Omaha church sign about immigration sparks complaints; message is quickly changed

An apology came after an apparent flurry of calls to the Archdiocese of Omaha

By: - March 14, 2022 10:21 pm

A message that was up, then removed, from a sign in front of St Mary’s Catholic Church at 36th and Q Streets in South Omaha (Taken from Ferial Pearson’s Facebook page)

A sign in front of a Catholic church along a busy South Omaha corridor fired up furor, hurt feelings and political emotions Monday — before church officials replaced the message with the words: “Lo Siento (Sorry).” 

The apology came after an apparent flurry of complaints to the Archdiocese of Omaha, which oversees churches in the 23-county area, including St. Mary’s at 36th and Q Streets.

That’s a parish that is known for putting sometimes edgy or catchy phrases in a glass monument prominently placed near the intersection. The one there Monday did not sit well, though, with many people who responded to it on social media: “Heaven Has Strict Immigration Laws; Hell Has Open Borders.”

A message in Spanish (“Sorry”) that replaced an earlier message. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Jose Garcia, a historian of South Omaha and Nebraska Latino cultural events, was among community members who saw a photo of the message circulating. He said there was no mistaking the anti-immigrant slant.

‘Slap in the face’

“To put that on a Catholic diocesan property in the middle of the immigrant capital of the Midwest is not only a slap in the face, it is a wound to civility,” he said. 

The Rev. Frank Jindra, senior associate at St. Mary’s, told the Nebraska Examiner that he would have no comment except to say the message had been removed. He later said the message was put up “without our knowledge” by a church member who helps at the parish.

Several people said they had called St. Mary’s or Archdiocesan offices to voice concern.

Ferial Pearson, a social justice and education expert who formerly taught at South High, was among those who had posted a photo of the sign on Facebook, saying simply: “A church in South Omaha. Please share your feelings with the appropriate authorities.”

Within hours, more than 200 people had shared her post and more than 350 people had reacted.

Wrong choice of words

The comments were largely of surprise, anger and amazement that the words would be publicized in the midst of a community filled with immigrants and refugees, many of them here for generations and others who are newcomers.

One person said he viewed the message as perhaps a wrong choice of words.

Another said, “Yeah. It’s hard to read this as anything but a statement about immigration. This church should pay taxes as a political organization.”

Other comments: “That’s a shame! SMH”; “Umm excuse me?!”; “Oh, hell no”; “This hurts.”

Another: “That entire neighborhood was built by immigrants. That church was built by immigrants.”

Celebrates diversity

Another pointed out that St. Mary’s, which shares a website with nearby Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, has a welcoming message on the website that “celebrates” the multicultural nature of South Omaha.

“While celebrating our rich Lithuanian, Croatian, Slovenian, Hungarian, Irish/Belgian history … We have a growing Hispanic ministry that is continuing to enrich our multicultural heritage. We also welcome and embrace fellow parishioners from these diverse cultures as we come together as a single community, unified by our Faith and our love of God.”

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.