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Title Transcript of interview of Sister Norberta Hunnewinkel, Hoboken; for El Centro Puerto Rican History Project, 2010.
Object Name Transcript
Catalog Number 2010.019.0001.10
Collection Puerto Ricans & the Catholic Church in Hoboken, NJ 1945-1975
Credit Museum Collections.
Scope & Content Transcript of oral history interview of Sister Norberta Hunnewinkel, Hoboken; for El Centro Puerto Rican History Project, Feb. 2, 2010. Transcription on file: print copy; word document (doc & rtf); PDF. Text is in notes.

Date: February 2, 2010
Single cassette tape; dubbed to digital file: WMA & WAV formats.
Interviewer: Christina Ziegler-McPherson
Interviewee: Sister Norberta Hunnewinkel, 63 8th Street, Hoboken, N.J.
Place: Hoboken Shelter, 300 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken, N.J.
Transcription made by Christina Ziegler-McPherson, 2010.

Project: Role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Development of the Puerto Rican Community in Hoboken 1945-1975.

Notes archives catalog 2010.019.0001.10

Puerto Rican interview protocol:
Sister Norberta Hunnewinkel, February 2, 2010:
Interviewer: Christina Ziegler-McPherson
Interviewee: Sister Norberta Hunnewinkel, 63 8th Street, Hoboken, N.J.
Place: Hoboken Shelter, 300 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken, N.J.
Transcription made by Christina Ziegler-McPherson, 2010.

Do you give your consent to do this interview to preserve the history of the Puerto Rican community of Hoboken?
Sis. Norberta: Yes, I do.

When did you become a sister?
Sis. Norberta: 50 years ago, actually, 50 years ago from 19- to 2009.

What order?
Sis. Norberta: Franciscan Sister of Newman Heritage and we're combining with other Newman Heritage communities but our headquarters has been in Syracuse, New York, and now we have three areas of headquarters.

Are you still a member of that order?
Sis. Norberta: Yes, I am.

When did you begin to serve in Hoboken?
Sis. Norberta: I was twice around, and I'm sorry for hesitating but again, dates, it was probably 1960, '68.

And at what church?
Sis. Norberta: At St. Joe's and I was a teacher at the elementary school there.

When you began working in Hoboken, about how many, roughly speaking, Puerto Ricans attended your church?
Sis. Norberta: I could say percentages, I would say 80 percent of the parishioners were of Spanish descent, mostly Puerto Rican, because, do you want me to go into detail?

Sis. Norberta: It seems that the history, kind of, of St. Joseph's parish, anyway was that as soon as people got enough money they would move out, so actually there were a number of other denominations prior to the Puerto Ricans but we had Cubans, but again, they saved and worked and moved on. When I got there, there were some other minority people but the vast majority from Puerto Rico.

I've head a lot about St. Joseph's being important because it had a Mass in Spanish, do you know when that started, was it 1965?
Sis. Norberta: Oh, it was sooner than that, because there was a Father Eugene, people have talked about him? And he actually had a storefront church on Washington Street but that was before my time. And he really, you know, forged a lot of inroads into the non-Hispanic mentality and group of people as well as promoting the Hispanic culture, so by the time I got there, there was a well-established Spanish Mass and, you know, we were, the school probably was 80 to 90 percent Hispanic.

Where did you study Spanish?
Sis. Norberta:I went down to Puerto Rico for a summer to keep a sister company and then I went back to Hoboken and the community mistakenly assumed that I knew Spanish, so I got missioned to South America and there I absolutely had to learn, so I can, I can hold my own, but, you know, it's not great.

Was your church, St. Joseph, a national or geographic parish?
Sis. Norberta: Geographic.

So, was it not an integrated parish?
Sis. Norberta: I should say it was geographic, however, when I first got there it was the only Spanish Mass, so people kind of went all over, but legally, it was a geographic church. Hoboken had its national churches, St. Francis and St. Ann's, both Italian, Sts. Peter and Paul and Our Lady of Grace were German and Irish, but there was also a lot of Irish in St. Joe's parish, the one pastor made the front steps of the parish green because he was Irish and thought they should be honored.

Was there any talk about making St. Joseph a national or Puerto Rican parish?
Sis. Norberta: That pretty much went out of vogue in the Sixties, you know, it was all about assimilating and mixing and so on, which met with mixed reviews.

