‘The 12’ in Nicaragua

Categories: Around the Diocese

St. Cloud diocesan delegation strengthens relationships with Nicaraguans through work, prayer and play

February 14, 2014, edition
By Kristi Anderson
For The Visitor

For just a few dollars, native Nicaraguans can send a letter to their local radio station and have it read on the air in hopes that loved ones in other parts of the region might hear it.


Delegates pictured in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, referred to as the New Cathedral, in Managua, Nicaragua, are Xander Krueger, left front, Father Teddy Niehaus, Deacon Thomas McFadden, Zachery Wiechman and Reed Middendorf. In the back row are Doug Watercott, Debra Steele, Sue Lind, Shelley Gemza, Chuckie Niehaus, Richard Hubbard, Christian Sipe and Allen Walter.

This is a common form of communication in Nicaragua and one that Richard Hubbard experienced firsthand as part of a recent delegation that spent two weeks there in January and early February.

For the last nine years, Hubbard, parishioner of Mary of the Visitation Catholic Community in the Becker/Big Lake area, has been part of a group that travels to Nicaragua annually to work alongside Franciscan Capuchin Father Teddy Niehaus, a missioner from Sauk Centre to Nicaragua for 45 years. Father Niehaus is currently pastor of 86 parishes there, most of which he only gets to visit and celebrate Mass with two or three times a year.

Members from Hubbard’s parish, Doug Watercott, Xander Krueger and Christian Sipe also participated in the delegation along with Father Niehaus’ sister, Chuckie Niehaus, a member of St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove, a cohort from the Sauk Centre area parishes including Deacon Thomas McFadden, Debra Steele, Allen Walter, Reed Middendorf, Sue Lind and Shelley Gemza; and Zachery Wiechman, St. Rose of Lima, St. Rosa.

In the spirit of their mission to “go and make disciples of all nations,” the group humbly nicknamed themselves “The 12.”

“It was a special blessing that there were 12 of us on this trip,” Hubbard said. “The whole trip was a group effort. Each person came from a different place and each brought a different gift.”

The group spent most of their time in San Pedro working on a dormitory for the religious sisters who assist Father Niehaus in his ministry. While part of the crew worked on plumbing and electrical work, others cleaned and painted.

Engaged with Nicaraguans

In the evenings, the delegates enjoyed a Spanish Mass with the local people and attempted to engage in conversation, though they only had one interpreter for the whole group. The translator, Monica Rudawski, is a native Minnesotan and lay Franciscan Associate who traveled to Nicaragua in 2004, fell in love with it and stayed.

Xander Krueger, 19, explained, “Our interpreter only translated when she thought it was necessary. She pretty much let us try to manage on our own. I had a Spanish phrase book and a pocket dictionary that got a lot of use. And, I think I might be engaged,” he joked.

Though they had a heavy workload, Krueger said he would go out of his way each day to find time to talk to the locals.


Richard Hubbard from the St. Cloud delegation to Nicaragua listened in as Nicaraguan radio host Narceso (right) read letters from local community members to friends and family in hopes that they will hear them on the radio.

“As soon as one of us would start talking to someone in the village, there would be a whole group of people around us. It was pretty amazing to try to assimilate their culture.”

Hubbard appreciated having a number of youth on this trip.

“We old guys like to tackle a project and get it done,” he said. “It was so nice to see these young guys work hard but also take the time to stop and talk to the people and play with the kids.”

Chuckie Niehaus has been visiting Nicaragua for years. She, too, noticed the positive energy of this delegation.

“The primary reason this group has been going to Nicaragua has been to ‘be’ with the people,” she said. “We used to spend more time sharing faith stories. We kind of got away from that for awhile because there was so much work to be done. Now with this trip, we hoped to get back to building a relationship with the people there. I felt that we gained a greater sense of solidarity — us learning from them and them learning from us.”


Chuckie Niehaus, Debra Steele and Shelley Gemza apply fresh paint to walls in the dormitory.

Chuckie also recalls the incredible hospitality of the native Nicaraguans, who went out of their way to prepare foods like nacatamal, a chicken and vegetable dish baked in banana leaves. A favorite memory was an evening spent cooking with the local women.

“The radio is always on in the kitchen because it is a way that natives can communicate with one another,” she explained.

“One night, between the letters that are read on the air, music was playing and we began to dance. One of the women turned to me and said, ‘I will never forget dancing with you tonight!’ Amidst their poverty, they truly live in joy.”



Allen Walter uses an old metal school desk to house the plumbing for a sink.


A Nicaraguan woman prepares nacatamal, a chicken and vegetable dish baked in banana leaves, for the delegation from the St. Cloud Diocese.


The unfinished dormitory structure for the religious sisters that assist Franciscan Capuchin Father Teddy Niehaus in San Pedro. Delegates and natives worked together to prepare this structure for use.