St. Paul’s Church a Haven for Hispanics

The Rev. Todd Carpenter opens his heart and arms to all.


Published:

The Rev. Todd Carpenter with congregation members (from left) Mariana Navas, Lillie Rivera, Jesus M. Lozada, Ana M. Schmitt, Esteban Torres, Tere Torres, Mignaliz Vega and Ernesto Escamilla.

Loud, lively choir music fills the chapel. Parishioners at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington keep the beat, tapping on the church pews—14 of them, seven by side, though several more line the back and side walls.

The Rev. Todd Carpenter, the parish priest and celebrant, sits in a pew with the congregation of families with children in tow. One young teen sports a Pink Floyd T-shirt. Others wear jeans and shorts—but it is a Wednesday summer night, and the faithful have arrived for a Spanish-speaking Mass through an inviting green door with a bilingual sign—Capilla Aqui, Spanish for Chapel, Enter Here.

Carpenter, who wears his gray hair brushed straight back, fills his brown Franciscan robes. He looks the part—and acts that way, too, greeting parishioners, often with hugs and kisses. Mid-Mass, all the parishioners hold hands across pews and the aisle when reciting the “Our Father”—in Spanish.

St. Paul’s is a 140-year-old parish with a beautiful century-old church that has always served an immigrant population. But it was once almost entirely Irish in ethnicity, then partly Italian. Now, it’s 98 percent Latino. The transformation began in the 1960s. The first Spanish Mass was held in 1964, 50 years ago.

While National Hispanic Heritage Month runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, in this house of worship, or in the renovated chapel, there’s always a reason to celebrate the culture while finding a compassion that fills in gaps in the greater community’s social services. 

Initially, the Spanish Mass was celebrated in the church basement. Today, there are three Spanish Masses a weekend in the main church and two in English. The chapel is for Spanish Masses on Wednesday and Saturday nights.

As Carpenter expects, about 50 Latinos arrive this Wednesday, but there’s activity every evening. On Mondays, an active church group, Legion of Mary, meets. Each Monday and Thursday, there are ESL (English as a second language) classes. Tuesday nights, a charismatic prayer group meets and brings its even louder, livelier song combined with vibrant preaching. Wednesdays after Mass in the chapel, the Puerto-Rican-rooted John XXIII lay evangelization group meets. On Thursdays, a similar Spanish-in-origin lay evangelization group, Cursillo, gathers. On Fridays, and other times throughout the week, choirs practice.

Puerto Ricans compromise 60 percent of the parish, Mexicans an increasing 30 percent and the balance is split between Dominicans, Ecuadorians and others. Almost all of Carpenter’s ministry—the sacraments, last rights, home visits, wedding preparations—are in Spanish. “Even if they’ve been here, they want (a service or sacrament) in Spanish,” he says.

A Mass in English is different. There is usually an organ, set traditional hymns and a formal tone. A Spanish Mass is full of music sans an organ, but rather with guitars and a conga drum. “There wouldn’t be much of a difference if you went to Mass in Latin America,” he says. “Here, they feel like they’re back in their home country, and it reminds them of there.”

Carpenter’s Spanish-speaking skill began in the seminary. His Franciscan order requires an internship in the final year, and his was split between Bolivia and Peru. Upon his return, his first assignment—and every one since—was in a Hispanic parish.

Carpenter, 49, has been at St. Paul’s for six years, but he also spent six years in Camden, N.J., and three in the Bronx. No Franciscan can stay beyond nine years.

“We’re going to pray so he can stay,” says Demetrio Ortega, the first Hispanic church council president at St. Paul’s.

In August, Carpenter was finally joined by another Franciscan priest, the Rev. Paul Breslin, after years of asking for help. The two lived and worked together in Camden between 1999-2002. 

Ismael Prado, who like Ortega is also Puerto Rican, has worshiped at St. Paul’s since 1955—long enough to know how “rough” the transition from an English- to Spanish-speaking parish has been.

“I say rough because we weren’t so easily accepted,” he says. “As English Mass was letting out and those attending the Spanish Mass were coming in—the looks and stares weren’t pretty. Through perseverance and participation, we were able to win a lot of hearts.”

