In 1958, as the Catholic Church in Rome called for greater involvement of clergy and lay people in world missions, the Diocese of New Ulm responded by launching a diocesan partnership with the Diocese of Sololá, Guatemala. Fr. Greg Schaffer, a diocesan priest from New Ulm, began serving as pastor of the San Lucas Mission in 1962.
Perhaps one of the most well-known missions in Guatemala, its long-term devotion has been the enhancement and enrichment of the whole person – spiritually, intellectually, and physically – by addressing both the immediate effects of poverty and its underlying causes.
Through listening to the expressed-felt need of the people, the philosophy of the San Lucas Mission attempts to respond, as Jesus did, to the needs of the people.
The Mission programs began addressing the needs for housing, healthcare and nutrition, education, and land - all attending to the integral human development of the community.
Beginning 50 years ago, San Lucas was a small village of cornstalk homes with thatched roofs, lacking both electricity and plumbing. There were neither health care facilities nor schools and women and children suffered severely from the lack of healthcare, with many women dying in childbirth and children suffering as a result of malnutrition.
Education, inaccessible to the majority of the Maya population, perpetuated discrimination against the Maya, who were consequently unable to find employment off of the coffee plantations. Land ownership, with which the people could live and raise their own crops, constituted the gravest of injustices, having resulted in the systemization of land deprivation with huge disparities in rural land ownership.
Through the initiatives begun by the Mission, San Lucas is now a village with more cement block and stone homes, built by local stone masons and carpenters trained in mission programs. Healthcare and nutrition programs, including dental facilities and an eye clinic, are also available to the people.
Through education, the people of San Lucas have taken advantage of the opportunity to advance. Very proudly, many of today’s Maya teachers, doctors, engineers and lawyers of San Lucas have been educated in the mission’s programs. The literacy rate, around 2.5% when the Mission school began, is now nearing 85%. For youth interested in pursuing post-secondary schooling, the mission provides annual scholarships and for others there was an apprenticeship program, through which students gained training in agriculture, stone masonry, carpentry, electricity, and plumbing.
With respect to land ownership, perhaps the most significant of the mission’s programs, the San Lucas Mission has undertaken the restoration of land and livelihood to the landless Maya majority - over the last 50 years many indigenous families have received land.
In listening to the expressed felt need of the people, the San Lucas Mission has attempted to address situations of injustice, promoting as its base the structural and systemic change that is necessary in addressing the process of poverty and its underlying causes.
Shortly after Fr. Greg's death, the Diocese of Solola made a decision to continue supporting the spiritual and sacramental needs of the San Lucas Mission, asking the 'Asociation Action Cristiana de San Lucas' to take over the handling of the legal and financial aspects of the mission. The 'Asociation Action Cristiana de San Lucas is a group legally formed by Fr. Greg, back in 1974, to help govern the land acquisitions and legal aspects of the ongoing projects associated with the mission. At about the same time, the New Ulm Diocese began planning and developing a 501c3 non-profit organization called 'The Friends of San Lucas’. This non-profit organization will be in charge of all of the legal and financial responsibilities in the U.S. associated with the San Lucas Mission, including fundraising, communications with donors, administration of the coffee program, developing the volunteer and visitor programs and other associated obligations, tasks and proceedings previously handled by the Diocese. There is a local Board of Directors of the Association de Action Cristiana made up of the Mission Administrator and the project leaders.