Hispanics were the first Roman Catholics in what is now the United States. 

Spanish-speaking Catholics have lived in what is now the United States for twice as long as the nation has existed. The first diocese in the New World was established in 1511 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, now a commonwealth associated with the United States. Catholic subjects of the Spanish crown founded the first permanent European settlement within the current borders of the 50 states at St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, four decades before the establishment of the first British colony at Jamestown.

Hispanics are a very diverse group. 

Though most struggle with poverty, a growing number of Hispanics are in the middle or even upper classes. Hispanic experiences vary regionally and generationally. There are people from all 22 countries where Spanish is a primary language residing in the United States, the second-largest and most diverse Spanish-speaking nation in the world. Most Hispanics are ethnically Mexicans, though many are from everywhere in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Most Hispanics are not immigrants. 

Sixty-four percent were born in the United States. Over the next three decades the number of third-generation Hispanics will triple, the second generation will double, and the overall percentage (though not necessarily the raw numbers) of first-generation immigrants will decline. The median age of Hispanics is 27. More than half of U.S. Catholics under the age of 25 are Hispanic.

Hispanics have deep devotion to Jesus and to his Eucharistic presence. 

Nearly half the shrines dedicated to miraculous images in colonial Mexico are focused on an image of Christ. Most popular Hispanic traditions during the seasons of Advent and Christmas and the Triduum during Holy Week center on key moments of the life of Jesus.

Hispanic cultures are focused on community. 

Hispanics are profoundly shaped and known through their relationships. This focus on community is often expressed in practical solidarity like Hispanics opening their homes to others, sharing the little they have, and their concern for the well-being of family, friends, and even strangers.

Hispanics founded the most influential retreat movement in the country. 

Eduardo Bonnín and other laymen in Mallorca, Spain established the Cursillo de Cristiandad (Short Course in Christianity) in the wake of World War II. In 1957 two of their countrymen assigned to a Waco, Texas, military base collaborated with local priest Fr. Gabriel Fernández to lead the first Cursillo weekend retreat in the United States. Over the ensuing two decades nearly every diocese in the United States introduced the Cursillo movement. Cursillo is the most influential weekend retreat movement in the United States.

Hispanics pioneered the faith-based model of community organizing. 

The first predominantly Hispanic faith-based community organization, San Antonio’s Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), played a key role in transforming Saul Alinsky’s organizing model to root it more deeply in local congregations and the faith of their members.

A growing number of Hispanics are in the canonization process. 

Among the Hispanics declared saints or on their path to canonization are Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago (1918–1963), Fr. Félix Varela y Morales (1788–1853), declared venerable; Servant of God Bishop Alphonse Gallegos, OAR (1931–1991); two Franciscan priests: Junípero Serra (1713–1784), canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, and Venerable Antonio Margil de Jesús (1657–1726). The canonization causes of other missioners of Spain in territories now part of the United States are currently active.

Hispanics have the largest percentage of lay Catholics in faith formation and pastoral leadership programs. 

They do the bulk of everyday ministry as catechists, youth leaders, prayer group leaders, fundraisers, community organizers, spiritual advisors, translators, immigrant advocates, and much more.

The Hispanic presence is transforming parish life. 

Hispanics are a major force in the ongoing evolution of the U.S. Catholic parish from the ethnic enclave to the shared or multicultural congregation.


Timothy Matovina is a professor in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame and works in the area of Faith and Culture, with specialization in U.S. Catholic and U.S. Latino theology and religion.

This article originally appeared in U.S. Catholic, a monthly magazine that explores faith in real life, and was reprinted by permission in the Spring 2016 edition of the C21 Resources magazine, “The Treasure of Hispanic Catholicism”.

To subscribe to U.S. Catholic, visit www.uscatholic.org/subscribe. Data from Census.gov.