And lots of orar, Spanish for praying.

“There was a fear of the unknown,” says parishioner Damaris Hernandez. “We had to show them that we were part of the same church family. Now, we’re allowed to praise God in our own culture and natural tongue and with a music that defines us as a community. This allows us to be free. We’re not forced to fit into a certain way of praising God.”

Ortega’s face glows at the reminder of having a new pope of Latin American descent. More than Pope Francis’ Argentinian heritage, it’s his warm, humble, down-to-earth demeanor, Carpenter says. “He’s so concerned with the poor and so identifies with a working-class parish like this,” he says. “We’re in a poor neighborhood, so his outreach and compassion are impactful. It’s created a new energy—the Francis Effect.”

Carpenter often focuses homilies on Pope Francis—more than just his and church theology, but his everyday acts. A photo of Francis in a soup kitchen or a video of him stopping a caravan to get out and greet a disabled person is grist for Carpenter’s mill.

“He wants to be close to the people,” Carpenter says. “In Israel, he said he didn’t want to use the pope mobile. He said it’s like being in a sardine can. He wants to touch the people.”

“It’s the Hispanic way—touching and caring,” Prado adds.

Though it’s uncertain if Pope Francis will attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next September, or if St. Paul’s would get a block of tickets, Carpenter says it’s just wonderful that he’d be so close to Wilmington.

“Pope Francis is saying that it’s time to reach out and not stay inside four walls,” Ortega says.

Prado says the outside community in Wilmington views St. Paul’s as an impoverished parish, but how can that be if there’s such an oasis of hope and giving? Every Monday and Wednesday, the church feeds the hungry with help from other diocesan churches and the local Knights of Columbus.

“Maybe we’re a poor parish, but we’re rich spiritually,” Ortega says. “We all work together.”

Or to have a deacon, Angel Rivera, the parish’s custodian, organize free showers, haircuts and clothing handouts for the homeless.

Upstairs in the main church, there are still red-and-white flag streamers hung for a celebration for Our Lord of Chalma, a town in Mexico. At a 10:30 a.m. Sunday Spanish Mass, the church is nearly full. On days like the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass (Dec. 12) or Easter Sunday, it’s standing room only.

Wilmington’s Latin American Community Center, a block away, wouldn’t have had its start in 1969 without volunteers from St. Paul’s.

On a Wednesday night, the parishioners are slow to depart from the chapel. Many still tap and clap. Some extend their prayers. Many are John XXIII members, who will soon meet in the rectory basement.

Despite all the comings and goings, there is acceptance among all the parishioners: “We give hugs and kisses,” Hernandez explains.

 

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RECONSTITUTE Draper Experiment by Jacintha Clark December 6, 2019 – February 23, 2020  Opening Reception: Friday, December 6 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop Jacintha...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Mitch Lyons is a well-known and important part of the local art community, who over the past five decades developed a truly innovative form of print-making. Lyons received his undergraduate degree...

Cost: Free with Museum admission.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

The Lighthouse Inc. Church presenta el servicio de la iglesia en espanol.  El servicio de la iglesia en espanol comenzia 14 de merzo de 2019.  Hables espanol?  Entonces este es el...

Cost: free

Where:
The Lighthouse Inc., Church
6 S Railroad Ave
Wyoming, DE  19934-1026
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Sponsor: The Lighthouse Inc.Church
Telephone: 302-697-1472
Contact Name: Christopher Gore

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By Michael Gotch Directed by Mark Lamos Thompson Theatre JAN. 16 – FEB. 2 ​After last season’s wildly successful Minor Fantastical Kingdoms, Michael Gotch returns with a darker...

Cost: $20 - $37, with discounts for Seniors, Students, and UD Faculty/Staff

Where:
Thompson Theatre
Center for the Arts
110 Orchard
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: 302-831-2204
Contact Name: REP Box Office
Website »

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A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including paintings, drawings, ceramics, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

65 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the earth. Travel back in time to see their world as they knew it, and be the dinosaur. Drawing on today’s modern technology and tested and...

