NORMAN — It was during a dinner conversation at the home of Angelo Lombardo that an idea from Ignacio M. Ruiz and his wife, Dr. María de Jesús Páez de Ruiz, started to unfold.
The idea was to form a Spanish language and cultural studies program in Norman. The program would offer weekly presenters and allow its participants to learn Spanish.
“It’s not easy to mix cultures. I think in our conversation over dinner, what we discovered was that to be accepting of other cultures, you have to know the culture. You can not love if you don’t know,” Lombardo said. “That’s really what we are trying to do is to create in people’s minds and hearts an appreciation and love for the culture to ultimately make it easier for the community to be accepting of our culture.”
From a dining room table to reality, The Father Stanley Rother Hispanic Cultural Institute of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was born five years ago. Tuesday will be the opening ceremony of the spring semester for the institute and The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City, will be the keynote speaker.
One of the reasons to start the institute, organizers said, was to help improve the impression of the Hispanic culture.
“At that time, and unfortunately this continues, there was such a bad impression being presented of the Hispanic world and the Hispanic people because of illegal immigration. The idea was why not establish an institute that gives a more positive and informed picture of the Spanish people,” Dr. Luis Cortest, professor of Spanish at the University of Oklahoma, said. “From the beginning the idea was, we need to have speakers who can come in and talk about the Hispanic world in a broad sense. People who can give lectures.”
The studies are held at the church, 421 E. Acres St., during the academic year from 7-9:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. Cost is $25 per semester and participants do not have to be a member of the Catholic church.
“Actually some of our participants are not Catholic. It’s for anyone who wants to come and learn. The presenters are not Catholic. We’re looking for people who can tell and really inform people of the Spanish speaking world,” said Cortest who also is the academic advisor and participant scholar of the institute.
Each weekly session will include a speaker the first hour that will give a discussion related to the history of the Spanish speaking world. All speakers are recruited from the community or other universities. The second part of the evening will include language classes. All instructors of the institute are educators of the language. The institute is ran entirely by volunteers.
“We are blessed with having these people from the university willing to do this,” Dr. María de Jesús Páez de Ruiz, coordinator and curriculum development of the institute, said.
Sessions also include food, another way to embrace the Hispanic culture.
“It’s an experience of knowing a culture. Of course that comes with the warmth of the conversation and the food,” Lombardo, director of development at the institute, said. “It makes me even more proud of my heritage. Although you come to offer something, you learn something too because of the excellent speakers we are able to showcase through the program.”
The institute is named for Stanley Rother, a Catholic priest and missionary to Guatemala. He was executed by a death squad on July 28, 1981.
Rother attended the seminary at Mount St. Mary’s University and graduated in 1963. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Oklahoma City — Tulsa (now the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City) on May 25, 1963, by Bishop Victor Reed. Rother served in Santiago Atitlán for 13 years. During that time, in addition to his pastoral duties, he translated the New Testament into the Tzutuhil language and began the regular celebration of the liturgy.
“He did what we trying to do in a small portion,” Dr. María de Jesús Páez de Ruiz said.
For more information or to register, call the St. Joseph Parish office, 321-8080, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.