“If Latinos do not feel welcome in the parish, they will never
make it to the school,” said Fr. Joe Corpora from the
University of Notre Dame, the day’s main presenter. “This
effort to reach out to Latinos is going to be the future—and
quite frankly, in many places, it already is.”
Fr. Corpora has given similar presentations in 25 dioceses
across the country.
“Here’s where we are in many dioceses: Latinos are still
renters—and renters never invest. When they become owners, they
invest,” he explained.
The bilingual University of Notre Dame administrator fielded a
lot of questions from the audience during what was a frank
discussion. One man inquired about his statement that 17 percent
of the Latino population living in the U.S. is made up of
undocumented immigrants—and whether that would be a hurdle to
enrolling them in Catholic schools.
The short answer was no, unless that particular school required
a birth certificate. Trust and familiarity with school and
parish personnel may be a bigger hurdle, he explained.
“No one should be scared or afraid of this,” said Fr. Corpora.
“Goodness, the United States only will be enriched by this
“We need to address this with reality and right away,” said
Deacon José García, director of Hispanic ministries with the
Toledo Catholic Diocese. “We are probably behind.”
The Notre Dame priest told the audience that Catholic
congregations will have to come to terms with their inherent
ethnic and racial bias or prejudice. He called it a byproduct of
many people’s upbringing—something that should have changed with
life experience but has not for too many.
He said a little tolerance and acceptance of the differences in
culture can go a long way toward Mexican and other families
embracing and joining a parish first, then sending their
children to a Catholic school.
“Let’s just face it: we’re all bigots. Get over it and then deal
with it,” said Fr. Corpora. “The person who tells you they’re
not racist is lying. But you can work through it.”
“The problem is how we approach it. In my home country of
Mexico, we don’t have Catholic schools, only private schools,”
said Garcia. “So when we come here, we don’t know. We’re only
coming to work and to survive in this country.”
The priest soon will be leaving his post at the University of
Notre Dame for a new assignment in Mexico. But he challenged the
group to raise their cultural competence to a new level in order
to better understand and begin to develop relationships with
Latino families, who may be a bit mistrusting at first.
“Let’s begin with cultural incompetency, because that’s where we
all are,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Those
reflect the values you were taught when you were raised.”
Fr. Corpora related a story of how Catholic families reacted in
the Portland, Oregon area reacted when five Mexican children
began attending the parish’s parochial school. Many feared test
scores would go down. The priest met those concerns head-on with
“Yeah, but you’ll start winning more soccer games,” he joked,
causing many to realize how ridiculous their initial fears would
turn out to be. “It’s been my experience that parents begin to
buy in at two levels: when they realize their school might close
without this infusion of other kids, and when the kids begin to
play together. But it’s not easy.”
Fr. Corpora stated the pastor would have to be a steadfast
leader to get parishioners to understand and accept a more
diverse student body. He sprinkled humor throughout what was a
very frank discussion.
“It’s an issue that has to be addressed—and it has to be
addressed head-on,” he advised.
Fr. Corpora stated that each Catholic diocese and all the
parishes within need to adopt the same attitude about diversity
that corporate US-America already has embraced, explaining that
companies such as Bank of America, Delta Airlines, Intel, and
Johnson and Johnson actively recruit Latino students on the
Notre Dame campus. He said those companies realize the economic
power that a growing U.S. Latino population controls and want to
increase their market share and profits.
“Companies realize they’re not going to make it if they don’t
get Carlos Rodríguez in,” he said. “NPR reported about a year
ago that for every three white people who retire from the
workforce, only one will take their place. The rest will be
people of color.”
Fr. Corpora challenged the Catholic schools crowd to rethink
their typical notions of cultural competence by relaying some
glaring examples of how Mexican children are raised that could
lead educators to make wrong assumptions about their behavior.
One example he gave is the way people shake hands. He told the
crowd he was taught to “shake hands like a man” with a firm,
hearty grasp “where you’d have to struggle for oxygen after you
let go.” But Mexican children, on the other hand, are taught not
to give a firm handshake “until there is a level of trust
US-American children are taught to look their parents in the eye
when they’re talking, he said. Otherwise, they’re perceived to
be lying. Mexican children, on the other hand, are taught not to
look other people in the eye. He explained that authority
figures may take that mistakenly to mean the child is
misbehaving or not telling the truth.
“I’m not saying one is right and one is wrong. Culture is at
work all the time,” he said. “So we have to be constantly aware
of how culture works in our lives.”
That cultural divide even extends to the differences in how
US-American and Latin American parishioners view the behavior of
“In the United States, the one unforgivable sin against a priest
is to break the vow of celibacy,” he said. “If you live in Latin
America, the one unforgivable sin against a priest is anything
against poverty. So if a priest there lives above the people,
drives a car they can’t drive, goes on vacations they can’t
afford, goes places they can only see from the outside—to them,
“I believe if we reach the kids in the parishes, it’s the right
thing to do in the future,” said Garcia. “The kids will have a
more open mind and can teach the parents.”
The effort comes at a critical time, as Ohio’s governor has
proposed increased funding for an expansion of the state's Ed
Choice school voucher program. Starting next year,
kindergarteners from families who earn up to 200 percent of
poverty level would be eligible for vouchers to attend charter
or private schools.
That would go a long way toward making a Catholic school
education more affordable for Latino families, as well as assist
parochial schools to fill empty slots. But there is a catch for
participating schools—they would receive $4,250 from the state
for each eligible student who enrolls. But they would not be
allowed to charge additional tuition.
“I think it’s about doing what’s right, not about the survival
of the Catholic schools,” said García. “I think it’s the right
thing to do, to open the doors to every nationality for the
schools. We are one family and we are one faith.”