Could you speak a little more about that, because that's something I'm quite interested in.
Sis. Norberta: Well, I suppose it depends on where you working and living. The Spanish for the most part were pretty looked down upon, they were the bottom of the heap and so, St. Joseph was kind of a joke. When I taught school and we had basketball and football games and things like that, it was always very difficult, had a, we had to talk with the kids a lot about not retaliating and continuing a fight that might have started, lot of slurring, slurs against that particular culture. And it took a long time for even one other mass to get started in the liturgy at Our Lady of Grace, and then Sts. Peter and Paul also picked it up, but in the beginning, you know, people just didn't want to do the mixing and part of that, I think, was the history that there were national churches.

So you think the idea of the national churches encouraged segregation?
Sis. Norberta: Yes, I do. I don't know if that was the original intent. It was comfortable for people to go and sit with and pray with people that spoke your language, but it certainly had the bumper effect of causing, you know, Hoboken was quite segregated, you didn't go past a certain street if you were one nationality or another, so I think those things combined to make it very difficult.

Was there ever discussion of these issues among religious either at Our Lady of Grace, St. Joseph's or with the Archdiocese, among the Franciscans?
Sis. Norberta: Among the Franciscans, we had lots of talks, we worked very closely, we worked very closely with the friars, the sisters and the friars, and tried very hard to figure out ways of meeting the mixed needs of the parish because there were Hispanics and non-Hispanics, do we do a bilingual Mass, do we do only a Mass in Spanish, and then a Mass in English, do we send home notices in both Spanish and English? There was a lot of that. There was a lot of, as I remember it, among the other priests and religious in town. I think they were afraid, one, I don't think they, on their best intentions they didn't know if they could meet the needs of the Hispanic population, they didn't know the language and so on and so forth. But there were definitely people who broke out of that mold, Father [Frederick] Eid, I'm sure people have talked about him, he was one who learned the language early on and ministered to the people. I, you know, as far as the, the other like local meetings, they kind of just didn't want to have to deal with the issue. And also, appearances were a lot, and you didn't want to have the poor kids in your school or parish.

I've always been curious why St. Joseph's became the center of Spanish-speaking people in Hoboken since at least from my understanding of the geography, the ethnic geography of the town, most Puerto Ricans were on Willow Street [cataloguer's note - Avenue] where they most likely would have been closer to Our Lady of Grace. How was it that that church in the far western end of town became the magnet?
Sis. Norberta: Well, first of all it was the poorest church. And it was the church that, you know, I think, starting with Father Eugene, it could have started earlier, but I'm not aware of that, he offered to work with the folks that were Spanish-speaking and then most of the time I was there we always had a friar that spoke Spanish. So, in fact, that was kind of a prerequisite, because I remember one of the priests who was going to become pastor went down to Mexico to learn Spanish before he assumed the position of pastor.

Do you know why the Franciscans decided to basically give up St. Joseph's? Why it is now under the auspices of the Archdiocese?
Sis. Norberta: Yes, I think it was just personnel, limitations of the number of priests and where they should be putting, you know, those priests that they did have.

I'm wondering, how, on another issue, if you did any work at the Spanish American Catholic Center?
Sis. Norberta: No.

Because people talk about that as an important community resource.
Sis. Norberta: Well, you mean the one here in Hoboken?

Yes, the one on Washington.
Sis. Norberta: Right, no, it was, I came after it was closed.
Do you have any idea why it was closed?
Sis. Norberta: I, you know, people that were probably participating in it probably know better than I, but I had heard that the Diocese told them to close it down. I think they were afraid that it was going to become kind of cultic, and, you know, that's when people moved down to St. Joe's too, you know, so….

I'm curious about housing issues, and I'm wondering how you became involved in housing issues here in town, if that was on your own initiative or if that was on the direction from the Church?
Sis. Norberta: No direction from the Church. I had been working at St. Joe's school for four years and then the community asked me to go to South America and I was there for two and half, three years. When I came back, I was missioned at Camden and then back into Hoboken and I was kind of lost, I wasn't sure of what I was going to be doing or how I was going to do it, and parents of the children I taught, before I left for South America, were involved in the group called Por La Gente, and so I asked if I could just come and listen and see if I could help in some way. And I think maybe the first year or two the City had said that Por La Gente could have a house and rehab it and turn it into affordable housing and we could do that if we would get X, Y, and Z together, when we got X, Y, and Z together, it became A, B, and C, and then D, and E and F, and so on and so on. And while we were doing that, it was Reagan's time and he ended the building of affordable housing and at that time, well, Model Cities was there and also a real push to regenerate Hoboken, so they began inviting artists and other people into town, and Applied Housing had been here and had built some properties and were in the midst of doing lots more, when it became quite profitable for buildings to be delivered vacant, thus the movie, "Delivered Vacant." And so Por La Gente got involved in that, in teaching people their rights, especially the Hispanics but it wasn't only the Hispanics, it was like lots and lots of people. And in the beginning, the town thought, 'oh yeah, Puerto Ricans are being kicked out, good riddance,' and then it became, it began to happen with middle-class people, older people and so, you know, I think over time people became very worried. But a lot of tragedy happened, you know, before that realization hit.

