The music at the Mass kicking off the year-long celebration of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s 40-year relationship with La Sagrada Familia had a distinctive Latin flare. (Photos by David Bernacchi)

It seems appropriate that the song that kicked off the Mass to begin the year-long celebration of the 40-year relationship between the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and La Sagrada Familia Parish in the Dominican Republic translates to, “Let us go rejoice in the house of the Lord.”

The Mass on Tuesday, Oct. 5, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, blended elements of both cultures, with readings done in English and Spanish, music with a Latin American flare, Spanish dancers and Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana Bishop Tomás Alejo Concepción sitting across from Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki.

“We come to this altar in great reverence, to be able to talk about us being joined together as one family, the sacred family,” said Archbishop Listecki, noting that many people in attendance at the Mass had made trips to the Dominican Republic to serve the sister parish of the archdiocese.

“Through him, we are not divided by water, or by land or by language,” Archbishop Listecki said. “For all Christians, love must be the basis for which all of our actions begin, and love must be our ultimate goal.”

In 1981, then-Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., reached out to Ronald Conners from the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic, volunteering two priests to minister to the impoverished community. Forty years later, the communities share faith, friendship, solidarity and an ongoing ministry.

“His decision to support the mission has been a great gift to the archdiocese,” Archbishop Listecki said. “Several archdiocesan priests have proudly served in the DR and often recount with great affection the time they spent, how their faith was deepened. It has assisted us in forming through them and informing through them our culture here in Milwaukee.”

Priests who have served the parish include Fathers Richard Broach, Thomas Demse, Robert Stiefvater, Ronald Gramza, Vincent Kobida, Dennis Dirkx, James Schuerman, Kevin Murphy, Donald Hying, Kenneth Clapp, Robert Wells, Jerome Thompson, Marti Colom, Oriol Regales, Juan Manuel Camacho and Esteban Redolad. In addition, several archdiocesan parishes have developed an ongoing La Sagrada Familia ministry.

“It’s Christ who makes us one,” Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said.

Fr. Javier Guativa is the current pastor of La Sagrada Familia.

Located in the province of Azua, in the southwest region of the Dominican Republic, the parish serves 30,000 individuals living in 22 towns and villages. La Sagrada Familia is located in Sabana Yegua, the largest town, consisting of approximately 10,000 residents.

Through the assistance of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, three nutrition centers are available, as well as preschool education for children ages 1-6. A health program, which includes a main clinic in Sabana Yegu and a network of pharmacies, helps meet the needs of the community.

Latrines, a sewing center, parish bakery and literacy program are also available to the community. Most communities have a chapel to pray and celebrate their faith, and several small churches have also been built.

Two priests who have served at La Sagrada Familia have become bishops: Bishop Donald J. Hying, now the Bishop of Madison, and Bishop James T. Schuerman, a current auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

In January 2017, Archbishop Listecki was sitting with then-Bishop José Dolores Grullón Estrella, who was noting that La Sagrada Familia had given the Archdiocese of Milwaukee a great gift (Bishop Hying). Knowing that three days earlier, then-Fr. Schuerman had been named a bishop by Pope Francis, Archbishop Listecki decided to hold his tongue and not correct Bishop Estrella.

The Office of World Mission will present events throughout the year celebrating the four decades of partnership. The next will be Nov. 16 at St. John Paul II Parish in Milwaukee, when Fr. Estevan Redolad, the former pastor of La Sagrada Familia, will offer Part I of the three-part series “The Fascinating Origin of the Dominican Republic.”

During his bilingual comments at the conclusion of Mass, Bishop Schuerman, who spent four years at La Sagrada Familia, said, “We have to celebrate 40 years, because it’s 40 years filled with God’s gifts.”