At St. Mary-St. Peter parish in Kingston, Father Nelson Pichardo serves as a spiritual and sacramental guide to a growing number of Hispanic families in parishes in Ulster and Dutchess counties. He celebrates Spanish Mass at St. Mary-St. Peter as well as St. Augustine in Highland and St. Mary of the Snow-St. Joseph in Saugerties, all in Ulster, and St. Denis in Hopewell Junction, Dutchess.
Father Pichardo, who is marking 25 years in the priesthood, celebrated his jubilee Mass at St. Mary-St. Peter July 15, the date of his 1995 ordination in the Diocese of La Vega in his native Dominican Republic. He has begun the process of incardination into the Archdiocese of New York.
“I have a great mission here, thanks to God. The archdiocese asked me to serve here in the Kingston area, mainly to minister to the Hispanic community,” Father Pichardo, 52, said in an interview with Catholic New York.
“It’s been two years; it has been a blessing for me. Most of them are immigrants, and many are undocumented. I help them spiritually through the sacraments. They are people eager to listen to the Word of God; they worry about housing and about jobs, and they seek family guidance. Also, many worry about not having immigration documents.”
Father Pichardo said his central message to the families is always that they should remember that “the Church supports them, the archdiocese will not abandon them.”
“I give them words of support, so that they know we are here to help,” Father Pichardo said.
The help includes assistance with food and household essentials, especially since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. Many of the immigrants are farmworkers, restaurant employees and housekeepers—and most are from Mexico and Central America.
Latinos make up about 40 percent of parishioners at St. Mary-St. Peter, which has the largest Hispanic community of the four parishes he serves.
Father Pichardo noted, “This year we are training a group of 30 people to be catechists under the archdiocesan program; it is the first Spanish-language program in this area. This is very important.”
Early in his priesthood in the Dominican Republic, he served as a Catholic high school theology teacher, and he was a leader with the Cursillo and Charismatic Renewal movements. He also served at several parishes.
Father Pichardo grew up the third of six children of devout Catholic parents; his late father was a catechist whose students included his own children. Key mentors later included Auxiliary Bishop Benito Angeles Fernandez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo, who was a teacher at Father Pichardo’s minor seminary before his ordination as a bishop.
In the Archdiocese of New York, Father Pichardo first served at St. Gregory the Great parish in Manhattan, 2006-2010, before going back to the Dominican Republic, 2010-2013, to teach theology and Christian anthropology at Universidad Católica del Cibao. Returning to New York, he served at St. Joseph of the Holy Family parish in Harlem, 2014-2018, and then was assigned to St. Mary-St. Peter in Kingston.
Our Lady of Altagracia, the patroness of the Dominican Republic, “had a lot to do with my vocation,” Father Pichardo said. “It was at her feet that my vocation was born” as a 10-year-old boy.
Father William Scafidi, pastor of St. Mary-St. Peter, and Florencio Coraizaca, a leading parish volunteer, both agreed Father Pichardo has been a blessing to the parish and its commitment in ministering to Hispanic families.
“The people are very content,” Coraizaca, 65, who was born in Ecuador, said of Father Pichardo’s ministry.
“This has been very important for us. He helps a great deal with the sacraments and his spiritual counsels.”