Bertha and Andres Morales came to the United States in 1972. Andres had a job as an assistant manager at a hotel and Bertha made $10 a day folding sheets at a different hotel.
The couple from Mexico eventually found their spiritual home at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Ferguson. They were among the first families to join in 1993 when the parish began offering Masses in Spanish. By then, the family had two children, Lupita and Jose Andres.
The couple left the hotel industry and opened a Mexican restaurant, Pueblo Nuevo, in 1983 in Hazelwood. Andres loved having people over, and Bertha would cook for everyone. “Everyone said, ‘Oh, your wife cooks so good. You should have a restaurant,’” she recalled. “I said, ‘Don’t say that!’”
The family did a lot for the parish in those early days, including helping other new immigrants. Bertha recalled a time in the 1990s when someone found 15 people brought here from Mexico. They were dropped off at a gas station in St. Louis with few belongings on them. Andres brought the group to the restaurant for a warm meal.
“We fed them and then I went and bought shirts and undershirts and socks for everybody,” she recalled. “He used to do so many things for people.”
Andres passed away in 2002, on the feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15.
Bertha’s husband also was instrumental in starting a special ministry — almost like a St. Vincent de Paul conference — at the parish to help with specific needs of immigrants. That continued until about seven years ago, with the change in social service ministries for immigrants in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Our Lady of Guadalupe only had about three dozen Latino families in those early days, which has since grown to about 750 Latino families today. Bertha donated food for many parish events, sometimes only charging cost for the items she purchased. She described the culture of the parish being as vibrant today as it was 25 years ago.
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December is a huge celebration at the parish, an all-day event that includes Masses, singing, dancing, food and veneration of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “You have to be there at least two to three hours,” Bertha said, “You get to see all the dances and all the people singing. The altar is really pretty. And the matachines.”
While there are plenty of younger families who have taken on leadership roles in the parish today, Bertha is still very much active in her faith, attending Mass and other parish activities and giving advice where needed. Prayer is a part of her daily life too; she has reminder set on her phone to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet at 3 p.m., the hour that Christ died on the cross. “I do it every day,” she said. “I tell them, I’m not going to see anybody (at the restaurant) until I finish.”
“If Guadalupe didn’t have Hispanic ministry, it probably would have been lost a long time ago,” she said. “Everybody helps out. And they take care of others.”
Parish: Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson
Occupation: Owner, Pueblo Nuevo Mexican Restaurant and Cantina in Hazelwood
Children: Lupita, 42, and Jose Andres, 41; her husband, Andres, died in 2002
Favorite devotion: Divine Mercy chaplet