Rev. Frank Sacks, C.M. - Director
SOUTHEAST DEANERY PROMOTES "OUTREACH" TO HISPANICSOver the past four or five years, the southeast corner of the Diocese of Birmingham has seen the arrival of thousands of newcomers whose language and culture differ from ours. These are Hispanic immigrants from "south of the border," who have come to our country seeking a better life through employment and educational opportunities. Bishop Foley, as well as the clergy and laity, is preoccupied for the welfare of all of them, and for the spiritual welfare of the Catholics among them, actually the greater portion of their number.
On Tuesday, October 28, Father Richard Donohoe, Dean of the Birmingham Diocese's Southeast Deanery, hosted a luncheon meeting to discuss the present situation of Hispanic Catholics in the region. Present were Mr. Richard Turcotta, Diocesan Executive Director of Social Services, Mrs. Brenda Bullock, Director of Hispanic Ministry, and four Vincentian priests. The latter are currently working among Hispanics of the area: Father Martin McGeough, C.M., Father Frank Sacks, C.M., and two visiting Vincentian missioners, Father John Kennedy, C.M. and Father Arthur Kolinsky, C.M.
The Vincentian Fathers, who have labored in Alabama for over 80 years, reorganized their efforts into the Vincentian Mission of East Central Alabama. Since the Fall of 1995, the Director is Father Sacks who presently collaborates with five other Vincentians serving the area. The aim of this restructured Mission is to evangelize the economically poor living in the seven counties where Vincentians staff parishes: Lee, Elmore, Chambers, Randolph, Tallapoosa, Coosa and Clay Counties. Recent efforts have included reaching out to the Spanish speaking of the area.
To further this last objective, the Vincentians invited two of their confreres, Father Kolinsky and Father Kennedy, to come and direct a month-long mission to the Spanish speaking residents of East Central Alabama. Both these priests are fluent Spanish speakers themselves, having many years of experience behind them as missioners in Central and South America. Their mission, conducted during the month of October, has been marked by a significant outreach to Hispanics in the areas served by two Vincentian pastors: Father McGeough in Lanett and Roanoke AND Father Robert Stone, C.M. in Alexander City and Ashland.
On the first Sunday in October the visiting missioners met with the Spanish-speaking in the three churches and explained their "plan of action." This plan entailed several key activities: encouraging those already attending church to continue their participation; calling for volunteers to guide and accompany the priests in searching for and visiting all the Hispanics in the area; and formation of coherent Christian communities.
Many of the faithful offered their help and were recruited as "lay missioners." During the month of October they made many sorties into towns and countryside with Fathers Kennedy, Kolinsky and Sacks, knocking on doors, visiting families, praying with them, and just letting them know that their Church is here to serve them. The priests themselves visited motels, workplaces such as furniture factories and chicken processing plants, restaurants, trailer courts, and other places where newly arrived Hispanics might be contacted.
Besides Spanish Masses each Sunday, Masses and prayer services have been held in homes and outdoors in trailer parks. A restaurant in Lineville has been serving as a chapel, where Mass is celebrated on Saturday evenings for the Hispanics of that area. In short, a more marked Catholic presence has been noted in East Central Alabama, both by Spanish and English speakers; so much so that a local secular publication, circulated among 5700 households, printed a laudatory article, with photos, describing the Mission.
Father Sacks, with the two priests servicing Catholic communities of Roanoke and Alexander City, Fathers McGeough and Stone, are very pleased with the month's effort. At the same time they realize this is only a beginning, and that, with God's help, much more can be done to evangelize this new and vibrant portion of God's People. Efforts under way in the Deanery to develop a more effective visible presence among Hispanic Catholics will make possible a fuller integration of Hispanics into the local Church.
As Director of the Vincentian Mission, Father Sacks collaborates with an Associate Director, Father Bruce Krause, C.M. living in Opelika. The team includes four other Vincentians who are assigned as pastors: Father McGeough in Lanett and Roanoke; Father Stone, in Alexander City and Ashland, and two priests working in the Archdiocese of Mobile:Father William Allegretto in Opelika and Father Francis Lynch, C.M. in Tallassee.