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Building cultural bridges: Oklahoma institute offers insight into Hispanic culture and language

by Carla Hinton Modified: March 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm •  Published: March 3, 2014

When Beatriz Henderson died in 2011, he said he stopped going to the classes but recently started attending again.

The 70-something widower said he was drawn to the program again by the language skills he had obtained, but also for the opportunities of fellowship with the friends he had made among other participants.

“I had to go back to the beginner’s class because there were things that I forgot,” he said, chuckling. “But there’s really more to it than learning.”

Meanwhile, the students divided into groups according to their level of skill. Faulkner, a nun with the Gospel of Life religious community, and the Rev. Dan Letourneau, St. Joseph’s associate pastor, separated into a group for people interested in learning conversational Spanish. The two said they are interested in learning specific words and phrases that will help them minister to Hispanics in their parishes.

Faulkner, who is a part of the St. James the Greater Catholic Church in south Oklahoma City, said she speaks French fluently, but that skill hasn’t helped her grasp the Spanish language.

However, she said the classes already have helped her better navigate her conversations with Hispanics participating in a St. James’ outreach ministry.

Letourneau, 56, said the institute takes advantage of its proximity to OU with all of the dedicated professors and instructors who commit to teaching the weekly classes.

He said he has presided over the Spanish Mass at St. Joseph several times in recent weeks and his fledgling Spanish speaking skills have been enhanced by the program’s classes.

Letourneau said his Hispanic parishioners have been encouraging him as he attempts to use their language with greater finesse.

“They say ‘you did great!’ They love the fact that I’m trying,” he said.

Garner and Nelson, both of Norman, said they look forward to the weekly sessions at St. Joseph.

Garner, 74, said he just came back from Costa Rica and traveled to Colombia in recent years.

He said he has taken foreign languages classes at OU and at another university, plus an online language class. Garner, retired from the Navy, said the friendly environment of the institute’s evening classes have helped him as he attempts to overcome obstacles that have thwarted his previous efforts to become more fluent in Spanish.

“I have a 2,000- or 3,000-word vocabulary, but I can’t put the verbs and nouns together to make sense. I usually communicate through one-word statements,” he said. “The teachers here are wonderful. They make everything fun and easy to understand.”

Nelson, who attends First Christian Church of Norman (Disciples of Christ), said she started attending the classes about two yeas ago after her youngest son graduated from high school.

She said she was particularly interested in the language classes, but the Hispanic culture speakers like Cortest have made such thought-provoking presentations that she has become keenly interested in culture sessions as well.

“I thought learning a new language would stretch my brain and it was an opportunity to meet new people,” she said. “We’ve also learned about some different countries, their politics, the food and other things from really enthusiastic people who make you care about things you hadn’t thought of before.”

For Cortest and Ruiz, the institute has fulfilled their original mission and is a community program that its namesake would likely be proud of.

They said the institute is named after the Rev. Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma native who was serving in Guatemala when he was killed in 1981, for a reason.

Ruiz said the program is a another way to exemplify Rother’s widely known love and respect for other cultures and languages — and to multiply it.

by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...
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Learning about

Hispanic culture

What: Father Stanley Rother Hispanic Cultural Institute

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays

Where: St. Joseph Catholic Church, 421 E Acres, Norman.

Cost: $25 per semester.

Information: 321-8080; or;


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