Social Concerns and Outreach Coordinator
Queen of Americas Mission in Cambria
Queen of Americas Mission in Cambria
By Deacon Dick Martin, Outreach Coordinator
Over the last two years, St. Maria Goretti has taken an active role in supporting the Queen of Americas Mission in Cambria and its community members. These members are seasonal employees at the food processing plants in Cambria and are the latest in a long line of seasonal employees for the agricultural industry in Wisconsin.
Prior to the onset of the Second World War, agricultural work was generally handled by the local population. But with so many young men going off to the military and women heading to the factories, Wisconsin farms and the canning industry experienced severe labor shortages. To address these shortages, the industry brought in migrant laborers, peaking at over 100,000 workers annually.
Unlike California, nearly all of the workers that came to Wisconsin were and still are U.S. citizens known as Tejanos (Hispanic Texans), many from the Brownsville area of Texas. Entire families would come up to Wisconsin and everyone in the family who could work in the fields did so, including young children and the elderly.
These families faced a myriad of challenges. Most did not speak English, so they were discriminated against in access to public facilities. While Wisconsin was a leader in workers’ rights, the laws were specifically written to exclude migrant workers who were denied the minimum wage, over-time pay, safe working conditions and other workers’ protections.
Additionally, their living conditions varied greatly. While some of the larger employers provided decent housing with sanitation and fresh water, this was not the case everywhere. Some families lived in chicken coops, broken down shacks, and even tents. The bathroom often was a hole in the ground and water could be over a mile away at the farm house. They received no medical care. Many lacked transportation, so even getting food for themselves was difficult.
Throughout the state, people of faith, especially Catholics, stepped up to help the migrant families. In the newly formed Madison Diocese, Missions were established at Cambria and Endeavor. Fr. Jerome Hastrich, who would later become the Bishop of Gallup, New Mexico, along with his brother Fr. George Hastrich, and a number of others were instrumental in establishing these missions. They were also the leaders in establishing the St. Martin de Porres House on Madison’s south side, which is now the Catholic Multicultural Center, to minister to minorities as well as the Latin America Mission Program (LAMP).
These Missions provided more than just Sunday services. The mission sites initially had two small cottages – one for a priest and the other for a few religious sisters. They provided religious education as well as some basic classes in reading and writing. There was also playground equipment on site.
Over time, as the Church experienced a shortage of priests and sisters, on-site staffing of the Missions was dropped and only Sunday services were offered. The Missions were mostly maintained by the seasonal community. By 2008, the Mission at Endeavor was closed.
Currently at Cambria, one of the leaders of the community, Velia Rocha, a certified catechist for the Brownsville Diocese, offers catechetical services such as marriage and baptism prep and leads a mid-week prayer service.
As with any structure, major updates and repairs, such as the roof and the electrical upgrade, are needed, which the seasonal community cannot address. Also, the water table in the area has dropped and the well at the Mission no longer reaches it. The Diocesan Building Commission estimates that $70,000 is needed for repairs to the Mission building. Additional funds are needed for the well and to build bathrooms and a shed on the site.
While the Queen of Americas Mission at Cambria will continue to be a missionary effort of St. Maria Goretti, it is our hope that other parishes in the Diocese will see what a blessing this Mission is for our Diocese and join us in supporting the Mission and its seasonal community.
For more information about the Queen of America’s Mission in Cambria, visit the Outreach Ministry page.
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