Rev. Jeff Ethen will be leaving the Pelican Rapids and Elizabeth Catholic parishes, after more than eight years. In a new position as a “mobile” priest assisting at Spanish-speaking parishes, Ethen will be returning to the area.
Rev. Jeff Ethen and Pelican Rapids St. Leonard Deacon Joe Hilber
At one of the first services, as Catholic churches began COVID-era openings, Rev. Jeff Ethen is pictured here with parishioners in mid-June. Note the “socially scattered” congregation wearing masks.

Father Jeff Ethen assumes regional role to assist Spanish-speaking churches in Central Minnesota

The pastor of the Pelican Rapids St. Leonard and Elizabeth’s St. Elizabeth parishes will be going “on the road” for the Catholic Church.

Rev. Jeff Ethen will be leaving those churches to serve a role as a “roving” priest, covering 16 counties of the St. Cloud Diocese.

“The Hispanic ministry position will not be attached to any one parish,” said Father Jeff. “I will be floating within the diocese.”

In that role, Ethen will be visiting Pelican Rapids and Elizabeth. He expects to assist with Spanish-speaking masses all the way from Elk River to Morris.

“My main responsibility will be to go to Perham once a month with a Spanish Mass and assist other parishes…There are nine Spanish Mass services within the diocese,” said Ethen, whose final day with St. Leonard and St. Elizabeth will be June 30.

“It’s been fun. The Hispanic community is different than the European Catholics. The German Catholics tend to be more stoic,” chuckled Ethen. “The Spanish speaking parishioners are more lively, more passionate in their prayers. It’s been a real joy and a blessing to be part of the Hispanic community. I’ve been invited into their homes to be involved in their joys, and their sufferings.”

That work will continue for Ethen, though as a “roving” priest.

Ethen was ordained in 1988, becoming a priest after his initial career as a community journalist. He worked at newspapers, including Elk River and Zimmerman.

“I knew back in junior high school that I would somehow make a living with words. I wasn’t mechanically inclined,” laughed Ethen, who graduated from High School in Elk River, and earned a journalism degree at Mankato. “Clergy was in the back of my mind, but not a driving force through my youth and high school.”

Throughout his three-plus decades in the ministry, Ethen “never really left journalism.”

He’s continued to write for a Catholic publication, as well as some submissions to the local Pelican Rapids Press.

And of course, his work with words is ongoing—every week.

“In 33 years, I’ve never repeated a homily…I never pulled from the files and reworked one,” said Ethen. He freely admits that some of his messages from the pulpit are much better than others.

“The themes are sometimes reoccurring. But the well hasn’t gone dry,” said Ethen.

As a Spanish-speaking priest, Ethen was somewhat ahead of the curve—as the diocese, and Minnesota in general, has greatly increased in Hispanic numbers.

Interestingly, Minneota’s Catholic faith community’s outreach to Mexicans dates back at least 50 years—to the era when migrant labor was at its peak.

“The very earliest was when a bus was converted to a classroom, and traveled up and down the Red River Valley—preparing kids for their first communion. The first site was in Kent, down near Breckenridge.”

But Pelican Rapids is essentially one of the first, in terms of a permanent Spanish-speaking ministry. “Pelican is the ‘grandfather’ of other parishes in the region,” he said.

Today, St. Leonards is now a majority Hispanic.

Over the course of nearly a decade in Pelican Rapids, Ethen has conducted at least 60 baptisms and the vast majority were Hispanic. Oddly enough, he has had only one Spanish speaking funeral out of 13 during his Pelican tenure—suggesting that the Hispanic demographic is generally younger, with younger families.