In Spanish, madrina means “godmother.” However, in Hispanic cultures, a godparent is more than someone who stands as a witness to a baptism, promising to help raise the child in the Catholic faith. Instead, he or she takes on a very active, special role in the family: in addition to helping the child, the godparent serves as a ‘comadre’ or ‘compadre’ — the person who accompanies the parents on their journey.
At Archdiocese of Philadelphia Schools, our Madrinas Ministry was born out of that desire to build relationships and assist one another in raising children within our Catholic Church. The program welcomes and engages local Hispanic families, providing a bridge for them to enter our church, parish, and school communities.
We currently have seven schools with an active Madrinas Ministry working with area families not currently registered to our parishes or schools. Our Spanish-speaking volunteers, both male and female, provide practical assistance with communication, school paperwork, and grant registration. Four more schools are in the process of implementing the Madrinas Ministry in their own communities. Our goal is to boost Hispanic enrollment at these 11 schools for the 2018-2019 school year.
The need for this kind of outreach is abundantly clear. According to the May 2014 Boston College report Catholic Schools in an Increasingly Hispanic Church, 55% of Catholic schooled-aged children in the United States are from a Hispanic background — a total of 8 million children. However, only 3.8% of those children are enrolled in a Catholic school.
This trend is echoed locally. At AOPS, enrollment figures show that Hispanic children make up 7.3% of our current student population. This is an increase since the 2016-2017 school year, when Hispanic students made up 6.4% of our enrollment.
In spite of almost 1% growth, Philadelphia still falls short of regional Hispanic enrollment averages. A recent report by the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) found that among schools in the Mideast area — including Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania — on average, Hispanic students make up 13.3% of total school enrollment, compared to our significantly lower 7.3%.
The AOPS Office of Catholic Education continues to actively address this need for greater engagement in Hispanic communities. In June of 2016, I joined these efforts as the Director of Hispanic Outreach. Our Madrinas Ministry is one crucial way we are extending a warm welcome to local Hispanic families.
The idea for this program was inspired by the University of Notre Dame and its 2014 publication To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity. The University’s Madrinas program modeled an approach for schools to engage and include local Hispanic families of whom parish and school leaders may not be aware.
Our Madrinas Ministry empowers volunteers — ideally current school parents or grandparents — to provide assistance with school and parish registration, grant assistance applications, and other school and parish events. AOPS Madrina volunteers also provide translation services, and communication with parents on behalf of school personnel to remove language barriers and grow a sense of community.
At AOPS, we recognize that most people feel more welcome to take part in an event — whether a class presentation, an open house, or other school gathering — when a friend, family member, or someone of their own culture invites them to attend. When a new family is registering their child for a school, it can be difficult to feel at home when registration and basic communication take place in an unfamiliar language.
We are excited that our Madrinas Ministry helps bridge that gap in a personal, practical way. But while this ministry assists in increasing school enrollment, there is much more involved in the ministry’s growth — as well as the fruit it is producing.
Although the Madrinas Ministry was created as an outreach to Hispanic families, this model can be applied to all nationalities. People of all races and cultures can benefit when this form of ministry is implemented with a sincere desire to help our neighbors encounter Jesus and His Church in and through our Catholic schools. Our hope is that the Madrinas Ministry will continue eliminating obstacles and establishing relationships, allowing AOPS schools and local families to collectively raise our children in community and in faith — together.
Nancy Sanchez is the Director of Hispanic Outreach at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Schools, where she helps create more effective ways of increasing diversity and engaging with the local Hispanic community. She provides linguistic support and is capable of assessing complex community dynamics to determine the best method of outreach and evangelization.