Spanish-speaking community finds fellowship at St. Mary’s
Diverse congregation comes together to celebrate unique cultural traditions
When I look out on the congregation, I see every colour of face. It’s beautiful . ... I preach more slowly here, with shorter, simpler homilies, often on themes concerning adjusting to life here and how we can support one another. Father. Ciro Alfonso Perez
St. Mary’s Catholic parish is the second oldest Roman Catholic parish in Saskatoon. It was established in 1919 and was originally named Our Lady of Victory to celebrate the end of the First World War.
The first church building was destroyed by fire in 1927 and the present red brick church on Avenue O South was opened in 1930. The parish was run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Frenchspeaking order, so perhaps it is no wonder the architecture of the building is reminiscent of a Quebec parish church. The Oblates turned over the parish to the Redemptorist Order in 1934. (It was the Redemptorists who initiated the establishment of St. Mary’s Credit Union to aid parish families and people of the community).
Father Ciro Alfonso Perez, who was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s parish in August 2015, is a Redemptorist. He was ordained in Colombia in 2000, and after eight years working in cities, villages and missions in Colombia, he came to Saskatoon at the invitation of Bishop Albert Legatt to work with the burgeoning Spanish-speaking Catholic community in the city.
Today the Spanish-speaking congregation of St. Mary’s numbers well over 100 and represents people from 18 different countries in Latin America, South America, Central America and Mexico.
From its very beginnings, Perez says, St. Mary’s was a culturally diverse parish. It started with English, German, Ukrainian and Irish Catholics, and from its earliest days was identified as a parish whose goal was to build community from diverse cultures.
“In the past two decades, St. Mary’s has become significantly more culturally diverse,” he says. “We have welcomed people from all over Africa, the Middle East, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Asia, as well as people from Europe.
“In all, 40 to 60 different countries are represented at St. Mary’s. When I look out on the congregation, I see every colour of face. It’s beautiful. English is their second language, as it is mine. I preach more slowly here, with shorter, simpler homilies, often on themes concerning adjusting to life here and how we can support one another. I encourage them to face their new challenges with faith. It’s not always easy.”
The English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities within St. Mary’s hold some activities together, but Perez says the Spanish congregation is the most active group.
Spanish-language mass is held every Sunday at 4 p.m. and once a month is followed by a supper hosted by one of the Spanishspeaking countries. The menu is representative of the country, as is the musical entertainment.
The next supper will be on May 21, hosted by the Colombians. Everyone is welcome to attend. The supper will take place in St. Mary’s parish hall beginning at 5 p.m.
“It has been a great experience for me to work with this community,” Perez says. “We may speak the same language, but each Spanishspeaking country has its own traditions and customs. Some are more liberal, others are more conservative. How we celebrate our faith is different, and that includes how we celebrate the holy holidays like Christmas, Easter, and others.”
Perez says the Spanish-speaking congregation is involved in many activities beyond the Spanish-language mass and the monthly suppers. “We hold regular Bible studies, prayer groups, a charismatic prayer group, young peoples’ group, catechesis for the children, and meetings for couples. One congregation member teaches guitar lessons, and a man from Chile is starting drama classes. In May, someone else is beginning a drum class.”
He says the Spanish community also conducts an active welcome program to help newcomers.
Last fall, St. Mary’s church organized a cultural festival to highlight and help integrate the various cultures and nationalities represented in the parish. Perez says it was so successful, the church is planning another festival for this fall. “Our aim is to showcase the various cultures and celebrate diversity and unity in our community.”
Though St. Mary’s is one of the poorest parishes in the city in terms of economics, it is well-known for its charity. Perez describes several programs at St. Mary ’s that provide help and support for those in need.
“We operate a Backdoor Ministry that serves sandwiches and coffee, and at Christmas time we distribute 300 to 500 food hampers. The rest of the year, we give out as many as five food hampers a day to needy people. We also give away clothing, especially in winter.”
“A big thing for me at St. Mary’s is counselling people in distress,” Perez says. “There are so many of them — people with addictions and many other difficult circumstances. I listen, I pray, and I bless them.”