Padre Mario visits St. Joseph’s Catholic School in West St. Paul

At a Friday morning Mass in May at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in West St. Paul, the congregation enthusiastically belted out “Digo Sí, Señor” (“I Say Yes, Lord”) and other Spanish songs to celebrate the visit of Padre Mario Ochoa, pastor of St. Joseph’s Guatemalan sister school, Buen Pastor.

Through Chupa Chup lollipop sales and other fundraisers, the students and their families raised more than $7,000 to fund clean water, health education, medical equipment and school supplies for Padre Mario’s parish and school community in the remote village of San José Nacahuil.

The partnership started when St. Joseph alumna Lorilee Petrangelo met Padre Mario while working as a volunteer in Guatemala. They realized the value of an intercultural exchange between their schools and approached St. Joseph Spanish teacher Katy Monahan, who launched the pen pal program in 2006. St. Joseph and Buen Pastor students exchange letters in Spanish throughout the school year.

“I feel [that] when they’re so far away, we’re still really connected and really close to each other,” said seventh-grader Brooke Foley.

St. Joseph also collaborates with the Grace Centre to fund and facilitate health initiatives in Guatemala.

Board member Jackie Foley points out that the relationship is about much more than fundraising.

“It’s too easy to send money,” she said. “But when you have a neighbor, you want to help and provide.”

As Padre Mario puts it, “Computers, dental equipment, those things are important, but more important is the friendship. It gives the students in Guatemala a hope for a better future.”

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