So how did you get involved with the shelter?
Sis. Norberta: Well, the, the year, year and a half before the shelter started [in 1985] we had all those fires and we were running crazy with that. The fires were very devastating to the people of Hoboken. I think everybody on all sides were very afraid and just felt the tragedy of that, and the clergy got together and a call was made and said 'why don't we pray in front of the fire,' you know, at least to let people know that somebody cared. And we, you know, established a routine, unfortunately, that went from fire to fire to fire and people began to seek us out for other basic needs they had, clothing, a place to stay and so on and so forth. And there were a lot of attempts at trying to help people. Toward November, December, I think, of the year the shelter started we began seeing a lot of people sleeping on park benches, so we went to the City and said, 'look, if you could give us space, the clergy would get together, and, you know, provide housing until this crisis blows over,' and the City kind of, excuse me but, jerked us around for quite a while and I remember one of the members finally said, 'if we're going to do this, we've got to do it, and stop waiting for somebody else to do it.' And so the pastor here, Pastor Felske [St. John the Baptist Lutheran, Reverend Triffel Lee Felske] said, 'well, you can use our church basement for a year or so until, you know, the homeless are taken care of,' and that's how it really started. So it started with a coalition of ministers who came together and it was Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Pentecostal, through that prayer and as the fire became more and more, the clergy got together and we prayed, I'm not sure how often, but at least twice a month.

And here you are 20 years later.
Sis. Norberta: Yes, yes, so, anyway, we ran the two things, we had a housing kind of information center that we ran for a while and Tom Olivieri and Angel Padilla and a few others were very involved in that, and it started changing some. Mayor [Steve] Cappiello dared me to join the Rent Lowering and Stabilization Board, and I did, much to his chagrin, I think, so I was on that for a number of years, and we worked to try and keep people in their housing.

Back to some of the religious focus, I'm thinking, one thing I've talked to people about and I always ask them about the Feast of St. John's, which is an important Puerto Rican festival, and why it is that they think that Hoboken does not have a Feast of St. John's, given the size of the Puerto Rican community in this town, historically. And I'm curious about your opinion about that.
Sis. Norbera: I don't know. It never really even dawned on me. I guess in, I'm going to say, you know, that in South America where I learned a lot more about the culture and whatnot of the Peruvians, it was big to celebrate St. Peter but also Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Feast of the Three Kings. Three Kings is something that is celebrated a lot and St. Joe's used to do a lot for that but I don't really recall us doing anything for St. John.

I'm curious about any other kind of religious organizations, associations, clubs that the Church organized for Puerto Rican community, Cursillos, Holy Names, that kind of thing.
Sis. Norberta: Well, they have the Cursillos, and in St. Joe's, I don't know if it's still going on, but they had a very active prayer, they would get together and pray twice a week, I think, they had a wonderful choir, put a lot of energy and time into that, certain feasts, like Three Kings, catechism lessons for the children, those kinds of things. Knights of Columbus was there but that was very non-Spanish (laughs).

I'm wondering if you know if the Archdiocese in Newark ever worked with the Archdiocese of New York's Office of Spanish Catholic Action?
Sis. Norberta: I don't know.

I'm curious about, if you have any idea, why the Church ended the Cursillo movement. It seems that when I talk to people they mention Cursillos, they mention going to the Feast in New York in the 1960s, that there are these big events or movements that are enormously popular among Spanish-speaking people and they seem to peter out, and I'm curious as to why you think that is?
Sis. Norberta: I think it's probably the same as any other group that becomes very popular and very into it and then, you know, after a while you've hit the major number of people and been there, done that. I don't know of any scandals or anything that went on that would have caused it to shut down, just the, I think, the course of the time. I'm trying to think, we had an organization at St. Joe's and it was the Sacred Heart Association and that was going on for a long time and it kind of petered out, I just think it was just the course of time.

