Fr. Javier Guativa, shown at a Rite of Committal, is the new pastor at La Sagrada Familia, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s sister parish in the Dominican Republic. (Submitted photo)
For Fr. Javier Guativa, his new assignment as pastor of La Sagrada Familia, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s sister parish in the Dominican Republic, is a homecoming of sorts.
Fr. Guativa, who was the pastor at St. Lucy Parish in Racine and St. Sebastian Parish in Sturtevant before beginning his new role in the beginning of August, lived in the Dominican Republic from 2003-05 during his formation with the Community of St. Paul.
“I was happy to be assigned as pastor of the archdiocesan sister parish, La Sagrada Familia,” Guativa said in an email interview. “One of the reasons why I decided to become a priest was because I wanted to be a missionary priest. I was extremely glad to be back here to serve as a priest. Of course, saying goodbye to the parishioners of St. Lucy and St. Sebastian was not easy. I had a joyful time there but felt called to return to a missionary setting.”
His assignment is for six years.
Fr. Guativa replaces Fr. Michael D. Wolfe, a fellow member of the Community of St. Paul who lived with him for eight years at the CSP house in Racine. Wolfe will now be the associate pastor for Fr. Marti Colom in Colombia, serving one of the poorest neighborhoods in Bogota at Parroquia la Resurrecion (Parish of the Resurrection).
La Sagrada Familia serves a population of 30,000 people and 22 villages where the priests travel to on a regular basis to celebrate the sacraments.
“My role here is to serve the people of the parish,” Fr. Guativa said. “I arrived here and I was asked to be in quarantine for 10 days. After that, I have spent a lot of my time in getting to know the leaders of the parish community and the different ministries of the parish. I also have gone to distribute grocery bags to the members of our parish who are most in need.”
The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Fr. Guativa said he was surprised with how well the parish does in reaching out to members who are from Haiti.
“This past Sunday I celebrated my first Mass in Creole,” Fr. Guativa said. “I do not know Creole at all; so the leader of the community spent the whole Mass whispering to my ear the right pronunciation as I was reading. It was a very humbling and beautiful experience. Now, I know that I must start learning Creole.”
Fr. Guativa said during the week, he has been busy visiting various communities within the parish in the mornings. After lunch, he visits social ministries sponsored by the parish, and then there are two evening Masses.
“Even though there are a lot of restrictions due to COVID-19, we have been celebrating a good number of Sacraments during the weekend,” Fr. Guativa said. “There is usually a couple of funerals every Saturday morning and then two evening Masses in the communities. On Sunday, we have six Masses — four in the morning and two in the evening. We never get bored for sure.”
Fr. Guativa said the welcome he has received has been pleasant.
“General speaking, people here are very friendly and warm,” he said. “They have welcomed me with great kindness and love. I already knew some of the parishioners, from the time that I was here.”
In 2022, La Sagrada Familia will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its relationship with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“I would like to invite people from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to come and visit,” Fr. Guativa said. “Many people would like to come and do projects, but I think that it is important to visit first and get to know the people and the parish. When we come and visit, we will discover what we are called to do next.”