St. Jerome and St. Maurice have had a new priest bringing young ideas to their parishes for the last eight months.
Father Mendoza first came to the United States in 1995 to attend Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.
“I did theological studies and went to work for financial companies in both Connecticut and New York City. I lived in Greenwich and commuted,” he said. “Working in the city and in finances was a great experience and opportunity.”
Then, he decided to follow his calling and went into seminary attending St Vincent’s Depaul Seminary in Florida. His first assignment was at St. George Church in Guilford which lasted two years.
Last July he was chosen to be the administrator of St. Jerome and St. Maurice Churches in New Britain.
“The community has given me a warm welcome. Most people thought I was going to end up at a Polish Parish, but New Britain is not just a Polish community, but is a variety of many nationalities,” Father Mendoza, age 40, said. “I’m excited to be here. There are a lot of projects I am interested in helping to build up in the community and in their spiritual life.”
He said there are three areas he is focusing on. First is building a sense of community.
“I want to bring them closer together by doing activities that will bring that more to life,” he said.
Second is helping parishioners grow in faith. He plans to have bible studies and speakers who can give a talk on different areas of faith that many people have questions about.
The third project is education.
“I want to help with spiritual life progressions and ways to strengthen it. Maybe devotions,” he said.
There is no school at either church, but there is a building used for religious education.
Mendoza said churches have changed over the years and he hopes he can help guide parishioners.
“We have many parishes in New Britain and churches are not in its heyday. Many people are dying so demographics change,” he said. “It is a challenge for parishes to be strong financially. Grandparents and parents have done this for many years and are involved in their faith. We need to provide younger people with an experience that can help them identify with themselves and with the parish.”
Father Mendoza is currently working on coming up – with the help of the parish council – new ideas on what we can do be done to attract the younger generation.
“Maybe we can reach them through music, maybe through retreat. We need experiences that will help them connect better with people in the parish,” he said. “I don’t know exactly, but we need to involve them in the church. They need to feel this is their community as well,”
Although there has been a decline in parishioners at the churches, Father Mendoza said since he has been here he has seen more people excited about being part of the church.
“I’m building upon what other priests have built upon. Every priest brings his own ideas and experiences,” he said. “There is an appeal, since I am young, for new ideas. Younger priests are inspiring. It’s a plus and I am capitalizing on that.”
The biggest change, he said, in being in Connecticut rather than Colombia is the weather. He likes the mixture of nationalities at his parish and enjoys the City’s restaurant and Polish food.
“New Britain has a strong Hispanic presence which is the hope of this town,” he said. “I’m very happy with this challenge. I like people of different backgrounds.”
Although Father Mendoza is not sure how long he will stay. It could be 6 or 12 years or anything in between, he said he just wants to focus on building up a sense of community in the journey of faith.
“A priest is formed in hands of people we serve and the hands of God,” he said. St. Jerome and St. Maurice will help me become a better priest. This is a journey. I know how it begins but not how it end.”