Lumen Gentium Award Winner Profile

Diocesan priest to be awarded for evangelization, loving service to Hispanic community

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Over the next several weeks, Rhode Island Catholic will feature profiles of the 15 winners in the 10 categories of the diocese’s 2016 Lumen Gentium Awards, which formally recognize those who ‘toil in the vineyard’ in service to the Lord, and minister to those in greatest need in their parish or community. The honorees will be awarded during a dinner at Twin River Event Center in Lincoln on Wednesday, May 18. Guests wishing to purchase tickets to the dinner — whose proceeds will benefit St. Martin de Porres Multi-Purpose Center and Fruit Hill Day Care for Seniors — are asked to register online at www.dioceseofprovidence.org/lumen-gentium-awards. For any questions about the event, please call 401-277-2121.

PROVIDENCE — In May, Father Raymond Tetrault, retired former pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish, Providence, will receive a Lumen Gentium Award in Evangelization for his work in establishing and growing Latino and Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Providence. Ordained in 1960, the Rhode Island native has devoted much of his life to serving the liturgical and spiritual needs of the state’s growing Spanish-speaking population.

“A priest is ordained to evangelize and to prepare people to be evangelizers, whatever the community is, that’s the work of the priest,” he said during an interview at the chancery.

Father Tetrault first began his ministry in the Providence area in the 1960s, at a time when Rhode Island was experiencing an influx of immigrants from Latin American countries. The Diocese of Providence, which had previously served the needs of Italian, Irish, French, Portuguese and other immigrants, did not have the resources necessary to serve the Spanish-speaking population.

“It was an immigrant group lost here as far as the Church was concerned,” said Father Tetrault.

He recalled being in a store one day when a man entered asking where he could attend Spanish Mass. Realizing there was no Spanish Mass celebrated in the area, Father Tetrault, who learned the language as a student in Spain, offered to say Mass in the family’s Broad Street home. This began his involvement with a neighborhood effort that would sow the seeds for a larger evangelization movement around the state.

“I learned a lot by just being with people in their houses,” he said of the early years. “There was a sense of responding to their need and knowing the sense of community.”

Within a few years, Hispanic ministry in Providence had expanded to include communities at St. Michael’s, St. Patrick’s and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parishes, as well as churches throughout the diocese. In 1975, the diocese established the Latin American Apostolate, with Father Tetrault as its first director. Though it faced challenges as it grew, including the question of how to integrate Spanish-speaking communities into existing English-speaking parishes, the Apostolate continued to serve the needs Rhode Island’s significant Spanish-speaking Catholic population and now includes communities at 14 parishes throughout the state.

“Our country lives the new blood of new people coming in,” said Father Tetrault. “That’s what brings us life. The Church is part of the society, and it lives the same way.”

As the Latino population of the state continues to grow, he believes the diocese will need to continue to adapt and engage in new efforts to serve its Catholic population, such as encouraging seminarians to learn Spanish. In receiving the award, he wishes to thank the Spanish-speaking people for bringing their love, faith and community to the diocese.

“I have found a great blessing coming from the people,” he said.