Spanish-speakers are the future of the Catholic Church in America, but didn’t Bishop Lamy know that?  Anyway, Wichita’s churches are increasingly dominated by Spanish-speakers, whom the Church feels inclined to serve.

Within the past century, the population center of the U.S. Catholic church has shifted from the Midwest and Northeast to the nation’s Sun Belt states due to the Hispanic migration, Gray said.

“They bring goodness to the Catholic church in America. They bring new life,” [Father Eric Weldon] said.

Among his parishioners at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Wichita is Alma Rocha, who grew up in Mexico and now lives in Wichita with her family. She prefers to attend the Spanish Mass, saying she can understand more of it than its English counterpart.

Like many Catholic Mexican immigrants, she also feels more comfortable with the livelier Spanish-language Masses in “classic Jalisco” style – replete with three mandolins, a standup bass, and four guitars – which are more reminiscent of the church services she attended as a child in Mexico.

More sedate English Masses feature an organ and choir for music.

“The English Mass is so quiet,” Rocha said as she waited in a car to pick up her children as classes at their Catholic school let out. “I love my people. I love my culture.”

The goals of the clergy are not to provincialize immigrants, but to serve as moral guidance and assistance in integration.

“The Mexican immigrants go to the priest as soon as they can about problems,” Weldon said. “Americanized Catholics go to a therapist, to a psychologist or ignore it and at the last minute – when it is too late – they talk to me. … Because Hispanics go to the priest with their problems first, they rely more on the priest. They need me a lot.”

The Catholic church in the U.S. is preparing its priests and seminarians for a more multicultural ministry, said Bishop Michael Jackels of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. While that may address a reality for American churches, it may eventually strain priests who find themselves having to “double all the things” to meet the needs of English and Hispanic parishioners, Jackels said.

Jackels said he expected demand for Spanish-language Masses to diminish as migrant families become more established in the U.S. That’s what happened with the diocese’s Vietnamese Mass, where attendance has fallen as the children of Vietnamese families born here either speak little Vietnamese or prefer attending English Masses with their friends.

“It is part of the goal not to set up parallel parishes … but to work toward integration,” Jackels said.