By Fr. Dennis Martin
The sixth of July this summer, St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty celebrated the feast of St. Bonaventure.
Perhaps some may ask: Why did the parish of St. Joseph celebrate the feast of this saint who was a Franciscan, cardinal, famous theologian born in Italy in the 13th century. There is a fairly large group of Mexican-Americans in West Liberty originating from the community, or town of Huacao, in the Mexican state of Michoacan.
These families include some of the Gonzalez families, all of the Jacobos, the Bernabes and others. In Huacao, the name of their patron saint and of their beautiful church is St. Bonaventure.
Michoacan is very far from here and most people are not able to go there for the great fiesta of their patron saint. Some years ago a delegation came to ask me if it would be possible to have a special Mass and celebration here in West Liberty. They told me that the whole parish would be invited.
First of all, I saw it as something that the people wanted very much. Secondly, it seemed to me a good way to teach some cultural traditions to our youth, many of whom were born there.
Virtually all of the communities in Mexico and Central America have similar fiestas for their various patron saints.
I remember having visited Jojutla in the Mexican state of Morelos an afternoon in June before the feast of Pentecost Sunday the next day. The family that I was staying with told me we were going to the principle church in the town for Mass for the vigil of Pentecost. But first we were going to the smaller church in our neighborhood a few blocks away to join others and form a procession toward the principle church.
A lay leader, very respected in the community, led the procession carrying the Paschal candle. I also had the opportunity and privilege to carry the very large candle a few blocks. We were singing and praying as we processed.
Drawing near to the principal church we heard the singing of three other neighborhood churches in the community. When we all arrived at the principle church there was a group of people from that church waiting on the steps. Led by five of the largest Paschal candles I have ever seen, we all processed into the church together to celebrate the Mass of Pentecost.
This is only an example of the beautiful public expressions of faith found in Latin America.
And so it is in West Liberty every year the feast of St. Bonaventure is celebrated on a Sunday in July. We take care not to pick the Sunday that opens the Muscatine County Fair, also a Sunday in July. We always have native dancers from our community and surrounding communities. Members of the Huacao community and others process from downtown to the church. In between the dancers dance, the rosary is recited, songs are sung and the whole procession slowly moves up Calhoun Street toward St. Joseph Church.
In the church the statue of St. Bonaventure is blessed and a special Mass is celebrated. Afterwards in the main hall at the Muscatine County Fairgrounds, the dancers dance again. There is a group that plays Mexican music and food and drink is shared with all who come.
All of the expenses of the celebration are paid for by the members of the Huacao community in West Liberty.
There is much history behind these celebrations. Franciscan missionaries evangelized the Huacao area of Mexico in the 16th century. The people there have been celebrating St. Bonaventure for a few centuries.
This year’s celebration was dedicated to Jose Gonzalez and Rafael Jacobo, two local men of the Huacao community in West Liberty who died this past year.
(Fr. Dennis Martin is a retired priest of the Diocese of Davenport.)