Cost: $9 ages 3-59, $8 seniors, $3 ages 1-2, free for under 12 months and DMNH members

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-384-3694
Website »

More information

RECONSTITUTE Draper Experiment by Jacintha Clark December 6, 2019 – February 23, 2020  Opening Reception: Friday, December 6 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop Jacintha...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Mitch Lyons is a well-known and important part of the local art community, who over the past five decades developed a truly innovative form of print-making. Lyons received his undergraduate degree...

Cost: Free with Museum admission.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

GESTURE OF MOTION Haeley Kyong January 10 - April 23, 2020 Opening Reception: Friday, February 7 5 - 9 PM during first Friday Art Loop The idea of relativity is pronounced in color...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

A HISTORY OF THE WORLD - SORT OF Hugh Atkins and Jenna Lucente January 3 - January 27, 2020 Opening Reception: Friday, January 10, 2020 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop “Let there be...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

MALICE’S RESTAURANT Hennessy Experiment by Natalie Hutchings January 10 - April 15, 2020 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, February 7, 2020 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Hennessy...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Directly inspired by the Delaware Art Museum’s Pre-Raphaelite and American illustration collections, this commission from Angela Fraleigh presents a contemporary look at gender and identity...

Cost: Free with Museum admission.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

BEIJING BOOSTER PAINTINGS Peter Wayne Lewis October 4, 2019 to February 26, 2020 VIP Preview Reception:  October 3, 2019 | 5 - 7 PM Public Reception:  October 4,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: The Delaware Contemporary
Telephone: 302-656-6466
Contact Name: Tatiana Michels
Website »

More information

LOOK TO THE LAND A Mary Putman Retrospective November 16, 2019 - April 6, 2020 Opening Reception: Friday, December 6 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop Long-time Delawarean artist...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: The Delaware Contemporary
Telephone: 302-656-6466
Contact Name: Tatiana Michels
Website »

More information

Curated by Deborah Willis, Ph.D., “Posing Beauty in African American Culture explores the contested ways in which African and African American beauty have been represented in historical and...

Cost: Free with Museum admission.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

On a bitter cold night in London's East End, a baffling murder occurs. Has Jack the Ripper returned or has another chap taken his place? London needs your help! Polish up your looking glass...

Cost: Admission is free. All wine and food purchases are pay-as-you-go.

Where:
Chaddsford Winery
632 Baltimore Pike
Chadds Ford, PA  19317
View map »

More information

The Lighthouse Inc. Church presenta el servicio de la iglesia en espanol.  El servicio de la iglesia en espanol comenzia 14 de merzo de 2019.  Hables espanol?  Entonces este es el...

Cost: free

Where:
The Lighthouse Inc., Church
6 S Railroad Ave
Wyoming, DE  19934-1026
View map »


Sponsor: The Lighthouse Inc.Church
Telephone: 302-697-1472
Contact Name: Christopher Gore

More information

By Michael Gotch Directed by Mark Lamos Thompson Theatre JAN. 16 – FEB. 2 ​After last season’s wildly successful Minor Fantastical Kingdoms, Michael Gotch returns with a darker...

Cost: $20 - $37, with discounts for Seniors, Students, and UD Faculty/Staff

Where:
Thompson Theatre
Center for the Arts
110 Orchard
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: 302-831-2204
Contact Name: REP Box Office
Website »

More information

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The Delaware Beekeepers Association will be holding two beekeeping workshops at Wesley College in Dover on January 18th 2020.  Beekeeping 101 is an all day workshop for those interested in...

Cost: 50.00

Where:
Wesley College
120 N. State Street
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: Delaware Beekeepers Association and Wesley College
Telephone: 302-242-7859
Contact Name: Kathleen Curran
Website »

More information

A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including paintings, drawings, ceramics, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Instructor: Roe Murray   

Cost: $55 Members, $70 Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Ketnmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

65 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the earth. Travel back in time to see their world as they knew it, and be the dinosaur. Drawing on today’s modern technology and tested and...

