National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  February 6, 2004

New pastor for Texas parish

Seven months after labor uproar, Holy Spirit parishioners seek healing


Just over seven months after Holy Spirit Parish in McAllen, Texas, was thrown into turmoil when a new pastor fired four parish workers on his first day and subsequently resigned within a week, parishioners welcomed a permanently assigned priest to their community.

Fr. Louis L. Brum arrived at Holy Spirit Jan. 22. After his first weekend of Masses, parishioners reported that Brum, who had previously served as pastor of Resurrection Parish in Alamo, made a good first impression.

“We have a priest who is spiritual, will listen to the people and will participate in dialogue,” Harry Mosher, a member of the parish’s finance committee, told NCR. “He began by saying he was here to serve the people of Holy Spirit Parish, here as a servant to the parish. That’s a much different attitude than we’ve experienced over the past six months.” Mosher said parishioners at the Sunday Mass he attended gave the priest a standing ovation when he introduced himself.

“We’re very hopeful that Fr. Louie will be able to acknowledge to our parish that we have been through a lot, have had a lot of pain in our parish, and he will help us move forward,” said parish council member Dora Saavedra.

Holy Spirit has been without a permanently assigned pastor since late June 2003, when Fr. Ruben Delgado resigned in the midst of a labor dispute. Delgado arrived at the parish June 18 accompanied by officials of the Brownsville diocese, who dismissed pastoral associate Anne Cass, sacristan Rosario “Chayo” Vaello, coordinator of family ministry/director of religious education Martha Sanchez, and secretary Edna Cantú (NCR, Aug. 1). The women are members of United Farm Workers union under a contract signed by the previous pastor, Fr. Jerry Frank. Holy Spirit parishioners rose up in protest, holding separate Communion services for several weeks, and the union filed a breach of contract suit.

Delgado resigned within a week, never having said Mass at Holy Spirit. Jesuit Fr. Brian Van Hove was appointed temporary parish administrator in July.

The union and the diocese reached an agreement through mediation Aug. 18, reinstating the women in their jobs (NCR, Aug. 29), although the question of the legitimacy of the union contract remains unresolved.

According to Mosher, attendance at Masses and contributions sharply declined in the months that the parish waited for priest to be permanently assigned. “Many parishioners said they would begin contributing again and would come back when [the diocese] assigned a new pastor,” he said. He said that attendance was back up on Brum’s first weekend, and contributions had increased since the diocese announced the appointment in early January.

Brum, who as of press time had not returned NCR’s calls for comment, released a statement when his appointment to Holy Spirit was announced. “It is time to begin anew. … I believe we need to resolve to work together to continue building our church family community,” he wrote.

“What has transpired in the past must be left in the past. May we all focus on the present, and always remember that our purpose here is not about us, but about he who has sent us here to proclaim his word and to evangelize for his kingdom.”

Saavedra, who was parish council chair until her three-year term ended in August, said that dialogue is needed before the parish can truly move forward. “There needs to be a meeting of the staff where perhaps somebody from the outside is brought in to help them process the conflict situation, because that’s exactly what it was,” she said. “It was a divisive situation.”

Furthermore, she said, a parish function needs to be held to give parishioners an opportunity to let their concerns be heard. “We may not get everything we want, but at least people would feel listened to, and [Brum] would get a sense of parish feelings and wishes,” she told NCR.

Cass said that Holy Spirit faces “the hard work of reconciliation,” and that includes some kind of acknowledgement from the institutional church of the harm that was done to the parish. “We need to hear that somebody is really sorry that this happened to our community,” she said. “You can’t put a Band-Aid over a wound that has dirt in it. … There has to be some effort to clean that wound.”

Cass added that she is looking forward to working with Brum. “I think he brings a lot of gifts to our parish that we need, especially in his kindness and listening abilities, his hopefulness and his optimism,” she told NCR.

“We want him to know we’re very welcoming,” said Saavedra. “We’re not people he needs to be afraid of. We want to work together. We will stand up for what we believe in, but we have respect for people who dialogue.”

Teresa Malcolm is an NCR staff writer. Her e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, February 6, 2004

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