Wyoming family honored for multicultural outreach, selfless commitment

Jaime and Laura Morales, both far right in the pew, spend time in prayer with their daughters at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Cody, Wyo., July 14, 2020. The family has been named the Knights of Columbus' International Family of the Year for 2020. (CNS photo/courtesy Spirit Juice Studios)

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Jaime Morales grew up in Mexico. Today, he lives in Wyoming, and has been a Knight of Columbus for more than 15 years. Whether by helping with fundraisers or building a pregnancy resource center, he has committed himself to serving others.

Every night before Jaime heads to bed, he asks himself one question: “Did I do something for somebody today?”

Jaime and his wife, Laura, along with their four daughters — Abigail, 24; Jessica, 21; Victoria, 18; and Nathalia, 17 — are the Knights of Columbus’ International Family of the Year for their multicultural outreach and selfless commitment to the Catholic Church.

They are active parishioners of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Cody, Wyoming, and Jaime is a member of the parish’s Knights of Columbus council — Bishop Maurice F. Burke Council 4031.

“For me, helping the Knights of Columbus is like you’re helping the church; it’s like you’re helping Jesus, it’s like you’re helping something special. For me, it’s an honor,” Jaime said in an interview.

Jaime and Laura have been married for nearly 30 years, moving to Cody in the early 2000s. It’s a small town with just over 9,000 people, but St. Anthony’s is one of the largest parishes area-wise in the lower 48 states, covering more than 6,000 square miles.

Ken Stockwell, a member of Bishop Maurice F. Burke Council 4031, said that St. Anthony’s didn’t originally have a Hispanic Catholic outreach. This changed after he met Jaime.

“I asked Jaime to be a Knight because he was the epitome of a Catholic gentleman,” Stockwell said. “Jaime has a rich, deep, deep faith, which he shares. He just was the perfect candidate to be a Knight of Columbus.”

The Morales family spearheaded Hispanic outreach in Cody, which has since expanded to the surrounding towns. They helped start a Spanish-language Mass in their area, held the first Sunday of every month. When it began, Laura was the music coordinator; Abigail, Jessica, Victoria and Nathalia were altar servers.

Abigail says her dad encourages Hispanics — many of whom are no longing identifying as Catholic — to return to church.

“There’s a lot of Hispanic members that have stopped coming to church,” Abigail said. “So he encourages them that if they would like to join, to come join.”

The family also started an annual Cinco de Mayo fundraising dinner, organized feast day celebrations honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, incorporated La Posada into the parish’s Christmas celebrations, led English as a second language courses, and helped the Knights of Columbus organize live Stations of the Cross.

Their pastor, Father Vernon Clark, is impressed with their creative impulse.

“One of my favorite projects that they did that is that after the Posadas they did a gingerbread-making contest. They had all of the little kids building gingerbread houses, assisted with the adults and the best one got a prize,” Father Clark said. “They’re extremely creative people and they bring that creative impulse into their ministry in the parish as well.”

It’s not the first time a family from St Anthony’s has been named the Knights’ International Family of the Year. In 2014, James and Stefanie Bell and their 10 children were recognized for bringing “an ideal Christian witness to family life,” according to Father Tom Ogg, then the Knights’ Wyoming state chaplain.

The Morales family follows in this tradition of showing a great Christian witness.

“They’re a wonderful example of Catholic family,” Father Clark continued. “They are extraordinary people and I’m blessed by them. So is our parish.”

Stockwell also sees the cultural impact the Morales family has had on the parish, especially their hospitality in sharing their Mexican culture with a predominantly white population.

“A lot of us Catholics have never been to a quinceanera, but they open it up to the community,” Stockwell said.

The Moraleses not only share their Hispanic customs, they also help with day-to-day needs of the parish. Jaime landscapes the parish grounds, and Laura provides cleaning services for the parish buildings.

As a dad of four daughters, Jaime finds encouragement and support in the Knights’ Catholic brotherhood.

“I find friends, I find brothers, I find really, truly good, good friends there. For me, the Catholic Church is like a house, it’s like power for the family,” Jaime said. “And it’s really, really good people.”

Jaime dreams of one day moving back to Mexico and helping strengthen the Knights of Columbus in his home country, where the Knights have been established since 1905.

“I want to make it very strong council, and then start making more councils around my country because the Knights of Columbus is like another school. It’s another education,” he said. “I want to take it — this school that I have with Knights of Columbus — for Mexico and grow the Knights of Columbus.”

By Andrew Fowler