives in the right place.”
The students are hard-working, family-oriented, faithful Catholics working to learn a new language, she said.
Often, they understand more English than they speak. It can be intimidating for an adult to speak in a new language, especially when faced with the fear of making a mistake.
So the instructors add levity — even parties — whenever they can.
“We have a lot of fun,” said Nicotera, who is also a retired schoolteacher and heads up the School of Religion at the cathedral. “That kind of takes away the stress.”
Carmen Oregel finds it inspiring to see so many families and young people — her own children, included — take part in Hispanic ministry at the cathedral.
Her 25-year-old son, who was always involved in the youth group, has been happy to help where he can, including working with Father Schneider to train servers.
And while the cathedral’s own Spanish choir is under construction, choirs from several other parishes in the archdiocese have been lending their voices to the services.
Cathedral parishioner Virginia De La Torre’s three children attend Resurrection School at the Cathedral, and she alternates between the English and Spanish Masses — depending on whether her son is on duty as an altar server that weekend.
Originally from Texas, De La Torre speaks both English and Spanish, and sees a Spanish Mass as a necessity in a city and neighborhood with such a large Hispanic population.
“It is really comforting, because especially when I pray, or even when I’m thinking, I think in Spanish,” she said, even when she’s attending an English service.
She finds the Our Father, which is often sung at Hispanic Masses, especially beautiful in Spanish.
“Sometimes I get emotional when I listen to it,” she said.
She hopes even Anglos will take the opportunity to attend Mass in Spanish at least once and participate in some of the church’s beautiful Hispanic traditions, like the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations.
Father Schneider is self-effacing about his own fluency in Spanish —“When I celebrate, they get a shorter sermon,” he said, laughing.
But he’s excited about the bright future he sees for the entire cathedral community.
And he loves to hear what this means for parishioners.
Like the one woman who lives close to the cathedral. Because she doesn’t have a car, she walked blocks and blocks each week to attend the Spanish Mass at another parish.
Her walk is a lot shorter now.
“She really feels at home,” he said. “And now this is her church.”