In 1999, conservative estimates put the number of Spanish-speaking Catholics in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee at 20,000, not including the migrant workers and their families who flocked to the area every summer…..and there was just one priest in the diocese who spoke Spanish.
So when the Bishop asked for our help, we were happy to answer the call. Fr. Francisco Valdovinos, S.T., a native of Mexico, had only been ordained five years at the time, but he did not hesitate when his superior asked him to go to Tallahassee. He immediately set out to meet the dozens of communities of Spanish-speaking Catholics who were settling in the area, sometimes driving as much as two hours each way, to see how he could best serve them.
Today, the work begun more than a decade ago has been taken up — and expanded — by a team of two Missionary Servant priests and a seminarian on his “apostolic year.” Together, they work among Spanish-speaking people who are in danger of losing their Catholic Faith because of language and cultural barriers. They do this by forming small faith communities in different areas, by hosting retreats and providing leadership, social justice and faith training.
Through their ministry, they hope to establish bridges that can span any differences and distances that might separate the people of God from their Catholic faith. What began as a mission to simply “start something” in 1999 has become a thriving ministry that now includes six parishes, two hospitals and two prisons.