Sister Fran Wilhelm, OSU: “The night I entered, I knew I was where I belonged.”

The last three years as director of Charismatic Ministries for the Orange County diocese, Sister Fran returned to Mount Saint Joseph in 1983 to manage the Prayer House. At the next election, she was elected to the leadership team, serving two terms while continuing to run the prayer house.

While serving on the council and managing the prayer house, Sister Fran was asked to begin an associates program, which she did successfully.

Sister Fran calls Centro Latino secretary Mary Ann O’Bryan “an answer to prayer.”

After her return to the Mount, Sister Fran saw a steady growth in the Hispanic population in Owensboro and the surrounding area. So, following her two terms on the council, she went to Bishop John McRaith and offered to be a church person to welcome the Hispanics. She told him she wanted to open a center where they could come and feel at home. “After telling him that, he told me to talk to Father (Pike) Powell in Stanley,” Sister Fran recalls. “At the time he had a school that had been empty for about ten years. We opened Centro Latino in that school in 1993.”

The parish at Stanley (St. Peter of Alcantara) eventually wanted the school back for parish meetings, so in 2000 Centro Latino had to move from Stanley into Owensboro, to its present address at 524 Locust Street, two doors down from the Catholic Pastoral Center. “The diocese had purchased the house for the Marriage Tribunal,“ Sister Fran explains. “They were in need of new office space. We were going to only stay here for one year, but…we’re still here six years later.”

She continues, “We lost some square footage in the move and emergency lodging capability, but we gained much easier access and more visibility to Hispanics and to the community.”

What difference has Centro Latino made to the local Hispanic community?

Sister Fran works closely with Chris Gutierrez, director of Hispanic Ministries for Daviess County. She says she enjoys “walking along with Chris” and helping him accomplish his mission.

Sister Fran: “First of all, they have an anchor. They know they have a place. We’ve done a lot to get their religious needs attended to. Prepared parents and godparents for baptism. Prepared children for First Communion, adults for the sacraments. We’ve had prayer meetings that met weekly. We’ve also had a choir to sing at the liturgy because music is so important for the Hispanics.”

The assistance isn’t limited to religious help. Sister Fran and her assistants are available to accompany the Hispanics to appointments and interpret for them, help them with their banking, help to get drivers licenses, automobile titles, and the list goes on.

The Centro Latino staff has gone from one staff member to six. Funding is always a challenge. The center receives $1000 a month from the diocese, $500 a month from St. Vincent de Paul, and $200 a month from the St. Vincent de Paul group of Immaculate Parish. For some time there was money from two grants from the Catholic Health Partners – resulting from the hospital merger – but that money is now gone and plans are in the works for some fundraisers. Of course, donations from the public are always welcome.

Sister Fran’s staff consists of Sister Rosemary Keough, a fellow Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, Connie Caceres, Allen Shreve, Ruth Bittel, and secretary Mary Ann O’Bryan.

As secretary, O’Bryan is invaluable to Sister Fran and the center. Says Sister Fran, “Mary Ann is an answer to prayer because she accomplishes so much work. She works a few hours, three days a week, five or six hours a day, but she accomplishes so much during that time. She is just a gift from God.”