The late 1950’s and early 1960’s saw the arrival in great numbers of Hispanic people into the Diocese of Norwich, coming primarily from Puerto Rico. At that time, two Spanish-speaking Jesuits began to attend to their spiritual needs, working out of St. Mary Parish in New London. At about the same time, a Cuban priest, Rev. Gonzalo Regalado, began ministry to the Hispanic people in Willimantic, working out of St. Joseph Parish. A few years later, ministry began in the Middletown area, under the leadership of Rev. David Zercie.
As the Hispanic presence continued to grow, it became necessary for the ministry to be more focused and organized. In 1985, Bishop Daniel Reilly, then bishop of the Diocese of Norwich, appointed Rev. Robert Washabaugh the first Director for Hispanic Ministry in the diocese. Since 1985, Hispanic Ministry has grown from the first three parishes to include St. Mary Parish in Norwich and St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Clinton. There are other areas of Hispanic concentration in the diocese where ministry could easily be developed. However, lack of sufficient personnel makes that difficult at this time.
Ministry to the Hispanic People has also grown from an adjunct ministry in the parish to being an essential part of the very fabric of the parish. This new phenomenon of a multicultural parish is both a blessing and a challenge. It is a blessing in that it brings together peoples from diverse cultural groups into a unified body of faith, learning from one another and working together to build up the Body of Christ. It is a challenge in that it calls us to step out of the old mindset of assimilating cultures into a melting pot of uniformity.
A multicultural parish is one that values and respects the culture, the way of being and worshiping of each group, while forming unity in the midst of diversity. In some of these parishes, that multiculturalism includes other newly arrived groups as well, such as Haitians in Norwich and Brazilians in Clinton. Today, the Hispanic people in the Diocese of Norwich are no longer primarily from Puerto Rico. They come from just about all the Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America. To meet this challenge, the pastor is assisted by a Spanish-speaking priest and a Spanish-speaking religious. He is also assisted, as available, by a Spanish-speaking deacon. Lay leaders as well are active in building up the Church in their parishes.