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The Diocese of Helena, under then Bishop Raymond Hunthausen, established a relationship with a Catholic Mission in Santo Tomas La Union, Guatemala in 1964, and has offered direct and indirect support to the mission ever since. The complex associated with the Mission includes a medical clinic (Clinica Maxeña), a school (La Asuncion), and a church (Santo Tomas Apóstol Church). The Mission itself is guided by four Guatemalan priests who also serve the local Parish as well 25 churches located in 40 nearby communities in the area.
An integral component of the Diocese’s involvement with the Mission and its success was the assignment of the late Fr. James W. (Jim) Hazelton (1927-2020), a priest from the Diocese of Helena, to help direct its activities. Fr. Hazelton (Hazy) was ordained in 1961 and initially served as an assistant at St. Joseph Parish in Butte. After three years there, he was accepted to lead the Diocese’s efforts associated with the Guatemala Mission Project where he served for 47 years. His first parish in Guatemala was in the small village of Sant Maria Visitacion. He also trained young men with sixth-grade educations to be teachers and then provided schools for them. Fr. Hazelton’s project attracted more than a thousand young people eager to study and he ultimately ordained eight young men to the priesthood.
Cathedral parishioners will remember fundraising efforts for Father Hazelton and his Mission which eventually turned into what is fondly remembered as "Hazy Days." He was beloved throughout the Diocese and the many people of Guatemala whom he served. Fr. Hazelton’s passion for teaching was reignited in the work he did with the Mayan people and his vigor for educating students allowing the junior-senior school to provide opportunities for creating primary school teachers, bolstering the entire educational process in the country.
Mass is currently celebrated at Santo Tomas Apóstal Parish every weekend wherein sacraments are often bestowed in conjunction with the service, including baptisms, marriages, and anointing of the sick. The church is located between two dioceses, a unique situation that presents challenges to both staff and Bishops. La Asuncion school is a combination of junior high school and high school students with an enrollment of approximately 400-500 students. Many of the students receive financial aid and are offered board because of the extreme distance to the school from smaller villages in the area. Clinica Maxeña helps to provide preventative and curative medicine. Approximately 30 patients are seen each day with typical services being: treatments for dehydration; laboratory diagnostic tests; acute symptom monitoring; and, emergency care. For major injuries or diagnoses, the Clinic has established alliances with other missionary health programs in Guatemala City, including a medicinal Mayan Plant Clinic and Garden.
Funding for the Mission and all its components (Parish, School, Clinic) is derived, in large part, from the Diocese’s Annual Catholic Appeal as well as through special donations. If you would like to make a contribution to the Mission and its work please contact:
Father Kevin Christofferson
Director, Guatemala Mission