Poplar Grove church is a symbol of diversity and service

Story and photo by JACOB RUEDA

In the heart of Poplar Grove lies St. Patrick Catholic Church, a haven of spirituality for the residents of this area of Salt Lake City. The parish located at 1040 W. 400 South serves not only as a host to communities from different parts of the world, but also as a steward in one of the roughest areas of town.

Father Anastasius Iwuoha hails from Nigeria and began serving as pastor of St. Patrick parish in August 2016. Before arriving at St. Patrick, he served in various parishes around the Salt Lake Diocese. He calls the difference between where he served previously and St. Patrick “glaring.”

While serving in another parish, “if you came to any of the masses, if there is any single person that is not Caucasian, you would spot the person immediately,” Iwuoha says. The range of nationalities represented at the parish is the most diverse he’s seen during his time in Salt Lake City. “St. Patrick’s is uniquely multiethnic, multiracial,” he says.

Built between 1916 and 1919, St. Patrick Catholic Church served European Immigrants. Image courtesy of St. Patrick Catholic Church.

In its early days St. Patrick served Italian and Irish immigrants to Utah, according to the Fall 2019 issue of The West View. Today, the cultural makeup includes people from the Pacific Islands, Myanmar, Philippines and Africa.

Rita Stelmach, 60, noticed the changing demographic of parishioners. She has attended St. Patrick since she was 19. “We have the most different mixture of cultures at St. Patrick’s,” Stelmach says.

Anthony Martinez, director of religious education and youth ministry, says some communities outgrew the parish and established themselves elsewhere. For example, the Vietnamese and Hispanic communities either built their own parish in other parts of the Salt Lake Valley or they settled in other parishes.

This May 24, 1919, article from the Salt Lake Tribune shows the old parish and the newly constructed church. Image courtesy of St. Patrick Catholic Church.

Salt Lake Diocese Bishop Lawrence Scanlan established St. Patrick in 1892, when it was originally located at 500 West and 400 South. The Salt Lake Tribune reported in April 1916 the purchase for the grounds where the church is today. Scanlan’s successor, Joseph Sarsfield Glass, bought the property from Bothwell & McConaughy Real Estate and Investment Company for $6,000 ($140,728.62 in 2019 value).

The parish experienced a number of events in its history, including fires in 1924 and 1965 that gutted the church but did not destroy it. In July 2019, St. Patrick celebrated its centennial and unearthed a time capsule containing fragments of the old parish, photographs and newspaper clippings.

Throughout its history, the parish has served the local community in different ways.

“We opened our hall and the hall was the center for the neighborhood meeting for a long time,” Iwuoha says. The parish served as neutral ground for town hall meetings where even the police came to participate. “They [came] here to decide the fate of the whole neighborhood,” he says.

In addition, church outreach projects focus on helping the homeless population in the area. Organizations like the Daughters of Charity and the Knights of Columbus work in conjunction with the parish, says director Martinez. They provide aid and donations for distribution to individuals experiencing homelessness. Likewise, students from J.E. Cosgriff Memorial Catholic High School donate food items during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Martinez grew up in Poplar Grove and recognizes some of the stigma surrounding that area. “I’m beyond proud of where I come from,” he says, adding that people who are unfamiliar with the neighborhood judge it based on news reports and not direct involvement with those who live there.

Iwuoha echoes that sentiment, saying that his experience is different from what others told him it would be. “The impression I got when I came here was, here are a humble people, humble and vibrant people,” he says. “That’s my own personal treasure, not the one I got from [others].”

Roadsnacks.com reports the neighborhood around the church is one of the less reputable areas of Salt Lake City. However, statistics from December 2019 from the Salt Lake Police Department show a drop in overall crime.

The parish works to promote a “spirit of peace and good neighborliness” in the area through participation in church and local events as well as Sunday sermons. “When [people] come to church and when we preach and teach, they go back and become good citizens and good neighbors,” Iwuoha says. Additionally, the summer carnival brings the neighborhood together to show support for the church and the community.

The parish faces challenges despite community support. The structure of the main church and the surrounding buildings are crumbling due to age and wear. Cracks that are haphazardly patched are visible in the church walls and there is water damage from flooding. The biggest problem facing the parish is money.

“The greatest challenge St. Patrick’s has now is where to raise funds to replace some of the very aging and dangerous structures we have,” Iwuoha says. “The basement is virtually crumbling and the building is at risk.” The exact cost for repairs is unknown. The parish was able to repave its parking lot but “at a very huge cost,” Iwuoha says.

