A Hidden Ministry

Fr. Frassati Davis, O.P., baptizes a new parishioner at St. Dominic’s Parish in Youngstown, Ohio.


A Hidden Ministry

By Blackfriars Staff

It was 1977 when the steel mills began closing down in Youngstown, Ohio. Since then the city, once a locus of steel in America, lost more than half its residents. That means half the homes are occupied. Half as many schools are needed. Many of the remaining inhabitants travel 50 miles for work in greater Pittsburgh or Akron, sometimes as far as Cleveland.

Though half of Youngstown’s inhabitants left town, the Dominican friars stayed. In fact, St. Dominic Parish just celebrated its 100th anniversary. In this gem of a church in this rust belt city, Catholic life endures. One could say it even thrives—with four Sunday Masses, weekly bible study, religious education, a men’s fellowship group, and a prayer cenacle.

And while that list of ministries runs the gamut of typical parish ministries, there’s a particular ministry at St. Dominic’s that spans many, and it’s a growing need not only in Youngstown but in many Catholic parishes across the country: ministry to Spanish-speaking Catholics. There aren’t that many Hispanics in Youngstown, maybe 500 in the whole diocese, said Fr. Frassati Davis, O.P., but he figures he sees half of them every Sunday for Mass at St. Dominic’s. “They come from all over the diocese because they want to speak their language. They want to hear Mass in Spanish and have their children baptized in Spanish.” As parochial vicar, Fr. Frassati also says Mass in English and works with English-speaking parishioners, but because he is the only one that speaks Spanish, that’s the priority because those skills are not interchangeable.



He finds himself doing a lot of marriage prep, convalidations, baptismal prep, and house blessings in Spanish too. Fr. Frassati said it goes a long way when someone speaks your language. “To be a priest who’s able to communicate in their language is to see that there is a care.” This past winter, he hosted a couples retreat for Spanish speakers. His goal was for five couples to show up and 22 couples attended. He and a visiting friar, Fr. Raymond La Grange, O.P., gave conferences and heard confessions throughout the day-long retreat, all in Spanish. He saw in these couples a hunger for this kind of offering and he plans to do more.

Fr. Frassati told another story about a recent visit to someone who was very ill and his wife told him she had not received the sacraments for 60 years because she doesn’t speak English and has been waiting for someone to understand her. She did want Fr. Frassati to know she still prays the Rosary every day though. Seeing her faithfulness in praying a daily Rosary, Fr. Frassati asked them, “What if both of you could receive the sacraments today?” She and her husband received the Eucharist and they were in tears, as he recounts the story. “And I’m thinking, why has it taken so long for people to know that God’s grace is available to them, his mercy and love?” He thinks there’s a fear of being misunderstood and an anxiety that people are not going to be taken care of when they’re immigrants. “Even if the only reason I came here to Youngstown was for that couple to receive the sacraments, it was worth it.”

Fr. Frassati first learned Spanish during his Dominican formation. In his second year of studies in Washington, DC, he was asked to spend the summer learning Spanish. In fact, that summer there were nine student brothers studying Spanish. The thinking behind this is simple—access to the sacraments for a growing population in the Church. “As future priests, it’s important to be able to celebrate Mass and hear confessions in Spanish.”

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