SOUTH OMAHA Religion
How did religon and immigration intersect in South Omaha?
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish:
The Growth of the
Mexican Community and
Retention of Culture in South Omaha
by: Antwan M., Arelis P., and Jordan W.
In 1918 the small Mexican community in South Omaha tried to petition the bishop for their own church. They were unsuccessful because the Catholic Church wanted them to become more American in their religious practices. In response the Mexican community started fundraising by selling tamales, cake and other foods. At the same time they held raffles and dances. Finally, they raised enough money to rent a bakery on 21st and Q. The parish stayed in the bakery for just a few short years before they ran out of money, lost the lease, and had to start all over again. Fortunately, in 1928, the growing parish was able to rent a storefront on south 24th Street. Remaining in their rented home for a number of years, the parish flourished with the addition of new immigrants to the city. Our Lady of Guadalupe parish began a capital fundraising campaign in 1944 to establish a free standing church of their own. It took 5 years to raise enough money and break ground on a pernmant church. The cornerstone laying was in 1950 at 23rd and O, the present location of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it opened in 1951. Since then, the parish has combined with St. Agnes and Assumption Catholic parishes. Finally, the church has expanded and remodeled the façade since the 1950’s. The church has grown along with the community and has become a place called home to many. It is significant to Omaha’s Mexican Catholics for everything the parish has done.
This is a mosaic of our lady of Guadalupe, located in the apse of the church. It’s significant to the Mexican Catholic identity because its represents the story of Juan Diego. In December of 1531 Juan Diego, an Indian, was walking to church in Colonial Mexico City. He heard strains of music and as he looked he saw a beautiful young lady who was calling out his name. It turned out to be the Virgin Mary presenting herself to him. She told him to tell the bishop to build a church for her. The bishop didn’t believe him and asked for a sign that could prove he was speaking the truth. Juan Diego spoke to Guadalupe and she told him to go pick out roses and take them to the bishop. During that time roses were not in season and should have not been in bloom. Diego did what he was told and took the roses to the bishop. When he opened his tilma1, where he was wearing his roses, the bishop saw the gorgeous roses, but he also saw the beautiful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe impressed on his shirt. He then believed Juan Diego. Days later they constructed her a church. The name Guadalupe means Gracious Lady in the Aztec tongue.
The Our Lady of Guadalupe summer fiesta is a way parishioners keep a connection between their Mexican and modern heritage. The parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe started this fiesta in 1966. The church has a big celebration with food, dancing, music, beauty contests, and fireworks. In the early years, the celebrations were several days long but as the years progressed it downsized to a one-day festival. But by the turn of the last century it had been revitalized to a multi-day event. It is held at the church and the whole community is welcome. They usually have Aztec dancers at fiestas, who wear traditional costumes, headdresses and seed leggings called “Chachatotls.” The leggings make a noise when they start dancing, like in the photo shown. The beating of the drums is supposed to represent a heartbeat. It ties the religion to the ancient culture.