One church houses two cultures

Sagrado Corazn and Incarnation become one church in a marriage of old and new

People packed into The Church of the Incarnation, standing two-deep along the side aisles and spilling back into the annex while babies cried and a trumpet, violin and guitar group played "Las mananitas" from the balcony.

Father Lawrence Hubbard began mass Dec. 12 with these words: "Esta Iglesia es su iglesia. Esta casa es su casa." (This church is your church. This house is your house.)

People came for the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, recounting the story of how the Virgin Mary appeared in Mexico in 1531 to Juan Diego, an Indian peasant, what Hubbard called the most important annual celebration for Mexican Catholics.

It is a sign of big changes at Incarnation, 3801 Pillsbury Ave. S. Incarnation — a mostly Anglo congregation — and Sagrado Corazn are now one church. The Latino parish held its first Spanish-language mass at Incarnation Nov. 10, drawing 300 to 350 people, church leaders said.

Father Robert Monahan, Incarnation’s pastor, cancelled the church’s traditional 9 a.m. mass Dec. 12, asking his congregation to attend the the Virgin of Guadalupe evening mass, "to get a feeling for how the Hispanic community celebrates."

Monahan co-celebrated it with Hubbard.

"Incarnation opens a new chapter in its history of serving the changing needs of the local community, and we welcome the inspiration so many new families will bring to the parish," Monahan said, prior to the service.

Sagrado Corazn operated for the past decade in St. Stephens Catholic Church, 2211 Clinton Ave. S., a 425-seat church it has now outgrown, said Administrator Brad Capouch. It wanted a place of its own and eyed buying Midwest Machinery, 2848 Pleasant Ave. S., planning to convert it to a church and cultural center, but it was too costly.

The Archdiocese suggested the merger last summer, because Incarnation had more space — roughly 900 seats — and because the school across the street at 3700 Pillsbury would become available next summer, Capouch said.

What is now Risen Christ school would become the

Hispanic Center, Capouch said. It would offer space for San Miguel Middle School, a daycare center, a youth center, dance lessons and performances, and English language, small business and Catholic formation classes.

(Risen Christ has two campuses and will combine them next year at 1120 E. 37th St., near Holy Name Catholic Church, church officials say.)

Chuck Bryne of Tangletown, a lay presider and a parish member for 73 years, called the infusion of new members "a breath of fresh air."

"I think it will be healthy for us old parishioners," he said. "I went to their first mass. It was quite an experience for me. I was surprised how much I could understand from my high school Spanish days."

Monahan said he intends to write the diocese and ask the archdiocese to officially change the church’s name — a touchy issue for members of both churches who have strong attachments to their names.

He will suggest "Incarnation Sagrado Corazn de Jesus," he said. "It will give the Hispanic community a little more ownership," Monahan said.

A changing city, neighborhood, church

The city’s Latino population grew significantly during the past decade.

Incarnation’s Kingfield neighborhood saw its Latino population grow by more than 300 percent from 1990 to 2000, from 141 to 603, according to census data. They make up roughly 8 percent of the neighborhood, or roughly the citywide average.

Anne Attea, director of Hispanic Ministries for the archdiocese, said its vision for Hispanic ministry is to create single-parish communities with multiple ethnic groups.

"These parish communities need to honor and respect linguistic and cultural differences, yet at the same time we are forming one body of Christ," she said. "It has all the growing pains and the riches of bringing different cultures together."

Incarnation has started that effort.

The cover of the church bulletin on Sundays reads: "Welcome All, Bienvenidos Todos." Monahan gives a short prayer in Spanish during the English mass. (He started learning Spanish a few years ago, before this change was in the works, he said.)

The congregation does some of its responses in Spanish: "Y con tu espiritu." The church has translated its history into Spanish.

Monahan said the church already has a space in the church set aside for the dedication of a permanent altar to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A tale of two churches

In 1991, the Church of St. Stephens, 2211 Clinton Ave. S., opened its doors to the Latino Catholic community, which had rotated its services among four different parishes.

Hubbard said in the past few years, people would come to St. Stephens and couldn’t get any further than the vestibule.

"They couldn’t hear. They couldn’t participate," he said. "They wouldn’t stay."

