By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
As boys growing up in the mining state of Guanajuato, Mexico, both Father Carlos Conde and Father Ismael Hernández said they’d always admired priests, but never thought they’d become priests themselves.
That was a couple of decades ago. Last month, the priests — both from the Diocese of León in Guanajuato, Mexico — arrived in Louisville to minister to the growing number of Hispanic Catholics in this area.
The growth of Latinos in the Catholic Church is happening all over the country. The Pew Research Center recently reported that 55 percent of the estimated 35.4 million Latinos in the country identify as Catholics. Father Joseph Rankin — pastor of St. Rita Church and vicar for Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Louisville — said this archdiocese’s share of that number is anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000.
“The people have been coming to us with pastoral and social needs,” said Father Rankin. “Having two priests here who can speak Spanish and get to know the people will be a tremendous help,” he said.
Father Conde, who has been a priest for close to 21 years, is working in collaboration with Father Peter Do at St. Bartholomew Church on Buechel Bank Road. Father Hernández will be working alongside Father Anthony Chandler at Immaculate Conception Church in La Grange, Ky.
Father Conde, one of nine children, became interested in the priesthood at a very early age and entered the seminary when he was only 12-years-old.
“When I told my parents I wanted to enter the seminary they said no,” recalled Father Conde. “They didn’t have the financial resources to pay for my education.”
At the time, the family alreadyhad eight other children in school.
He didn’t give up, he said, and “God opened some doors” which allowed him to eventually enter the seminary.
At that young age, Father Conde, said he had the dream of being like the priests he looked up to. However, there was doubt in his mind that it was attainable.
“In Mexico, people reserve a high level of reverence for priests,” said Father Conde. In some rural areas in Mexico many women, when ill, will see a priest before they see a doctor, he noted.
During his high school years in the seminary, Father Conde said he started believing that he, too, could one day be a priest.
He was ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of León in 1994 at the age of 26. Since then he has worked with seminarians, serving as vice-rector of the diocesan seminary in León and as principal of the seminary’s high school. He was most recently pastor of La Ascensión del Señor Church in León.
Here in Louisville, Father Conde celebrates Mass in Spanish every Saturday at 6 p.m. at St. Bartholomew, 2042 Buechel Bank Road. He also celebrates Mass in Spanish every Monday at 6:30 p.m. at St. Edward Church, 9608 Sue Helen Drive.
Father Hernández, one of 10 children, said his parents taught him and his siblings to pray at an early age, and the family always went to church together. After graduating from elementary school, Father Hernández, 38, said he found a job working in a ceramics factory in his hometown of Guanajuato. He later befriended a priest who was new in town.
Through that friendship, Father Hernández, said he started learning what it meant to be a priest.
He entered the diocesan seminary high school in the city of León when he was 14 years old. He was ordained in 2008. In the eight years that he’s been a priest, Father Hernandez has served as an associate pastor and as an instructor at the seminary in León. Father Hernández spent two years studying the theology of Mary at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where he earned a master’s degree.
Father Hernández celebrates Mass in Spanish at 12:30 p.m. every Sunday at Immaculate Conception Church, 502 North 5th St., La Grange, Ky. He hears confessions on Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. and on Saturday from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Immaculate Conception.
Father Hernández’s ministry will also include working with prison inmates.
Both priests said they hope their presence and work in the Archdiocese of Louisville will encourage members of the
Hispanic community to fully participate in their faith.