Glendale Heights pastor, parishioner complete national Hispanic leadership training

A Glendale Heights pastor and parishioner recently completed the inaugural class of a groundbreaking Hispanic leadership program developed by a national, Washington, D.C.-based Catholic nonprofit and overseen by the Diocese of Joliet.

Bishop Ron Hicks of the Diocese of Joliet commended Father Gregor Gorsic of St. Matthew Catholic Church, parishioner Laura Vargas and the other 14 graduates for "growing in wisdom" during a Mass celebrated in Spanish.

Leadership Roundtable, a nonprofit focused on best practices for the Catholic Church, developed the Latino Pastoral Leaders Initiative in recognition of the untapped resource of the Hispanic community.

Michael Brough, a partner at Leadership Roundtable, praised the students for their diligence. "You are the pioneers," Brough said.

As the Hispanic ministry coordinator at St. Matthew Catholic Church, Vargas said she now feels more secure when talking with Anglos, which is key to her future goal.

"I want to not only work with my community, but also work outside my community by evangelizing others," Vargas said.

About 40% of all Hispanics in the United States are Catholic, according to 2018 research conducted by V Encuentro, the Hispanic outreach arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. That percentage is mirrored in the Diocese of Joliet and in St. Matthew parish, according to Gorsic.

Gorsic said he's spent his nearly 25 years as a priest in Hispanic ministry and hopes the program can bridge the divide between diocesan and parish efforts.

"This gives a broader connection as a diocesan family," he said.

The journey for Gorsich, Vargas and their classmates was not without challenges.

When the diocese's Office of Hispanic & Ethnic Ministry competed and won against Catholic dioceses nationwide for the opportunity to serve as the first class of the new program, the country was struggling with the initial months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Participants received a blessing from then diocesan apostolic administrator Bishop Richard Pates in September 2020 while wearing masks and sitting at least six feet from each other in the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet. Plans for in-person classes beginning in January 2021 quickly pivoted to online learning.

The students and Leadership Roundtable staff persevered, meeting regularly by Zoom for classes that included a comprehensive personal assessment and best practices on such issues as finance, operations, legal compliance, ethics, stewardship, and advocacy on local ordinances or state and federal legislation.

Leadership Roundtable is expanding the program to the Diocese of St. Augustine in Florida and will soon announce a third site.

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