(Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette)
Parochial Administrator, Centro Guadalupano Catholic Mission, Wahneta
Father Norman Farland, M.S. might be from Plainfield, Conn., but he possesses a Hispanic heart. The La Salette priest was ordained July 28, 1966, in Ipswich, Mass. He learned to speak French and served 7 and a half years in a bilingual parish in Fitchburg Mass. He soon discovered he’d be asked to learn another language because he was going to be sent to Argentina.
For 18 years, Father Farland worked with the poor and with youths, which at the time was a dangerous ministry. During Argentina’s Dirty War — from roughly 1974 until 1983, military and security forces and right-wing death squads arrested and sometimes killed anyone deemed a political dissident. Because of Father Farland’s work with the poor and with youths, he was tagged as “an ideologue” and was in danger of being known as an instigator. At one time he ministered in a prison and worried they would not let him out after his ministry was complete.
While in Argentina, he met a fellow La Salette priest who worked in Florida as pastor of Good Shepherd in Orlando and he invited Father Farland to continue his ministry there. After a sabbatical year, during which he went to an institute in California to reincorporate himself into ministering in the United States, he came to Florida. After serving at Blessed Trinity and Good Shepherd, two Orlando parishes ministered by La Salette Fathers, Father Farland was asked in 1992 to move to Wahneta, to serve Centro Guadalupano Catholic Mission. He has been ministering there ever since.
When he arrived, Father Farland worked to establish structure to help the community take ownership of the mission. The results can be seen in the numbers: In 1992 there were 30 children enrolled in catechesis; now there are more than 300. Mass participation in 1992 wavered from 300 to 350, a number that is now quadrupled.
“It is the people who make this mission thrive,” Father Farland explained, as volunteers work to clean the church, hold parish council meetings, organize religious and social events, and even cut the grass. “It is so good to know that so many people accept responsibility for what is needed at the mission. I have witnessed a whole, tremendous change in attitude, outlook and commitment. We’ve been blessed.”
Several years ago, the community celebrated the opening of a multipurpose hall, which took some five years of fundraising to become a reality. Now, the mission hopes to one day get a new church building to help with overflowing Mass-goers.
“They are working and trying,” Father Farland said of the community, which has little resources of its own, but opens hearts wide. It is a phenomenon he has witnessed in so many communities where those who are impoverished display a richness in faith and dedication to the Lord. “I’ve really enjoyed my priestly ministry,” he said. “For me it has been very fruitful and worthwhile. I thank the good Lord that He saw fit to call me. I try to help people, be there for them and give what I can give.”