Leader Spotlight: Father Fred Thelen

Father Fred Thelen has been pastor at Cristo Rey Church since 1993. Before that he was working in the Lake Titicaca area of Peru for five years as an associate missionary with Maryknoll, the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America. Father Fred grew up in Fowler, Michigan, a small German-Catholic rural community. For Father Fred, working with Gamaliel has been an incredible experience. His journey with Gamaliel started when a member of MOSES in Detroit came up and organized immigrants. 

What did this first experience with Gamaliel do for your community?  

This helped to energize the work in that area and brought some life and energy to the effort. The parish is 95% Hispanic, so there are many who have an interest in the issues of immigration. However, we have been formally affiliated with Gamaliel since about two years ago. Our relationship with Gamaliel has helped to forge connections with other churches. Hispanic parishes can be isolated, especially as we are the only one in the area. 

How has Gamaliel leadership training benefitted members of your parish? 

Gamaliel training has really helped develop leadership. Maximo Anduiano, a retired firefighter, got involved, went through national training and has taken off and become a real leader on the issue of immigrant rights. He has helped families threatened with deportation, as well as holding press conferences, rallies and workshops. There are others as well who have had similar benefits. For myself, personally, I’ve found a lot of support working with leaders from other churches and have gotten a lot of support on working on the issues of social justice. Being affiliated with Gamaliel has certainly helped with bringing people together; I’m not doing it alone as a pastor. The more you participate, the stronger the community. People get together to help each other with these issues. It’s helpful in building relationships and caring about each other. 

What issues in your community have you addressed through the Fire of Faith Campaign? 

People can see that we’re involved with immigrants themselves. People go to rallies for national immigration reform and get energized. Getting involved takes them out of the hopelessness and helplessness that they have felt. They don’t have to live isolated and in fear. Would you say that your actions with Gamaliel mirror Catholic social teaching? Absolutely. There’s really a focus on upholding human dignity–no matter if you have the right papers. There’s the sense of reaching out to help those who are on the poor end of the economic spectrum. They know they have a place where they have a sense of community and empowerment.

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