WAUTOMA, Wisconsin — Waushara County in central Wisconsin may be known for its recreational activities, but the summer provides more than just camping and fishing opportunities.
St. Joseph Parish uses the summer months to minister to the needs of seasonal migrant workers. A summer religious education program provides migrant families with the opportunity to receive the sacraments of initiation: first Communion and confirmation.
“The program is about three months long,” said Ana Wilson, who coordinates Hispanic ministry, including migrant ministry, for the parish. “We start in June and we finish in the middle of August. We provide classes here every Sunday. We prepare for both sacraments at the same time. The demand is more for first Communion than for the confirmation, but we try to do it together.”
Although located in Wautoma, the program is not limited to town borders and has expanded its reach across the county.
“This program is for all the communities in Waushara County,” Wilson told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. “We provide this programming because many of the migrants come during the summer season to work in the area. They don’t have the opportunity to take any class of religious preparation in the fall because they are mobilized every time.”
Most of the families are seasonal workers employed at area farms, mostly in agriculture, she said. Most move on to work in southern states in the fall and winter, but some stay in Wisconsin to work at Christmas tree farms.
Many migrant families make a long drive on Sunday mornings to take advantage of the opportunity for religious formation. Some come from as far away as Fond du Lac (60 miles) and Ripon (40 miles) to take the classes and receive the sacraments for the first time.
The number of students in the program has remained fairly consistent, this year reaching just under 50 participants. “It all depends on the season, how many people come in the summer to work in the area,” Wilson said. “This is a missionary church, and that’s the reason we have a lot of people coming here.”
The parish has offered summer classes for migrant families for 20 years, said Jan Klicka, one of four catechists who help Wilson teach classes. Klicka has been with the program since it began in 1997. The other catechists include Susana Sierra, Julie Vargas and Sister Mary Ellen Doherty, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
Jose Landeros, a 20-year-old confirmation student, said praying the Stations of the Cross on their retreat at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse was his favorite part of the program. He said he has learned a lot about the Catholic faith by doing it.
“I didn’t know anything about Jesus, his life and stuff like that,” he said. “Learning about it was really interesting. And I actually go home now and I watch stuff on it.”
The parish provides more for the migrants than just religious education classes. “We provide clothing and donations for families who come here or people living in the area that have necessities,” Wilson said. “We try to provide all the resources that we can.”
Wilson said having a Mass that the migrants can attend is very important.
“We are the only parish around the area that provides a Spanish Mass every single Sunday,” she said. “It’s a privilege that we have the Spanish Mass so the families have the opportunity to come. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Wautoma. People like to receive the sacraments and the Mass in their language. You can feel like a family.”
The program’s culmination came Aug. 26, when Green Bay Bishop David L. Ricken celebrated the first Communion and confirmation Mass. He was joined by Father David Greskowiak, parish administrator, Father Daniel Schuster, diocesan vocation director, and Deacons Paul Grimm and Jim Hoegemeier.
In his homily, which he offered in English and Spanish, Ricken said he enjoyed celebrating the Mass in Wautoma “especially because of the outreach to the migrant community.”
He told those receiving the sacraments that the celebration would mark a lifetime journey “coming to the holy Mass every Sunday. … I encourage the parents to be a good example to your children by being a loving, prayerful family at home and by bringing your children to Mass every Sunday.”
Parents can also serve as examples by receiving the sacrament of confession frequently, said Ricken. “My invitation is to make your family a home of discipleship, where you model for one another what it means — to the best of your ability — to be a friend and follower of Jesus.”
Following his homily, Ricken conferred the sacrament of confirmation on 15 youth and adults. Later, 29 children received their first Communion.
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Koepke writes for The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.