RIDGELAND—Iris Young left her native Rico in 1966 to come to the United States to pursue a better life. Now, she dedicates much of her time to helping others who have come here with the same dream.
Young received the 2012 Catholic Woman of the Year award from the South Carolina Council of Catholic Women for her work with immigrants and the Hispanic community at her parish, St. Anthony Church in the small Jasper County town of Ridgeland.
She originally attended St. Peter Church in Beaufort and St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton before moving to Ridgeland. Shortly after joining St. Anthony, she discovered turmoil in the parish as established members tried to accommodate a steadily increasing number of Hispanics.
Many had emigrated from Mexico to find work and started attending the small church, which has about 109 households.
Because she spoke Spanish, Young thought she could help the new arrivals, and became St. Anthony’s coordinator for Hispanic outreach.
“I do what I do because of my love for the Hispanic community, and I feel the call from God to do the work I do,” she said.
Improving the community’s spiritual life has been one of her priorities. She started weekly Scripture studies in Spanish, trained lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, and through her work as CCD coordinator also drew more young people to religious education classes.
Retreats for the community regularly draw more than 100 people, and she recently held a special retreat for married couples.
She also helps with immigration issues through membership in the Ridgeland Chapter of the Low County Immigration Coalition, and has organized immigration forums in Ridgeland.
St. Anthony now offers English classes regularly on Saturdays to help more people become proficient in the language and able to communicate more easily with their fellow parishioners.
Young said her goal is not only to aid Hispanics, but to help form a more cohesive parish community.
“Our dream is to try to integrate the communities,” she said. “It has been a slow and at times painful process, but we are already seeing the benefits of it.”
While the church still holds separate weekly Masses in English and Spanish, she said holiday Masses and other celebrations are now bilingual.
Hispanic women provided lunch for the women’s guild when they decorated the church for Christmas, and have become more involved in other parish activities.
More non-Hispanics are taking part in devotions such as the annual Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration in December, and all the children rode together on the church float in Ridgeland’s Christmas parade.
On Good Friday, the community will offer a live Stations of the Cross program, with members acting out each station as others pray with them.
Young said a cohesive community is still a work in progress. Some people still have not fully accepted the newcomers, but others at St. Anthony have told her the parish has been rejuvenated by the influx of young families with children.
“I love the fact that many in the Anglo community are being inspired to come alive again and do some new things,” she said.
“My dream is eventually we will be able to do some of these spiritual activities together, have retreats or special speakers together,” Young told The Miscellany. “The Hispanic community is open to togetherness, and we’re really working toward that goal.”
She said her work has helped her become more in touch with her faith, including a greater devotion to the Sacred Heart that she learned after studying a prayer book many of the women use for daily devotions.
“I have learned and continue to learn from the people I work with,” she said.
“They are so humble, so welcoming, and so generous of their time and treasure, even though many of them have so little.”