From St. Olaf College’s founding by Norwegian immigrants to today’s “Dreamers,” the college’s commitment to immigrants from all nations is reinforced by its mission. In the most recent issue of St. Olaf Magazine, alumni and students share their personal immigration stories in the hope that Oles will continue to work alongside neighbors, friends, and strangers to welcome all voices and experiences to America. This is one story from that series.
St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church is located in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis, just two blocks north of East Lake Street, a throughway that was known for porn theaters, pawn shops, and massage parlors as little as 15 years ago. But the area has been transformed recently by an influx of new restaurants and markets, thanks in great part to the immigrants who have embraced the neighborhood and made it their home.
“Immigrants have brought an energy and vitality that has sparked renewal in the neighborhood and community,” says Patrick Hansel, who co-pastors St. Paul’s with his Chilean-born wife, Luisa Cabello Hansel. “These people have left their countries with a mindset of trying to achieve and grow, to work hard and sacrifice so that their children can have a better life.”
St. Paul’s has also transformed itself to meet the needs of its neighbors, many of whom come from Latin America — predominantly from Mexico but also from Chile, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic. The church has a weekly worship service in Spanish and focuses much of its programming on engaging the community. It offers summer leadership and exploration camps and employment programs for young people and provides training in how to grow and maintain a community garden. It also hosts a free clinic in gardening.
“Immigrants have brought an energy and vitality that has sparked renewal in the neighborhood and community”
St. Paul’s founded, and is home to, the nonprofit Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts, which beautifies the Phillips neighborhood by creating public art in the form of mosaics and murals. In collaboration with the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, St. Paul’s celebrates the Christmas tradition of Las Posadas, a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem that has been a ritual in Mexico for more than 400 years.
“We were called here 12 years ago with the intention of being a cornerstone for the community,” says Hansel, who previously served inner-city parishes in Philadelphia and the Bronx. “We believe that reconciliation in Christ includes the whole neighborhood.” To that end, St. Paul’s opens its doors as a meeting place for many groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, a diabetes support group, and organizations focused on issues related to immigration.
Hansel says his role as pastor is to help his congregants see their personal story mirrored in the Bible. “So much of the Biblical story is about migrating, from Abraham and Sarah to people escaping slavery in Egypt to Jesus being born in Bethlehem because of powers beyond his control,” he says. “Those stories contain themes my parishioners can relate to, and through them, we can build relationships that are nonjudgmental and welcoming to all.”
“So much of the Biblical story is about migrating, from Abraham and Sarah to people escaping slavery in Egypt to Jesus being born in Bethlehem because of powers beyond his control. Those stories contain themes my parishioners can relate to, and through them, we can build relationships that are nonjudgmental and welcoming to all.” — Patrick Hansel ’75 / Pastor, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church / Minneapolis (Photographed with his wife and co-pastor, Luisa Cabello
Hansel, by Tom Roster)