October 29, 2015
If you say something in Spanish to Fr. Terry Wipf, parochial vicar of the Church of Corpus Christi in Bismarck, he just may answer you back—that is, in Spanish.
“When I first went to the Spanish immersion course, I didn't know any Spanish at all,” Fr. Wipf said. “But I came out of it pretty well, with an 'Intermediate Plus.' Now, if someone texts me in Spanish I can respond back, and I kind of know what 'looks right.' I can write my homilies out in Spanish now, and I have them corrected by a professor. Overall, the course was a great experience. The professors are very good, and they are serious about only speaking to you in Spanish! I was definitely tired by the end of the day.”
This past January, Fr. Wipf enrolled in the Spanish immersion course along with Fr. Joseph Evinger, associate pastor of the Church of St. Joseph in Williston. Father Wipf attended the course for eight weeks, while Fr. Joseph went for four weeks. The course took place at the Mexican American Catholic College (MACC) in San Antonio, which is a school that was founded in order to equip Hispanics and Anglos with the necessary tools to understand each other’s cultures when it comes to language, relationship with God, and relationship with others. Furthermore, Srs. Brenda, Rosa and Azucena, from the Daughters of Mary Immaculate of Guadalupe in service of our diocese, attended English immersion courses at MACC last year as well.
During their time at MACC, Frs. Wipf and Evinger joined other priests from across the country who were learning the Spanish language as well. Typical days included times for prayer, Mass in Spanish, and many hours of intense Spanish studies. Classes covered Spanish grammar, active Spanish conversation and lab studies. Most classes were offered entirely in Spanish as to allow the greatest immersion possible.
They also took a class, which discussed faith and liturgy in relation to Hispanic cultures and the American culture. “This class equipped us with the tools needed to understand the spiritual lives of our parishioners, as well as the intercultural aspects and challenges of Anglo/Hispanic parishes,” Fr. Evinger explained.
In addition to the course being plenty of hard mental work, it was also an enlightening experience, filled with the joy of fellowship.
“The time we spent there was probably more challenging than enjoyable. My head didn’t explode, so I guess that was a good thing!” Fr. Evinger said. “However, besides those of us priests taking the course, there were also a number of Mexican religious sisters taking a similar course with us (except they were learning English). We would often sit together for meals, and we had great conversations with them. Furthermore, since there is a seminary attached to MACC, I was able to visit with priests from different dioceses, including a priest from Pope Francis’ home country, Argentina. I had a very enjoyable visit with him.”
Now that they have completed the course, Frs. Wipf and Evinger have been busy putting “their hands to the plow” and using what they have learned to serve Christ in a meaningful way.
“I am looking to expand, and I have some very kind people in my life helping me to learn more Spanish,” Fr. Wipf said. “I continue to offer Mass in Spanish at Corpus Christi, and I would like to see what else we can do with Hispanic Ministry.”
In fact, Fr. Wipf even made
tres leches, traditional Mexican dishes, for his parishioners after he returned from MACC.
“Since I have returned from MACC, I have now incorporated, into daily life, praying at least one of the hours of the Breviary in Spanish,” Fr. Evinger noted. “The Spanish immersion course increased my knowledge of Spanish greatly. Also, I have come to understand Spanish much more in hearing others speak as well as in reading and writing. I have even written a few of my homilies in Spanish myself without having to have someone translate them. The most applicable things that I learned during my time at MACC were the different aspects of the Latino culture, which has a very deep spirituality.”
When asked why he desired to learn Spanish in the first place, Fr. Evinger explained, “The inspiration to learn Spanish actually began before I entered seminary back in 2006 when I worked in construction with a number of Hispanics. When I heard that many of them did not attend Mass because there were no services offered in Spanish, the desire to learn Spanish penetrated my heart. Thus when I attended Cardinal Muench Seminary and NDSU in Fargo, I accepted the opportunity to begin Spanish studies. When I was assigned to Williston as a priest I realized my lack of ability to interact with the many Latinos present at St. Joseph’s. Therefore, when Bishop Kagan asked us priests about applying to go to MACC, I decided to do so.”
The fruitfulness of all that Frs. Wipf and Evinger learned prompted Fr. Keith Streifel, pastor at the Church of St. Joseph in Dickinson, to also attend a similar Spanish immersion course at MACC this past August. It’s this desire to reach the flock—English- or Spanish-speaking— that drives our priests to make remarkable sacrifices in order to bring the Gospel to all of the people in our diocese.
Churches offering Spanish Mass:
Parishes in the Diocese currently offering Mass in Spanish:
St. Joseph, Williston - the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m.
Corpus Christi, Bismarck - the third Sunday of each month at 1 p.m.
St. Joseph, Dickinson - the first and third Sunday of each month at 3 p.m.
Our Lady of Grace, Minot - one Sunday per month at 3 p.m.