Cost: $9 ages 3-59, $8 seniors, $3 ages 1-2, free for under 12 months and DMNH members

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-384-3694
Website »

More information

A HISTORY OF THE WORLD - SORT OF Hugh Atkins and Jenna Lucente January 3 - January 27, 2020 Opening Reception: Friday, January 10, 2020 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop “Let there be...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

GESTURE OF MOTION Haeley Kyong January 10 - April 23, 2020 Opening Reception: Friday, February 7 5 - 9 PM during first Friday Art Loop The idea of relativity is pronounced in color...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

BEIJING BOOSTER PAINTINGS Peter Wayne Lewis October 4, 2019 to February 26, 2020 VIP Preview Reception:  October 3, 2019 | 5 - 7 PM Public Reception:  October 4,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: The Delaware Contemporary
Telephone: 302-656-6466
Contact Name: Tatiana Michels
Website »

More information

MALICE’S RESTAURANT Hennessy Experiment by Natalie Hutchings January 10 - April 15, 2020 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, February 7, 2020 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Hennessy...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Directly inspired by the Delaware Art Museum’s Pre-Raphaelite and American illustration collections, this commission from Angela Fraleigh presents a contemporary look at gender and identity...

Cost: Free with Museum admission.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Curated by Deborah Willis, Ph.D., “Posing Beauty in African American Culture explores the contested ways in which African and African American beauty have been represented in historical and...

Cost: Free with Museum admission.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Mitch Lyons is a well-known and important part of the local art community, who over the past five decades developed a truly innovative form of print-making. Lyons received his undergraduate degree...

Cost: Free with Museum admission.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

LOOK TO THE LAND A Mary Putman Retrospective November 16, 2019 - April 6, 2020 Opening Reception: Friday, December 6 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop Long-time Delawarean artist...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: The Delaware Contemporary
Telephone: 302-656-6466
Contact Name: Tatiana Michels
Website »

More information

RECONSTITUTE Draper Experiment by Jacintha Clark December 6, 2019 – February 23, 2020  Opening Reception: Friday, December 6 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop Jacintha...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Thanks to books like Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home, there’s an increasing interest among homeowners, property managers, and municipal governments to include more native plants in...

Cost: $20

Where:
Mt. Cuba Center
3120 Barley Mill Rd
Hockessin, DE  19707
View map »


Website »

More information

Shake off the winter blues at the Brandywine River Museum of Art's Arctic BBQ! Roast marshmallows by the fire and have a “snowball fight” in the Museum Courtyard. Explore the River...

Cost: Free with museum admission

Where:
Brandywine River Museum of Art
1 Hoffman's Mill Road
Chadds Ford, PA  19317
View map »


Sponsor: Brandywine River Museum of Art
Telephone: 610-388-2700
Website »

More information

.Enjoy a Guide-led tour of the special exhibition Posing Beauty in African American Culture.  Image: Susan Taylor, as Model,c. 1970s. Ken Ramsay (1935–2008). Gelatin...

Cost: Free for Members, Free with admission for Non-Members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

On a bitter cold night in London's East End, a baffling murder occurs. Has Jack the Ripper returned or has another chap taken his place? London needs your help! Polish up your looking glass...

Cost: Admission is free. All wine and food purchases are pay-as-you-go.

Where:
Chaddsford Winery
632 Baltimore Pike
Chadds Ford, PA  19317
View map »

More information

The Lighthouse Inc. Church presenta el servicio de la iglesia en espanol.  El servicio de la iglesia en espanol comenzia 14 de merzo de 2019.  Hables espanol?  Entonces este es el...

Cost: free

Where:
The Lighthouse Inc., Church
6 S Railroad Ave
Wyoming, DE  19934-1026
View map »


Sponsor: The Lighthouse Inc.Church
Telephone: 302-697-1472
Contact Name: Christopher Gore

More information

By Michael Gotch Directed by Mark Lamos Thompson Theatre JAN. 16 – FEB. 2 ​After last season’s wildly successful Minor Fantastical Kingdoms, Michael Gotch returns with a darker...

Cost: $20 - $37, with discounts for Seniors, Students, and UD Faculty/Staff

Where:
Thompson Theatre
Center for the Arts
110 Orchard
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: 302-831-2204
Contact Name: REP Box Office
Website »

More information

Show More...
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