Waterloo parish strives to unite people of many cultures, nations through faith

By Jill Kruse-Domeyer
Witness Editorial Assistant

This article is part of the ongoing “Know Your Archdiocese” series, which highlights life in parishes around the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

WATERLOO — Members of Queen of Peace Parish in Waterloo processed through the streets near their downtown church on the evening of Thursday, Aug. 22 on their way to a special Mass to celebrate their patronal feast day — the Memorial of the Queenship of Mary.

Archbishop Michael Jackels was the principal celebrant at Mass that evening, held at Queen of Peace Church, located at 320 Mulberry Street. Several hundred parishioners were in attendance. Before the procession and liturgy, members of the parish prayed the rosary in a garden near the church. After the Mass, a meal followed.

The patronal feast day celebration at Queen of Peace was preceded by a three-day vigil, featuring guest priests and homilies. During each night of the vigil, the rosary was prayed, Mass was celebrated and a social was held afterward.

This was the first year Queen of Peace held a patronal feast day celebration, but it is something the parish hopes to repeat in the future. The idea for such an event came from Father Pierre Joseph, pastor of Queen of Peace Parish.

A press release sent out by the parish prior to the celebration said that Father Joseph felt the parish had “reason to celebrate what has occurred since it was formed and what is hoped for in the future.”

Queen of Peace Parish was formed rather recently — established only 17 years ago. The parish represents the merger of three previous Catholic parishes in ­Waterloo: St. Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist parishes, as well as a fourth parish, St. Nicholas’ in Evansdale.

When the parishes were consolidated in 2002, St. Joseph’s church building was selected to be the site of the new Queen of Peace Parish. The other buildings and church grounds were sold. Also, by 2005, all the parish schools associated with the four former parishes were closed. Today, students attend Cedar Valley Catholic Schools system.

The years of merger and transition were understandably challenging ones for parishioners because of the many difficult decisions that had to be made. “Certainly, this was a very painful process that many have not been able to overcome completely,” said Queen of Peace parishioner Martha Real, whose husband is a deacon at the parish. “But I feel we are at a better place at this point.”

Real said that since the beginning, Queen of Peace has been a diverse parish. Hispanic ministry was established in Waterloo in 1993 to serve Hispanic Catholics who were moving to the Waterloo area to work at a local meat processing plant. St. Joseph Church became the Hispanic center in the city. Today, about 600 of the nearly 2,400 members of Queen of Peace Parish are Hispanic.

Even among the Hispanic community at Queen of Peace, there is great diversity. Members of the community have origins primarily in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, but also in Chile, Puerto Rico, Peru, Venezuela, Panama and the Philippines.

Some members of the Hispanic community are new immigrants while others have lived in the Waterloo area for more than 20 years or are from families that have been in the United States for generations. There are other Hispanics who come to Queen of Peace for a short time before moving on to other parishes in other states as they seek to secure work or to be closer to family.

Among the Hispanic members of Queen of Peace Parish, there are some who are of indigenous descent and whose first language is not Spanish but one of the indigenous languages of Mexico or Central America.

Real herself grew up in California but was born in Mexico and moved to Iowa with her family in 2002. She served as the director of Hispanic ministry for three years, and today, her husband serves in that role at the parish.

“I believe the Hispanic ministry has been successful throughout the years,” she said. “It has provided assistance to many families in many areas.”

Real said there are numerous other ministries, programs and annual events sponsored by Queen of Peace Parish. Among the Hispanic community, five small groups have been formed by approximately 60 parish members that gather once a week. Their purpose is to pray together, share the word and also socialize.

Every year for Lent, Real said parishion­ers hold a reenactment of the Passion, and in December, they gather for a novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe and to perform a play about Mary’s apparitions to St. Juan Diego.

A group from the parish also helps host a meal every Tuesday evening that is open to the whole community of Waterloo, and the parish also works closely with the St. Vincent de Paul Society to help those in need in the area. The parish also has a new bilingual youth choir and a group of parishioners that meet every Wednesday to pray for the needs of the world.

Real said in all it does, the parish continues to strive for a greater sense of unity among its members. “We are working towards the integration of both the Anglo and Hispanic community by finding ways to come together to worship, celebrate and socialize,” she said. “I feel that we are making great gains in this area.  And this makes us stronger.”

Since 2018, the priest assigned to lead this increasingly integrated parish has been Father Pierre Joseph. The priest, who comes from the Caribbean island of Haiti, is multilingual, speaking both Spanish and English, as well as French and Creole.

Father Joseph was ordained to the priesthood five years ago. After studying and serving in Spain and France, he asked his Haitian bishop if he could spend some time in the United States to learn English. He was given permission and went on to study at Divine Word College in Epworth.

“One thing led to another,” Father Joseph recalled. “Impressed by the American culture and after collaborating shortly with some priests around, mainly in Cedar Rapids, I found out about the possibility to help more in the U.S., and the archdiocese, through his Excellency Archbishop Jackels, offered me this possibility.”

Having been at Queen of Peace for just a little over a year now, Father Joseph continues to learn more about the parish and its people but said, “I am happy to be here, I love what I am doing, and I love my parishioners.”

Father Joseph also said he has been pleased with how the inaugural patronal feast day celebration turned out at Queen of Peace Parish. As he reflected recently on the four-day event, Father Joseph referenced the words of Father Tom Ascheman, SVD, who was one of the guest priests for the celebration.

“Like Father Tom said: When people from so many countries and with such different background gather together to worship, nothing can be more beautiful,” Father Joseph said. “Even more special when we do it under the motherhood of this Lady that makes all brotherhood possible.”

 

Members of Queen of Peace Parish carry a statue of the Blessed Mother during a procession Aug. 22 to celebrate the queenship of their parish’s patron saint. (Contributed photo)