The search for meaning and purpose in life begins sooner than you think. Young people have deep questions and they want answers.
“Today’s youths like facts and I’m OK with that, because we have a lot of facts in our faith,” says Miriam Hidalgo, the new director of youth and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Hartford.
“They’re very outspoken, but some just don’t know what they’re doing with their lives. They’re hungry and searching.”
That’s just where Hidalgo comes in as director of youth ministry for the Archdiocese of Hartford. She plays a vital role in advocating for youths and supporting the youth ministers who help young people find those answers to make their way in the world. The ministry connects young people to God, to their faith and, ultimately, to their unique purpose in life.
Hidalgo has worked in this position since November.
Just 33, her accomplishments are many. She brings a master’s degree in religious education from Boston College, experience in building youth ministry programs at both the parish and diocesan levels and a record of connecting with people from many different cultures.
She also brings a passion for helping young people discern their vocation in life — whether it’s to the priesthood, to the religious life or to the single or married life — and wants them to understand that each vocation is a call to service.
She is personally devoted to prayer, to Pope Francis and to his encyclical on the environment. She’s known for her outgoing, open and warm personality, plus a playful sense of humor.
She says she is always growing in her faith and wants to help young people to do the same. A relationship with Jesus Christ and prayer are key.
“If they have a prayerful life, they’ll know what their vocation is,” she insists. “It’s only through prayer that you answer that call. It’s a process.”
And learning to discern their vocation and be open to God's will can serve them well throughout their lives. “When we go with it, everything turns out great,” she says, “not good, but great.”
Miriam Hidalgo was born in Providence, R.I., to Aida and Walter Hidalgo, both of whom had emigrated from Guatemala. They met and married in the United States.
Her father found success in real estate. Her mother’s job was in social work, but her mother had a passion for ministry, serving as a pastoral associate in Hispanic ministry in one of the largest Hispanic parishes in Providence and later for the Diocese of Providence.
“Because she was one of the key pioneers in establishing a Hispanic Catholic community in Rhode Island, we had to go with her everywhere,” Hidalgo recalls. That meant Hidalgo and her three siblings tagged along to all of the diocesan and parish events.
When Hidalgo was a teen, a youth events manager asked her for help, so she began leading weekend retreats, youth rallies and youth groups. At the time, she also attended a public high school with a lot of teen pregnancies and a high dropout rate. “I think being involved in youth ministry kept me on a good path,” she says now.
Hidalgo majored in youth ministry at Providence College and worked three jobs to pay for school: as a before- and after-school tutor, as a part-time Hispanic youth outreach coordinator for the Diocese of Providence and as a third-shift counselor at a homeless shelter.
“I don’t know how I was able to be up 24 hours,” she says. “I can’t do that now.”
Hidalgo says the job at the New Hope Emergency Family Shelter in Pawtucket and the sister who ran it, Sister Marta Ines Toro, made a big impression on her. “She said, ‘Be the face of Christ.’” The sister also told her to pray about her vocation.
After graduation, Hidalgo’s first full-time job came when the first Hispanic pastor in the diocese, Father Gildardo Suarez, recruited her as director of religious education at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Providence. He asked her to set up all new religious education programs in a parish of Dominican Republicans, Nigerians, Cambodians and Italian-Americans. It was her responsibility to get everyone working together.
“That was such an amazing experience,” she says. “I think it helped that Father wanted to change everything. I did involve everyone I could involve in the changes.”
She gained acceptance from the adults by attending their events and involving them in the Parish Council. She then established a parent support group, recruited adults from all ethnic groups to be catechists and began a children’s Mass. She also found creative ways to introduce the confirmation students to the teen youth group to keep the adolescents engaged in the Church.
In 2008, Hidalgo majored in religious education at Boston College, with a concentration in total community catechesis and Hispanic ministry. After she earned her master’s degree, a professor told her about an opening at the Archdiocese of Hartford.
Hidalgo spent the next six years as the archdiocese’s coordinator of catechesis with Hispanics, offering educational and enrichment opportunities to Hispanic catechists, among other duties.
During this time, she became active in national organizations. In May 2016, she was elected president of the Federation for Catechesis with Hispanics, a subgroup of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. Also, she and Bob Rice, director of the master’s program in catechetics at Franciscan University, co-wrote a paper, “The Joy of Adolescent Catechesis,” that was presented in February at the annual meeting of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.
What she’s doing now
Today, as the archdiocese’s director of youth and young adult ministry, Hidalgo supports pastors and parish youth ministers, provides training and resource materials, coordinates archdiocesan-wide events for youths and young adults, supports college campus ministry and collaborates with the Office of Vocations.
Hidalgo is also in the process of getting a new slate of programs up and running.
The first will be the Metanoia Retreat, weekend retreats for teens and young adults, which might begin as soon as May and which will be held about nine times a year.
“Those weekend retreats really transformed my faith,” she says, recalling the ones she’d attended in her youth in Rhode Island. “I’m hoping these retreats and what I have planned will really plant some seeds for vocations.”
Hidalgo also is forming an archdiocesan Youth Ministry Committee of 20 to 25 people that will include teens, young adults and youth ministers. She says she needs their help in organizing the retreats, other youth events, national and international trips and leadership camps.
She hopes to orchestrate future trips to the National Catholic Youth Conference, Steubenville East and World Youth Day in Panama in 2019. Rather than leave it to individual parishes, as has been the practice in the past, these trips will be organized by her office and young people from throughout the archdiocese will travel together.
“We want to make it more intentional that the archdiocese is unified going to these conferences,” she says.
She also plans to look into the possibility of weeklong leadership camps in the summer. “We want to build up young people to be leaders in society and in the Church.”
Hidalgo says the best youth ministry at both the parish and archdiocesan levels involves teens and young adults in the planning and execution of programs. She wants all parish youth ministers to try it. “Young people really need to be empowered to lead,” she says.
After all, that’s how it started for her.
Discerning the vocation to marriage
As a young adult working for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Miriam Hidalgo says, she loved being single, especially “being available” to travel for work and to visit with her family in Providence. She thought perhaps she might have a vocation to the single life, rather than to the married or religious life.
Shortly after moving to Hartford, she joined Luz de Cristo (Light of Christ), a Hispanic young adult group that meets at St. Rose Church in East Hartford, to make new friends and to participate in camping retreats and bus trips to Catholic shrines.
“That was just a perfect place for me to be,” she recalls.
In time, a friend in the group introduced her to Peter Gonzalez, a young man from Peru who had moved to Hartford when he was 15. He reminded her of her father.
“My father was the ultimate standard for me,” she says, when it came to evaluating potential husbands. She describes her father as someone who “always makes himself available,” is “very hard-working” and willing to “let the woman take the lead.”
“Sorry, I can only marry a feminist!” she says with a laugh.
Hidalgo and Gonzalez began dating. Like her father, who was successful in business, Gonzalez owns an auto accessories business. “They both like to dream and go for it,” she says.
Hidalgo says now “it wasn’t until I met my husband” that she began to discern the vocation to marriage. The couple dated for about three and a half years. During that time, she prayed for guidance.
In May 2015, Gonzalez proposed. Hidalgo accepted.
The couple decided on a short engagement and a simple wedding so that they could move into their new home together as husband and wife.
They were married on Oct. 18, 2015, at St. Paul Church in Waterford, a convenient halfway point for their families, and celebrated with a reception in the church hall.
The newlyweds look to Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, who were canonized on their wedding day, for inspiration in their married life.