After suffering domestic violence from an abusive husband, Teresa Latino said she was no longer able to feel God’s presence. She is grateful that her church told her that she did not need to stay in an abusive marriage, and after receiving legal help and counseling, she was eventually able to put her life back together.
One thing that really helped her was a lay leadership formation program of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan. “The first thing I had to learn there,” she said, “was that I was somebody—that God was actually always with me. Even in the midst of my suffering, God never abandoned me.” Although participation in the program meant significant sacrifices of time and expense, Latino found that it empowered her and gave her the courage to step up as a leader in her community.
Latino now helps other women who are victims of domestic violence. She started by volunteering at her parish. When she noticed the tell-tale signs of domestic abuse in others, she got involved, first by talking with her priest, and later by connecting people with different services and resources. Because of her volunteer work, she was eventually hired by a social-service organization to work full-time on domestic-violence cases. Now, after a change in her job, Latino is back to volunteering at her church and at a women’s shelter.
Helping people in her own parish can sometimes be difficult. “Knowing the abuser as a fellow parishioner is hard,” she said. But she also experiences a lot of support from her parish.
“I am so blessed,” Latino said. “Because I feel that God is telling me that I need to use the talents He has given me, I try to help wherever I can.”
One other way in which Latino helps where she can is by serving as a mentor in the Diocese of Kalamazoo’s Hispanic lay leadership formation program. The program, known as the Instituto San Agustín, has become a national model, and Catholic Extension helped fund it over the past four years.
“I have a lot of passion [for this program],” Latino said. “I like to encourage the students to graduate because I know the struggles they face when they sign up for this three-year program. … I’ve seen many positive changes in the people who are participating in it.”