I'm also wondering about your opinion as to, it seems like the Church is able to get these particularly, I wouldn't say charismatic, but strong individuals, people like Father Eugene, who are enormously influential, and are very important to a particular community, but there doesn't seem to be, I'm not saying that there's no effort, but the Church doesn't always seem able to institutionalize that, and I'm curious about that your thoughts about why that is.
Sis. Norberta: I don't know. I would hazard a guess as to say that when someone is very charismatic, the danger is sometimes that it becomes more about the person than the faith. And so I think the Church worries about that. And, you know, are you going to the Spanish American Center because of Father Eugene or because of your faith? And you know, it would be hard to separate any of that but I would bet that is one of the primary reasons.

Do you think that could be a factor in why Father Eugene was transferred out of Hoboken?
Sis. Norberta: I don't know, again, he, he may have been there like the first year I was there but totally, I was so new and so green to all of that, I don't really know.

Did you ever work with Father Eid and his mission work?
Sis. Norberta: Not really, because he was Our Lady of Grace and by the time I became aware of him, I was on to doing the stuff with the housing and so on, and that wasn't so, the institutional church wasn't, you know, supportive of that, you know, in particular, so.

I'm curious, then, how does that work, how do you get released to do the kinds of things you want to do?
Sis. Norberta: Well, the Franciscan community is not pontifical, which means that a bishop is not necessarily the person that decides where we go or what we do and in my particular community, I was a teacher and had begun to ask if I could do some other things and they allowed me to do that, so long as I could, you know, show what I was doing and that it was for the benefit of you know, people and so on and so forth. So it was never under the auspices of the institutional church as such, although we met at St. Joe and I worked with the priests and so on, but it wasn't something that was instituted by the Diocese.

So that worked out to your advantage.
Sis. Norberta: Absolutely. And it works out that I'm a woman and not a man because, you know, the Church doesn't, isn't so concerned about women, I think.

I'm curious about, this is a question I ask people that doesn't seem to work but I always ask it anyway, if you're aware of any tensions between Puerto Ricans and other ethnic groups, either at St. Joseph's or other churches over issues like shared resources, access to space in buildings, liturgy.
Sis. Norberta: I don't think it would be specifically, you know, Spanish, non-Spanish, but you know, there are tensions sometimes when two groups want to use the same space at the same time, there was concern when St. Joe's school was operating that we had a lot of, a lot of poorer people there. Now, the poorer people were blacks and Hispanics, so, you know, if the white person said, 'you know, we're supporting this school and you know, you know, why are we doing that? So many are not Catholic,' or so many are, you know, what is, what is the Spanish, you know, what are the Spanish people doing, and so forth. So, I think the primary concern was of the use of the resources and the wise use of resources and in some people's eyes it wasn't a wise use of resources, it was. So, you know, was there in the past? Yes, definitely, you know, the Puerto Ricans were the new kids on the block and they had to earn their, their entrance way in, especially to some of the more wealthy people.

I'm curious, St. Joseph's was the poorer parish, the Church didn't equalize, redistribute resources?
Sis. Norberta: Oh yes, they got a lot of grants over time and a lot of help, both from our congregations, the friars, as well as the Diocese to keep up the place and so on. I think, you know, the Diocese is very land rich and people poor, you know, in terms of people and so the hard decision was to close schools and churches and things like that and it's very, very difficult, and you know, I don't think anybody is ever happy on all sides when something like that has to be done.

When I speak to people, they say, they're going to close St. Joseph's but the community is determined to keep the church open.
Sis. Norberta: And they have succeeded all these many years, which is a wonderful tribute to them, and that's the Hispanic population, 99 percent, I'm sure.

Hoboken Historical Museum catalog information
10. archives catalog 2010.019.0001.10
Date: February 2, 2010
Single cassette tape; dubbed to digital file.
Interviewer: Christina Ziegler-McPherson
Interviewee: Sister Norberta Hunnewinkel, 63 8th Street, Hoboken, N.J.
Place: Hoboken Shelter, 300 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken, N.J.
Transcription made by Christina Ziegler-McPherson, 2010.
People Hunnewinkel, Sister Norberta
Date 2010
Year Range from 2010.0
Year Range to 2010.0
Search Terms Third St.
Bloomfield St.
300 Bloomfield St.
Hoboken Shelter
63 Eighth St.
Spanish American Catholic Center
227 Washington St.
El Centro
Classification Ethnic Culture
Social & Personal Activity
Domestic Life
Parades & Pageants
Cultural Activities