BURLEY • After Maricela Rios graduated with a degree in business administration in 2005 she started working as a legal assistant for an immigration attorney in Boise. She also worked part time as a Hispanic ministry coordinator at a local church. With a good job, a car and a condo she had everything a young adult would want early in life.
But Rios couldn’t help but feel incomplete.
So she started searching online for what should be her next move. Back then she didn’t know what she was looking for at first, but today she feels she is pointed in the right direction.
What Rios found was the website for Boston College in Massachusetts and a field in ministry. This August, Rios will graduate with a masters in pastoral ministry with a concentration in hispanic ministry.
“One of my hopes is to help people and to journey with people in their faith,” Rios said.
Born and raised in Burley, Rios, 28, has spent the last two years learning and growing in her faith. Though Rios was raised Catholic and attended church, she said her own experience in the religion is continually evolving.
“We grew up in a family that embraced values, tradition and respect for the family,” Rios said. “But we didn’t embrace our religion as a family until later.”
Rios credits a retreat she and her sister went on as teenagers to helping facilitate family involvement. A family that often didn’t pray together started to at home and before dinner.
“One of the things I learned was how young adults can be active in their faith,” Rios said. “It’s part of the growing vibrancy in the church.”
Rios was selected by the national nonprofit organization Catholic Extension to participate in its second annual national Emerging Catholic Leaders event July 10-13.
She was one of 12 emerging Catholic leaders to experience firsthand communities and learn more about both the challenges and opportunities that exist and how they can help.
Their first stop was at Holy Spirit Church in Hamburg, Arkansas, where she visited a rural mission church with a growing Latino population.
“The walls were literally falling down but there was this great faith ... that part was amazing,” Rios said.
Then they traveled to Sacred Heart in Camden, Miss., to visit an African American parish. Rios said here she was especially struck by the collaboration between the different denominations.
“It was a very welcoming environment,” Rios said. “That’s the one thing I would like to take away is the richness of everyone’s diversity.”
While at the program, Rios made an impression on Terry Witherell, national representative for Strategic Initiatives for Catholic Extension, and the main organizer of the Emerging Catholic Leaders experience.
“She is a very bright and passionate young woman,” Witherell said. “She feels really called as a leader in the Latino church, showing them how a woman can have a voice in the church.”
Rios is currently a research assistant and project manager for the National Study of Catholic Parishes with Hispanic Ministry.
The study is examining the trend in churches in the United States that shows Hispanics are rapidly becoming a majority. According to NSCPHM, more than 40 percent of the total Catholic population and more than 55 percent of Catholics under the age of 18 in the country are Hispanic.
“There is such a great need for research like this and the influence that it’s having on the U.S.,” Rios said. “How can we become better leaders for the church?”
Though Rios isn’t quite sure of her plans after graduation this fall. She is considering continuing her education in the social work field.
“I want to help victims of domestic violence and those crossing borders,” Rios said. “Even church can help and be a part of this.”
But no matter what she does, her faith is always at the core of her decisions.
“Theologians that are Latina, it’s really rare but a needed field,” Rios said. “Ministry isn’t just behind church walls.”