Erica Jimenez, new director of Intercultural Ministries for the Diocese of Gary, sets an appointment in her office at the Pastoral Center in Merrillville on Jan. 12. Jimenez, former Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Guadalupe in East Chicago, took the helm of the office after the retirement of longtime director Adeline Torres. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)
MERRILLVILLE – As someone dedicated to evangelization, Erica Jimenez finds herself in the perfect spot as she takes over as director of the Office of Intercultural Ministry for the Diocese of Gary.
While she admits to having big shoes to fill as successor to Adeline Torres, who defined the position during her 12-year tenure, Jimenez is ready to take her first steps.
“I love my faith, and I love to share my faith with everyone,” she said just a day after moving into her new office at the Pastoral Center on Jan. 11. “I’m a very happy person, and I hope to stop by each parish and meet with each pastor to let them know that we are here to help and serve wherever we can.”
Jimenez begins her new vocation with a variety of experience in the Diocese of Gary and at Our Lady of Guadalupe in East Chicago, her home parish.
“I know she will help the ministry to grow,” Torres said of her successor. “It is a lot of work, but so rewarding, and I’m so excited for the future.”
A Chicago native, Erica Gutierrez attended public elementary school before crossing the state line to enroll at Bishop Noll Institute, graduating in 1998. She attended Chicago State University for two years before getting married to Carlos Jimenez and moving to Whiting, leaving retail work to become a stay-at-home mom to Emily, now 20, Katelyn, 13, and Carlos, 10.
She and her husband became active members of Our Lady of Guadalupe and she was hired as parish secretary in 2013, moving to become parish director of religious education in 2015, guiding the faith formation program for first grade through high school levels and special needs youngsters as well as the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). “I especially enjoyed my experience with the children, being able to show them Jesus,” Jimenez said. “Sometimes children think of God as very far away, but I bring him to their level and show Jesus’ humanity. In turn, the children taught me to find the image of God in all of them.”
Fluent in Spanish, Jimenez has also served OLG, a largely Hispanic parish, as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Comm and lector, and she also lectors frequently at liturgies hosted by the diocese at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary.
In 2017, seeking to “learn more about my faith, my Church and to grow spiritually,” Jimenez enrolled in the Diocese of Gary’s four-year Lay Ecclesial Ministry program.
Jimenez and her husband, a construction laborer, are also active in the Spirituality of the Children of God, a largely Hispanic group of about 200 guided by a group of priests from Colombia who are serving in the Diocese of Gary – Father Nestor A. Varon, AIC, Father Luis Fernady Iral Cardona, AIC, and Father Carlos M. Sosa.
Small prayer cells of three members continue to meet weekly with COVID-19 protocols in place, while the large group formation sessions, monthly retreats and Bible study classes have moved from a rotating group of parishes in East Chicago and Hammond to an online format. Sessions are presented in Spanish, but translations are provided for a small number of members who only speak English, Jimenez added.
“This group has helped my spiritual life tremendously, and my husband’s, too,” Jimenez explained. “It teaches about the school of life and goes deeper into the Bible.”
Viewing the Office of Intercultural Ministry as a program that “tries to reach out to those communities (Hispanic, Black, Asian and Other Abled) where they are at and serve in any capacity we can,” Jimenez sought her new position “because the need is there and God has given me gifts and talents to serve others. God opened a door, and it is an opportunity to serve.”