Hubbard estimates the church has 5,000 to 8,000 members with many children and young families, but he and Capouch don’t have hard numbers.

"There are very few parishes in Mexico or Central or South America where they have a membership list," Capouch said. "You are a member because you go there, not because you signed up on a list."

Some of those who attended mass at St. Stephens would likely continue there, he said. Some Latinos in Kingfield who never attended mass at St. Stephens would likely start coming to Incarnation Sagrado Corazn.

Incarnation opened in 1920. Its members explain with pride that Emmanuel Masqueray designed their church — the same architect who did the Basilica of St. Mary and the St. Paul Cathedral. "He finally got it right," one member said of Incarnation.

They also speak with pride of their hospitality.

"The welcoming of the Hispanic community is typical of the Incarnation spirit of outreach — the spirit of realizing that we are part of a much larger community," said James Keane, a lay leader and member for 47 years.

Last summer, Incarnation had roughly 1,000 adult members and 200 kids ninth-grade and younger. Roughly 240 households are ages 60 and older. Monahan said

attendance had held steady, and had increased some in the last few years with the arrival of young families.

Bryne started coming to Incarnation a decade after it opened and has the long view of the neighborhood’s evolution.

"When I was young, the neighborhood was probably a majority Catholic, with a lot of kids," he said. "My generation grew up and the families, the empty nesters, stayed there. It was an older, quiet neighborhood. It went through another cycle, with more kids, but less Catholic than before."

"I think the increase in the Hispanic population is a part of the change coming about now."

The English mass is at 9:30 a.m. Sundays, the Spanish mass at 11:30 a.m.

Some of Incarnation members watch cultural differences with amusement, like Earl Howard, who coordinates volunteer activity during the 9:30 service.

He noticed that the people who come for the English service fill the pews back-to-front, while the Latino community fills in front-to-back, he said. And the Latino services run longer than the strict 45 minutes of the English-language mass.

"They do it their way, we do it our way," he said. "We’re boom, boom, boom. They are more relaxed. I’m the hyper one. That’s my job."

Challenges ahead

The Anglo community and Latino community talk about the new church in different ways.

"We are fundamentally merging two parish communities to become one parish community, with services in English and in Spanish," Capouch said.

Others at Incarnation refer to it as "a blending" rather than a "merger."

Monahan, who calls it a blending, said some might worry that Incarnation, as they knew it, is disappearing. "It’s not," he said.

The two communities are working to share each other’s traditions, like the Virgin of Guadalupe feast. Mexican dancers performed at Incarnation’s Octoberfest. Incarnation expects to have a number of Latino children at its midnight mass


The church has set up a committee to deal with problems that arise during the transition, said Joe Surber, who chairs the transition committee.

Few people interviewed anticipated big problems with the inevitable challenges growth brings, but some said the church would face new space demands.

"At some point, Incarnation people will feel perhaps nudged aside by sheer numbers," Keane said. "I don’t see that as a conflict, exactly. It can be worked out."

Hubbard, Sagrado Corazn’s pastor, recalled coming to Incarnation in 1968, shortly after his ordination. He met a vibrant community, he said.

"That community continues to exist," Hubbard said. "We respect that community. I am sure it will be a constant, mutual respect."

Room to grow

Risen Christ School is expected to leave 3700 Pillsbury Ave. sometime during summer 2003, Capouch said. Exactly how the new Hispanic cultural center there will take shape is a work in progress, but it will provide space for Latino ministries and other programs, Capouch said.

It is expected to include the San Miguel Middle School, a 32-student neighborhood school started in 2000, he said. San Miguel serves kids who struggle with mainstream schools, including students learning English as a foreign language.

Staff is looking into the day care and youth center, but has more ideas than answers, he said. Fr. Fredy Montero already is helping with youth outreach.

"We want to work more aggressively with youth, so their options become greater towards things that are productive, rather than seeing gang life as an opportunity," Capouch said.

The center would provide space for two dance groups — Mexico Lindo and Aztlan, Aztec dancers, groups he called "good will ambassadors" for the Latino community. "We are trying to get space for these groups to rehearse and show the public what they can do," Capouch said.