New office for linking Latino families to Catholic schools launches on Lake Street

| January 18, 2019 | 0 Comments

Maricruz Hernandez, Latino enrollment coordinator for the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence, is working to increase the numnber of Latino students in Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

In 2017, Lorena Trejo heard a radio spot pitching Catholic schools on a secular Spanish radio station. It piqued her interest, and she reached out to the source, the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence, which focuses on Catholic elementary school excellence and advancement in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Now her two children attend St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Savage.

The Edina-based CSCOE is hoping to reach more families like the Trejos by expanding its outreach to the Latino Catholic community with a new satellite office in a popular Latino shopping center along Lake Street in Minneapolis.

Leading the office is Maricruz Hernandez, CSCOE Latino enrollment coordinator. It was her voice Trejo heard on the air, and she helped Trejo connect with St. John the Baptist and secure tuition assistance.

Hernandez has been on a mission to close the gap between the vast number of young Latino Catholics and the small Latino presence in Catholic schools. After enrolling her children at Community of Saints Regional Catholic School in West St. Paul, Hernandez connected with CSCOE first as a volunteer. Then, in 2017, she took the newly established enrollment coordinator position and helped 54 families enroll nearly 100 students for the 2018-2019 school year -— a 9 percent increase in Latino Catholic student enrollment at the 79 Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese.

After her successful first year, CSCOE opened a satellite office for Latino enrollment Jan. 4 at Plaza Mexico, 417 E. Lake Street. It received a blessing from Father James Peterson, parochial administrator of Immaculate Conception in Columbia Heights who previously ministered for three years in Venezuela.

CSCOE chose to locate its satellite office in Plaza Mexico on Lake Street to be in the middle of a Latino community. The office is situated overlooking a food court, and a banner promoting Catholic schools hangs over the railing for guests to see.

“It’s almost like Our Lady of Guadalupe: She could have gone and appeared to the rich, but she went where the poor were because she wanted to raise [up] those people,” Hernandez said. “So if you want to reach Latinos, you need to be where Latinos are.”

In order to staff the new office site, Hernandez moved from part-time to full-time hours, and CSCOE added three part-time employees to help. Staff members visit parishes and Latino communities to meet potential Catholic school families. Their work includes going to festivals and street fairs to meet Latino Catholics, Hernandez said. After connecting with families, they help them find the right school and secure financial assistance, which CSCOE leaders say is the largest perceived obstacle for Latino families seeking Catholic education.

“Most of them, at least with anyone who came from another country, have the idea that it’s very, very expensive,” Hernandez said. “It’s only for the rich, and so they won’t even step in one [Catholic] school just because they don’t feel that it’s possible for their family.”

A 2015 Boston College report showed that nationally more than half of Catholics under 18 are Latino but only 17 percent attend a Catholic school.

The Latinos population in Minnesota has increased by nearly 20 percent from 2010 through 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Seventy-one percent of them are Catholic.

With its expanded efforts, CSCOE’s Latino enrollment office has a goal of 300 new Latino students for the next school year.

The first day it was open, a walk-in client who had been looking around at the other nearby businesses asked Hernandez about Catholic schools. Hernandez said the family is looking for a school in the area.

“They are going to tour a [Catholic] school, and the school that they are going to tour is actually really good at helping families,” Hernandez said. “I have no doubt that there’s a good fit for their kids.”

She hopes the Plaza Mexico location builds more bridges with Latino communities, especially as the mall fills up on Fridays and Saturdays.

“This place has so much to offer to Latinos that they come from anywhere,” Hernandez said.

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