Father Jaime Dorado (back row, third from the right in hat and white shirt) gathers with volunteers of San Juan Diego Hispanic Center in Fort Pierce on the grounds of St. Anastasia Parish. The group volunteered to help the parish with some maintenance projects.

San Juan Diego ‘bursting at the seams’

FORT PIERCE | Moving forward and carrying out the mission of the clergy who came before him, Father Jaime Dorado is accomplishing amazing things in his ministry in the northern end of the Diocese of Palm Beach, where the Catholic population is made up of a large number of young Hispanics.

“We serve about 500 kids,” said Father Dorado, administrator of San Juan Diego Hispanic Center, an apostolate of St. Anastasia Parish in Fort Pierce which was opened and blessed Dec. 9, 2001, to provide a spiritual home for the migrant population of the area.

Father Dorado, former associate pastor of Holy Name of Jesus in West Palm Beach and Holy Cross Parish in Indiantown, is celebrating his eighth year in leadership at the center first administered by Father Gerard D. Redden, diocesan coordinator for pastoral ministry to Hispanics in the northeast section of the diocese in the early days. Father Redden ministered to the Spanish-speaking in the northern diocese beginning in 1985. He died in 2011 after 52 years of priesthood, but his memory lives on in the hearts of many here.

San Juan Diego is a separate entity of St. Anastasia Parish, “but we work together and support each other in many ways,” said Father Dorado about the wonderful association of the two communities. St. Anastasia is headed up by Father Richard George II, pastor since 2005. Father Dorado said initiatives by parish, center and school leaders help bring the diverse Catholic population in Fort Pierce together in faith and love as one big Church.

“We’ve created a wonderful unity that celebrates the diversity of two worlds: the Spanish Church and the American Church,” Father Dorado said. “Along with St. Anastasia (School) principal, Dr. Kevin Hoeffner, we have worked hard to accomplish that.”

Today, as in the early days of the diocese, the Spanish-speaking community continues to grow in the Fort Pierce area.

“Some 40 percent of our parishioners are between the ages of 20 and 40. Approximately 95 percent of them are Mexican and the other 5 percent are comprised mostly of Colombians,” Father Dorado said about the ethnic mix of his flock.

When asked about outreach to teens and young adults, Father Dorado spoke about the challenges faced by the young people in a society filled with distractions and love of material goods.

Father Dorado explained how many of these young people have parents who came to Florida for work and a better life, and many of the youths today were born here in the United States, but remain connected to customs and traditions of the homelands that they are linked.

“We have religious education programs tailored to specific age groups for teens and young adults. The children attend different schools in the Fort Pierce area, but count on the center for friendship and camaraderie. They find acceptance easily here because they are more comfortable with the language, the food and the culture.”

Father Dorado added that the Masses and other activities keep them involved. Teens lead the noon Mass once a month, and the center offers the only daily Mass in Spanish in the state of Florida.
The center is all about ministering to the children, young adults and the families, providing special programs, events and activities during the year. Family life is strong at the center.

“We have Charismatic prayer groups, a Strength in Families dinner once a week and 80 to 120 baptisms yearly,” said Father Dorado, who was also involved in a summer camp program with youngsters of his flock this year. “We have three Masses on Saturdays and four on Sundays.”

When asked about the challenges in his leadership position, Father Dorado explained that having enough funds to keep the center going and providing ministry is a big issue. The other big issue is a blessing in disguise — space. The priest and his community are very active and the growing flock has many generous volunteers and no shortage of altar servers.

“We definitely survive because of our volunteers,” Father Dorado said. “We have about 200 of them in different ministries. There’s a lot of congestion in our little building. Our classrooms only fit about 10 students, and we need so much more room. We’re bursting at the seams.”