In the mid 1980’s, Fr. Paco and Fr. Pablo, two Missionary Oblates from Immaculate Conception
Church, began going around the neighborhood, knocking on doors and inviting residents to join
them for a book study. Twenty-seven immigrant women responded and began attending the
gatherings every month to read Un Tal Jesus, a book reflecting on the times and life of Jesus and
His relevance to present day. Through study of the scriptures, Fr. Paco and Fr. Pablo inspired
each person to sow a seed as tiny as a mustard seed within her heart. They explained that it was
up to the women how they cared for it to grow and bear fruit. The missionaries also led by
example through living faithful lives of poverty and humility, which encouraged the women in their
own struggles to find mission in the midst of problems that oppressed the immigrant community in
the economically depressed neighborhood of South Chicago.
During the next ten years, the teachings of Un Tal Jesus empowered the women to dedicate
themselves to economic and social change. Eight of these women in particular had big dreams
for making a change and began talking about establishing a safe place where the immigrant
community could go to find resources and empowerment. In 1993, these eight immigrant women
placed a desk and a chair on the current executive director’s front porch and ran a 100ft
telephone cord through the house to set up a business line. In this modest office, the women
began working tirelessly for better conditions in the neighborhood schools and clinics and
organizing to bring an end to the high number of killings of youth and children.
The center gained momentum, and in January of 1994, was incorporated and opened its first
official office on the first floor of an apartment complex. Recognizing the disparity in health
care access in the immigrant community, the women turned their focus to building
partnerships with local health clinics and social organizations for resources and training.
Mrs. Pat Pardee, Executive Director of the local public health clinic, believed in the group’s
mission and brought in doctors and specialized nurses to train local women in good nutrition
and breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes prevention and treatment. Thus, the first group
of Community Health Promoters was born.
As the organization grew early on, the women realized that they needed a name for their little
office, and they drew the name Centro Comunitario Juan Diego out of a hat. It was
providential that this name honoring the humble saint was drawn, because these women who
had previously thought they had nothing to offer now discovered that they too could make a
difference in people’s lives. They had little more than their passion to help their neighbors
and refusal to be helpless victim in the face of social and economic oppression, but they
trusted that their effort, like sowing a mustard seed, would, with cultivation, bear great fruit.