By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Father Joseph Rankin, pastor of St. Rita Church, has been named to a newly-created position in the Archdiocese of Louisville — vicar for Hispanic ministry.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz announced the appointment during the archdiocese’s second annual Encuentro Hispano, a gathering held late last month for Hispanic and Latino Catholics that drew about 300 people.
The vicar for Hispanic ministry will act as an extension of the archbishop’s presence in the Hispanic Catholic community, said Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese.
Specifically, Reynolds said, Father Rankin will “assist priests engaged in ministry to Hispanics across the archdiocese.”
He will be helping priests just like himself.
Father Rankin has served as pastor of St. Rita Church for the last nine years. St. Rita parish has a large Hispanic community — drawing about 600 people to its Spanish Mass each Sunday. The parish also is home to about 1,200 non-Hispanic families, Father Rankin said.
His ministry to Hispanic Catholics began long before that assignment, though, Father Rankin said, noting that he began serving Catholics in Central America as a seminarian. He’s served Hispanic Catholics in the Archdiocese of Louisville for about 20 years.
As the vicar for Hispanic ministry, Father Rankin will “convene” priests involved in Hispanic ministry, provide resources to help them in their ministry and offer them his support, Reynolds said. He also said Father Rankin will work with the vicar for clergy on making priest assignments and will work with the Chancery on parish planning.
“The Office of Multicultural Ministry will continue to do their good work through Eva Gonzalez and Annette Turner,” he said. “This is not a reduction of their responsibility, but an addition.” Gonzalez is director of Hispanic ministry for the office, which is headed by Turner, its executive director.
Father Rankin said he’s pleased the archdiocese is committing new resources to the Hispanic community.
“We’ve had a tremendous growth in the last 20 years,” he said. “The archdiocese wants to give more care and more priority to this ministry.
“There are tremendous gifts these people bring to our church. We want to find a way to use their gifts and welcome their gifts into the work of the archdiocese,” he said.
Among those gifts is a deep sense of faith among Hispanic Catholics, a gift that has enhanced his own ministry, Father Rankin said.
While he was a seminarian, Father Rankin spent time in Mexico, learning the language and serving Catholics there. After his ordination, Father Rankin spent three years serving in Ecuador.
“The need and the tremendous poverty that I saw in the people” drew his concern, he said. But “I got far more than I gave. They’re tremendous examples of spirituality and faith.”
He remembers one person who particularly influenced him — a woman in Ecuador who was blind and paralyzed. He took holy Communion to her once a week.
“Her faith was unbelievable,” Father Rankin said. “She probably thought I was ministering to her, but she was ministering to me. She was unbelievably close to God. That’s one example, and I see it all the time.
“Our deaths in the Hispanic community are always tragic. We have a much younger community and we don’t have a lot of elderly people where someone has a nice long life and goes home to God,” he said. “When we have deaths they are often due to an accident.”
Two children in his congregation died recently, he said, one due to illness and the other died in an accident.
“In the midst of sometimes very difficult and tragic situations in their lives (Hispanic Catholics) not only keep their faith, but their spirituality continues to grow,” he said.
Father Rankin was chosen as the new vicar for Hispanic ministry primarily because of his long experience in this community, Reynolds said.
“Father Joe has been serving the Hispanic community longer than any (other priest) in the archdiocese,” he explained. “He’s known and respected in the archdiocese. He brings knowledge, experience and the length of his service.
“Things like the Encuentro are signs of an expanded vibrancy within the Hispanic community,” Reynolds added. “Some weekends, as many as eight parishes have Mass in Spanish and others have it occasionally.
“In each of these cases, it’s a priest of that parish expanding his duties,” Reynolds noted. “They’re in need of additional assistance and support.”
Additional support arrived for St. Paul Church and other parishes in the Dixie Highway corridor recently, Reynolds said. Conventual Franciscan Father Charles McCarthy has been assigned as associate pastor of St. Paul. His mission is to expand outreach to Hispanic Catholics in that part of Jefferson County, Reynolds said.
Also, two priests from the Archdiocese of León, Mexico, have been invited to serve in Archdiocese of Louisville parishes. These assignments have not yet been announced, Reynolds said.