FATHER JEFF ETHEN HAS ALWAYS HAD A MISSIONARY HEART. Long before he actually set foot outside U.S. soil, or even before he was ordained, he knew he was drawn to a ministry of mission, and he has a special affinity for those with Hispanic/Latino roots.
Before becoming a diocesan priest in 1988, he contemplated religious life with Maryknoll. Since he had initially pursued a degree in journalism, he did his college internship with Maryknoll Magazine in New York. In the end, the call to diocesan priesthood won him over.
“It seemed like a good fit because, at that time, our diocese still had many mission opportunities. It seemed like the best of both worlds to be a priest and be able to do short-term mission trips,” Father Ethen recalled.
His first trip was to San Lucas Tolimán in Guatemala, where he was immediately asked to celebrate Mass in Spanish, which he had barely mastered. Fortunately, before the trip, Sister Adela Gross, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, had been allowing Father Ethen to practice his Spanish Masses in Melrose. After the trip to Guatemala, he was hooked on mission.
“Those mission trips to Guatemala, Homa Bay, [Kenya], Mexico and my time on sabbatical in Maracay, Venezuela, satisfied my desire to be a missioner and also kept me close to home. And now I can be a missionary right here,” Father Ethen said.
He is overjoyed to be moving from serving a single parish community to serving across the diocese in Hispanic ministry wherever he is needed.
“What made this position possible is that the pool of Spanish-speaking priests is shallow,” Father Ethen said. “We need to keep our eyes on the horizon. There is a growing population and there is a great need for priests to be able to speak the language of the people, not just to be able to celebrate Mass in Spanish, but to really get to know and hear them. That’s what I hope to be able to do.”
This newly created position will give Father Ethen the ability to move around the diocese, celebrating Masses and sacraments with people throughout its 16 counties. He also plans to visit homes and farms, host retreats and possibly coordinate mission trips to countries he has visited such as Venezuela, Guatemala, Peru and Mexico.
“Not being connected to just one parish, I will have the flexibility to be present at events such as Guadalupe celebrations, hearing confessions at events like the men’s conference and working with area funeral homes. There is a big need for all of these things,” Father Ethen said.
Because this is a brand new position in the diocese, the details of his ministerial tasks will continue to develop and unfold. He is excited to work hand-in-hand with Mayuli Bales, director of the diocese’s multicultural ministries office, to assess the needs and wishes of Hispanic/Latino Catholics in the area.
“Having the opportunity to work as a team with Father Jeff Ethen as disciples of Jesus bringing the mission of evangelization to ourselves, our families, our parish and local communities through companionship and advocacy for our Latino brothers and sisters gives me hope for letting everybody know the love of Christ,” Bales said.
In addition, Father Ethen will be part of a rotation of Spanish-speaking priests who celebrate Mass monthly in Perham and with the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls.
“I’m sure the job description will shake itself down as it unfolds, but what we really are creating is a way to build bridges, to journey with people and to make it possible for a Spanish-speaking priest to get out to activities that in the past he couldn’t attend,” Father Ethen said. “Just like in the Gospel story, I have been called to go and make disciples. Now I will go and make ‘discípulos.’”