The Latino Leadership Scholarship was first offered as an attempt to serve the Latino population by training future leaders in Catholic Studies and in another field of their choice.

At present there are three wonderful people studying with the assistance of the Latino Leadership Scholarship. The first is Hilario Hernandez Zapeta from Guatemala. After losing both his parents to government oppression in the 1980s, Hilario came to live at San Lucas Toliman, a community and coffee-growing cooperative whose priest is Father Greg Schafer of the diocese of New Ulm, Minn. Hilario is interested in studying business at St. Thomas and would like to serve as a liaison between the San Lucas community’s coffee-growing business and its markets in the United States. San Lucas’ coffee is marketed through Fair Trade outlets that ensure a sustainable wage for the farmers of the community. Hilario is engaged to marry Mary Boyle, a St. Thomas graduate with two adopted siblings from Guatemala and a long history of involvement with the San Lucas community.

Mirla Joseph-Conlon comes to St. Thomas after living in St. Paul just a few short years. Mirla was born in Venezuela, but her family moved to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia when she was young. In St. Lucia, Mirla was very active in the ministries of her parish, and it was there that she met her husband, Joe Conlon of Minnesota, who was working for a Catholic media production company. After moving to Minnesota, Mirla taught Latino children at the Academia Cesar Chavez. Mirla and Joe are now expecting a baby and also adopting a girl from St. Lucia. Although she will have to adjust her academic schedule to devote time to her growing family, Mirla is a dedicated and excellent student, and she plans to finish with a degree that will help her continue doing ministry in a Latino context.

Marta Pereira began at St. Thomas in spring 2003. She comes with a wealth of experience serving the Church in the United States and abroad. Marta was born in Costa Rica and spent five years with the Carmelite missionaries in Puerto Rico, teaching religion classes and leading youth groups in a Catholic diocese there. Last year, she met Father Joseph Williams, of the Cathedral of St. Paul, at World Youth Day in Toronto, just a few days before moving to St. Paul. Marta has been involved in the activities of the cathedral and has been tutoring seminarians in Spanish. In January, Marta married Tim Odegard of St. Paul. Marta’s plan is to study business at St. Thomas, and she hopes to integrate her deep Catholic faith with a career in international business.

One requirement of the Latino Leadership Scholarship is that recipients be rooted in the local Latino community through service. Through the Casa Guadalupana, all three serve on St. Paul’s West Side. Hilario helps every Monday night during the Casa’s drop-in time for homeless men. Marta and Mirla help on Thursday nights with the women’s group. Our current scholarship recipients are excellent examples of how a St. Thomas education can help prepare future leaders for the Church.

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