by Dave Nimmer,* Guest Blogger
At a time when Latino communities throughout America are uneasy and uncertain over government travel bans and immigration crackdowns, Latinos at Ascension Catholic Church in North Minneapolis could be grateful for Anne Attea: She’s had their backs – every day, for the past nine years.
Her title is pastoral associate and she brings to the job a minister’s education, a missionary’s experience and a mother’s heart. She’s got a master’s of divinity from Loyola University-Chicago. She’s served in Mexico, Guatemala and Chile. She’s the mother of 11-year-old Isabela.
Attea’s mission at Ascension is to help Latino members grow in their Catholic faith, to develop new leaders, to provide access for families to a myriad of public and private assistance programs and, perhaps most important, to offer her prayerful support.
“I feel the stress that is in the air for our Latino community,” she says. “I want to be of help day to day. I can write letters for them. I can help them fill out paperwork. I can help them find legal assistance when they need it. And, of course, I can pray with them.” — Anne Attea, Pastoral Associate at Church of the Ascension
Gerardo Escamilla Vargas, his wife and four sons are Ascension members. He owns a roofing and siding company – As Professionals, We Have You Covered – with 12 employees and is one of the 400 to 500 parishioners who attend the mass every Sunday for Spanish speakers. The mention of Attea’s name brings a smile to his face.
“She’s been like my mentor,” Escamilla Vargas says. “She teaches me about our faith. I like the way she lives hers. She’s a good leader who sees the God in all of us. And she helps without question.”
Attea knows her help, and her prayers, are needed now more than ever. She says Latino church members tell her that some people have become emboldened to say hurtful things and harbor racist thoughts about immigrants and those whose color and culture are different from their own.
“It’s the children who suffer the most,” she says. “They fear that when they get home from school, one of their parents could be missing (arrested or deported). Attea feels that immigration authorities are no longer just targeting criminals for deportation.
“I am comforted to know [Anne Attea] is at Ascension, helping the community I care so much about.”– Sr. Mary Virginia Schmidt
“I feel the stress that is in the air for our Latino community,” she says. “I want to be of help day to day. I can write letters for them. I can help them fill out paperwork. I can help them find legal assistance when they need it. And, of course, I can pray with them.”
Attea has developed that helping hand since she was an undergraduate at Notre Dame. She decided medicine was not for her and majored in theology, recalling that a course in “liberation theology” was eye opening.
She got a chance to put it in practice in Chile, in a volunteer program with Holy Cross Associates. “I worked in the town parish,” she says, “and I learned the Holy Cross fathers had a great commitment to the poor. I was 24 years old and got to do a little of everything: teaching, administering, serving whoever and wherever I could.”
Serving was just a part of Attea’s personal faith formation, shared and shaped by the Holy Cross Associates. The rest of the foundation included notions and admonitions of simplicity, social justice, spirituality and community. These are right out of the daily playbook of the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis. Attea met them in 1998 and ever since has been attending their Wednesday morning mass.
“The Sisters are people who walk the talk,” she says. “They have included my daughter in some of their youth programs. They share their benefactors with us at the church. And I support their causes. Most important, I feel I am walking with them.”
The Sisters have no doubt about that. “I remember when Anne first walked into our Wednesday mass,” says Sister Mary Virginia Schmidt. “She’s very caring and concerned, but I also sense her independence, combined with determination.”
“Those (qualities) are needed to help the Latino members at her church. Anne needs to help them get answers and assistance. I am comforted to know she’s at Ascension, helping the community I care so much about.”
Schmidt says she’ll never forget the day when Attea, who had wanted so badly to adopt a child, came into the monastery carrying Isabela in her arms. Attea adopted her daughter when she was just an infant in Guatemala. Isabela has a strong connection to her roots and may one day want to return to her native country. Here in the Twin Cities, she is doing well in school, fluent in two languages.
As for her own future, Attea is open to “wherever the spirit calls” her, perhaps in Latin America or in the Twin Cities. “One thing is very clear to me,” she says. “I do feel called to walk with those who are struggling.”
In the life she’s lived so far, Anne Attea has had plenty of practice.
* This is the twelfth in a series of profiles by journalist Dave Nimmer featuring Visitation Companions and northside neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of our dear friends -- as they reflect the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us in our ministry of mutuality. LIVE + JESUS!