Sr. Teresa Montes-Lara and students

Sr. Teresa Montes-Lara and students

Theology Through a Living Lens

Hispanic Institute starts with the lived experiences of immigrant Latino Catholics

Eighty pastoral leaders learn theology incarnated into a distinctly Hispanic Catholic culture.

To be Hispanic and Catholic in the U.S. can mean many things that don’t conjure up the lessons of a traditional catechism class: daily rituals that are religious, but not fully understood; parishes with documented and undocumented immigrants; communities rich in faith, family and community values, but not in economic resources.

To minister effectively to such populations, pastoral leaders must first acknowledge the array of “lived experiences” of Hispanic Catholics today. “Lived theology” is also the starting point for the annual Instituto Hispano, a two-week program of advanced theological education for Spanish-speaking lay or religious leaders, which recently ended its 28th year of classes, July 10 - 23 at Santa Clara University.
The goal of the Instituto, a program of SCU’s Jesuit School of Theology, is to teach pastoral theology for the largest Catholic population in the U.S.-- the immigrant Latino community. The Instituto helps its students “see, illuminate, and act,” said Sr. Teresa Montes-Lara, O.P., the director of the Instituto.

Teachers and students spend time sharing the everyday lives of their Hispanic Catholic parish members -- from gang members or prisoners served by student Jaime Torres of Arkansas; to Spanish-speaking families in Springfield, Mass., whom Sr. Rosa Torres, MPS, visits at home because there are no Spanish Masses for them; to the fast-growing population of Hispanic Catholics in Oakland, Calif., whose children are led by Instituto student Oscar Mendoza.  
The Instituto then builds on that knowledge, accompanying the pastoral ministers as they come to a deeper level of pastoral theological study and experience.  Among the 17 international and renowned professors at the Instituto are well-known experts in Hispanic theology. 

Armed with such “applied theology,” the students are then “sent away in mission,” said Montes-Lara.

“Applied theology requires a translation, a specific way of thinking,” said Arturo Araujo, S.J., an instructor at the Instituto.  The students and instructors help “incarnate the theology into a different culture,” he added.

The 80 students in this year’s Instituto said they know of no other program that offers such a personal yet advanced theology, along with a community of peers to emulate, support, and enjoy year after year. 

“This Instituto has been a huge point of departure for me,” said Mendoza. “It has brought me a deeper formal education; it has brought me deeper in my faith, and deeper into traditions and ways to live a mature faith,” he said. 

Added Josefa Lopez, a volunteer catechism leader and minister in West Orange, N.J., “You have to understand your faith in order to put it into practice.”


Sr. Teresa Montes-Lara (center) and students at the 28th annual Instituto Hispano pray during a break.