After celebrations for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Patrick Parish in Wentzville, Selene Zamores sought out associate pastor Father Gerson Parra to say one thing: thank you.
“I said, ‘Thank you for bringing Mexico here,’” Zamores said.
The feast day began with a vigil celebration that included a procession and the singing of Las Mañanitas, a traditional Mexican birthday or feast day song, and other songs at midnight. Zamores and many who attended the overnight festivities returned on the evening of Dec. 12 for a bilingual Rosary, Mass in Spanish and reception. St. Patrick was one of several parishes in the archdiocese to host celebrations for the feast day.
Zamores, who was born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, recalled the ways her family honored Mary on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and throughout the month of May, dressing in white clothing and bringing flowers to a statue of the Blessed Mother in the evenings. She said she relies on Our Lady’s motherly intercession constantly in her prayers.
“We love her. She is always with us,” Zamores said. “I take her hands every time that I need something, and I ask, ‘Can you bring this to your son?’”
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, celebrates the appearance of the Blessed Mother to St. Juan Diego in Mexico in December 1531. She instructed him to build a church at the top of Tepeyac Hill. To help prove Our Lady’s appearance to the archbishop, she told Juan Diego to collect Castilian roses at the top of the hill, which during December would have normally been barren. When Juan Diego presented the roses to the archbishop, the image of Our Lady appeared on his tilma, which remains preserved at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
In remembrance of those roses, Father Parra blessed hundreds of roses, sourced from Colombia and Ecuador, and gave one to every person present at the Dec. 12 Mass. Volunteers from the parish will bring the leftover roses to nursing homes in the St. Charles County area.
The parish hosted a nine-day Rosary novena leading up to the feast day, led by sisters from the Consecrated Sisters of the Most Holy Savior. The order was founded in Mexico, and three sisters now reside near St. Theodore Parish in Flint Hill and assist with Hispanic Ministry events at parishes in the area.
“Doing the novena was really beautiful. We prayed the Rosary every night and did meditations on Our Lady: One night we talked about her humility, we talked about her charity, we talked about her as our Mother of Sorrows and how she helps us in our sorrows and is an example for us,” Sister Faustina Marie said. “Different meditations like that really help us grow closer to Our Lady.”
Juan Carlos Andrade Vallejo helped coordinate the parish’s feast day celebrations. As a child, he remembers his mother praying to seek the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe for healing when he would get sick. “It’s a love that we’ve had since we were little kids that we got from our parents,” he said through a translator.
Angel Cortez, who volunteers with youth ministry at St. Patrick, agreed. He grew up attending Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations at Sacred Heart Parish in Troy and Holy Rosary Parish in Warrenton before coming to St. Patrick. He and his family were traveling out of state during the vigil, but they still made it a point to visit a church to take flowers to the Blessed Mother and sing the traditional songs.
“Growing up, seeing lots of people who love Our Lady of Guadalupe — it grows on you, and you really start to love her too,” he said.
Silvina Moreno grew up in Mendoza, Argentina; although she also learned a love for Our Lady early on, she found her own devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe after moving to the Archdiocese of St. Louis and becoming involved in Hispanic ministry. She recalls researching the apparition, searching for the meaning.
“I discovered that mother’s love. We have that mother’s love,” Moreno said. “One of the things she said to Juan Diego was, ‘Am I not here, who am your mother?’
The Hispanic ministry at St. Patrick serves people from a variety of Spanish-speaking countries. Father Parra, a native of Colombia, “understands very well how Hispanics express their faith, and knows the different customs in our countries — the processions, these kinds of celebrations. He understands how we feel,” Moreno said.
“We come here, and we have those feasts in the way that we had in our countries. You know, when we moved here, we left everything behind — family, friends, language, customs,” she said. “The only connection we have is through our faith, and having the possibility to express the faith the way we express it in our countries is like having a bond to our countries again, and that feeds our souls.”
The Hispanic population in St. Charles County is growing. The number of St. Charles County residents who are Hispanic/Latino grew by about 60% from 2010 to 2020, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Within the St. Patrick Parish boundaries, that group grew by nearly 90% in that time, according to data in the parish workbook.
Father Parra has served as associate pastor at St. Patrick since 2019. With his arrival, St. Patrick increased its Spanish Masses from a couple times a month to every Sunday. The weekly Spanish Mass has grown every year since, averaging 362 people in 2022, according to the October Mass counts.
After the feast day evening Mass, people from both the Hispanic and Anglo communities gathered around long tables in the school cafeteria for homemade tamales; buñuelos, a fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar; ponche, a hot apple beverage made with cinnamon and other seasonal fruits; atole, another warm drink of milk thickened with corn starch and sugar; as well as Little Caesar’s pizza, Jell-O, hot chocolate and soda.
Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations are a great opportunity to bring the whole parish together, Father Parra said.
“We try to involve both communities,” Father Parra said. “There is no segregation for us; our faith is the thing that unites us…No matter what language you speak, everyone is welcome. We learn, and we share, and we all share the same Gospel.”