MOORHEAD – They celebrated Mass at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Moorhead Sunday afternoon.

Nothing unusual about that.

What was out of the ordinary for area Catholic churches was the language spoken; from start to finish no English was heard, only Spanish.

St. Francis is home to the Guadalupe Ministry, an Hispanic outreach program that serves about 250 families and is supported by a number of parishes in the region.

The ministry officially began about 25 years ago, but the tradition of reaching out to Hispanic families of faith at St. Francis extends back to the 1940s, according to Father Mike Patnode.

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"We used to host the migrant school here for migrant families, when we had a group of religious sisters from our diocese who would essentially take care of the children of those who were working in the fields," Patnode said.

He said children of migrant families would show up at the original St. Francis de Sales in Moorhead-the current church was built in the mid-1990s-and they would stay all week while their parents "worked from morning 'til night."

Parents would rejoin their children on the weekends, Patnode added.

"It was partly child care, but they were also actually learning," Patnode said, adding that children of migrant workers often needed the tutoring because they were missing school back home, which was usually south Texas.

Eventually, Patnode said, public schools took over the education of migrant children, but St. Francis continued to provide religious instruction and activities.

In early 1990, the parish instituted the Guadalupe Ministry to help meet the spiritual needs of Hispanic families.

"It was a part-time project for a while, then it became a full-time project and we hired an Hispanic ministry coordinator," Patnode said.

For about the past five years, the job of directing the ministry has belonged to Sister Lucy Perez-Calixto.

Originally from Mexico, Perez-Calixto worked for the archdiocese in New York before taking the job in Moorhead.

The Masses held Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. at St. Francis are the only Spanish-language services held in the Crookston Diocese, according to Perez-Calixto.

Spanish-speaking priests from a number of churches in the region take turns officiating.

For Spanish-speaking parishioners, the Guadalupe Ministry provides an important bridge to their cultural past, according to Perez-Calixto.

"This is a way to keep alive our traditions," she said, adding that Spanish services differ in a number of ways from those delivered in English, including during Lent, when the church members observe the stations of the cross.

Instead of doing that indoors, the Hispanic tradition involves outdoor activities, she said.

Sunday's Mass was held on All Saints' Day, the day the Catholic church honors its saints.

Today, the church marks All Souls' Day, a time to remember loved ones who have died.

In Latin American countries, that coincides with a celebration known as the Day of the Dead, which is a very big thing in Mexico, Perez-Calixto said.

She said altars are set up in homes to welcome the spirits of departed loved ones and food is set out and candles are lit in their honor.

While Day of the Dead celebrations remain a powerful tradition south of the border, they are less widely observed among Hispanics here, according to Perez-Calixto.

Still, she said, the local Hispanic community works hard at remembering its roots and efforts include a cultural day like the one held in September that featured traditional foods from a large number of Latin countries.

And on Dec. 12 a celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be held at St. Francis featuring mariachi music and dancing.

Such events are crucial, said Rosie Gonzalez, of West Fargo, who helped lead the music performed at Sunday's afternoon Mass.

"It's very, very important to never forget where we came from," said Gonzalez, a native of Texas who has been in the Fargo-Moorhead area for about 37 years.

Gonzalez added that while the Guadalupe Ministry continues to grow, "there's still a lot who don't know about it."