St. Patrick Catholic Church continues its tradition of diversity and service. Image by Jacob Rueda.

Setbacks aside, parishioners gather each week in the spirit of worship and community. In its 128-year history, people have arrived at St. Patrick from all over the world to call it home and to share the one thing they have in common.

“St. Patrick’s Church is the house of the Lord where everyone is welcome: believers, non-believers, Catholics, even non-Catholics,” Martinez says.

Iwuoha says it is a sense of shared faith, a duty to service and pride in America that brings people together to celebrate the spirit of the parish. “They have pride in the nation,” he says. “All of us are American.”

University Neighborhood Partners aims to widen access to education for west side residents

University Neighborhood Partners, located on the west side of Salt Lake City, partners with 25 organizations across the Salt Lake Valley to provide access to education and services for residents of that community.

Story and photo by LAURA SCHMITZ

When Sarah Munro began her dissertation at the University of Michigan, she saw a need to bring access to education to minority communities.

After conducting research in Italy and receiving her Ph.D. in anthropology in 2002, she now works as the associate director of University Neighborhood Partners to make that need a reality.

As part of the president’s office at the University of Utah, UNP is “a bridge between the U and nonprofits on the west side,” Munro said.

UNP was launched in 2002 and acts as that bridge by creating partnerships under three main “umbrellas” — youth and education, community leadership and capacity building.

Serving two ZIP codes and seven neighborhoods on the west side of Salt Lake City, UNP currently boasts about 34 partnerships with 25 organizations. Munro admitted that monitoring the success of UNP is difficult, given that much of its work is seen only by the success of its partners.

“We’re always the convener,” Munro said. “We don’t actually do the work — we bring in community organizers to do the work.”

Munro collaborates with UNP staff in choosing organizations with which to partner. She said she and the seven to 10 staff members then maintain partnerships through ample communication and a positive attitude.

“We’re in constant communication,” Munro said of UNP and its partners. “We sit in both worlds and anticipate needs and goals.”

UNP works by building relationships with organizations that work with underrepresented populations, including refugees and undocumented immigrants. Munro said language, transportation and childcare are major hurdles west-side residents face in accessing basic freedoms, including education and healthcare.

“Our policy is we help anyone who comes to the table,” Munro said. “We don’t choose who we help, the organizations do. We simply create the table.”

According to 2010 census data, about 13 percent of Salt Lake City residents are Hispanic — a 78 percent increase from 2000 census data. As demographics continue to change in the United States, Utah and the Salt Lake Valley, Munro said institutions of higher education must adapt to prepare future students for college by widening access.

“A long-term goal is to move students from the west side to succeed, completing high school and coming to the U,” Munro said. “In 20 years, if the U can’t be more effective at this, it will no longer be the flagship university in the state.”

Rosemarie Hunter, director of UNP, was inspired to join hands with UNP after her time as a social worker. She was involved in the U’s College of Social Work for 16 years.

Hunter said education allows individuals to make choices and decisions from a place of knowledge.

“Education is a shared value across all communities and families,” she said. “Education really is power — anytime you can get access to education, you can take better care of yourself and your family.”

Hunter said UNP’s goal is not to try to jump in and “fix” everything, but to create a “mutual shared space” of learning between members of the west-side community and the U, allowing the U to change to support a more diverse population.

“What we look to do is go into existing places to (allow west-side residents) to interface with university life while going about their daily life,” Hunter said. “The U is learning a lot from residents and their cultural backgrounds and life experiences.”

Another UNP staff member, Brizia Ceja, began working for the organization as a freshman at the U as a student intern.

Originally from Mexico, Ceja moved to the U.S. at 13. She then grew up on the west side and still has family living there. She said she is therefore able to relate to that community on a personal level.

“I’m able to identify with most families I work with,” Ceja said. “I come from an immigrant family. I am the first person in my family to go to college.”

Ceja now works as an academic consultant for UNP to facilitate partnerships with middle and high schools. She said schools on the west side are often crowded with one academic adviser serving many.

“We want to start working with them young to make sure they don’t slip through the cracks,” Ceja said. “We want to make sure students have a safe place with (academic) mentors.”

Ceja said she wants children on the west side to view college as not only a possibility, but a natural progression after high school.

“I want them to know (college) is an option,” Ceja said. “Just like high school follows middle school, college follows high school.”

UNP has established partnerships with two elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools on the west side of Salt Lake City. The organization continues to foster relationships with these students to help prepare hundreds for a collegiate experience.