Nuestras Raices | Rhode Island

| Father Ray Teatrault

Photo above: Father Ray in 1969, at Almac's Supermarket in East Providence protesting against the store selling table grapes during the nationwide boycott led by César Chávez.
The Rev. Raymond Tetrault, also known by many as "Father Ray," was born in Providence and was a key figure in various historical events for Latinos in Rhode Island. Along with other community leaders in the 70s, he led the fight for the hiring of Spanish-speaking staff at Rhode Island Hospital and fought the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) to ensure that the DMV driver's manual was translated into Spanish for the growing Latino population.

In a 2014 interview, Father Ray recalls: "Those were times of great change and immediate action," while also lamenting that today as we face what he feels are greater challenges than before, "people are just not responding as in those earlier days."

"Everyone has a lot of interest there is a lot of talk, but no one is speaking out and demonstrations, such as the ones I took part in in the 1960s and 70s, have decreased. We're in what I will call a ' hiatus', a pause. I don't know what is needed to encourage young people to speak out again. If given the opportunity, I would encourage them to go en masse to places like the governor's office to press him on issues. I believe that if the people are united, we can accomplish more things."
In 1969 I began walking the streets of South Providence, Broad Street, where I heard Spanish being spoken. At the time, the majority of Latin Americans were from the Dominican Republic, and I began to approach them to get to know them better and learn what were their needs.

It was Father Ray who began formal Spanish language Masses in Rhode Island in 1969, when it was just a dream of the Spanish-speaking parishioners.

In the 1960s, Father Tetrault had the opportunity to study in Spain, where he became fluent in Spanish. And upon returning to Rhode Island in 1969, he spent a lot of time walking the streets of South Providence, Broad Street, where he heard Spanish being spoken. At the time, the majority Latin Americans were from the Dominican Republic, and he began to approach them to get to know them better. "I also wanted to practice my Spanish," he adds.

Father Ray continues: "One day I was in a bodega on Broad Street when a man named Felix Hendelson Monción walked in and asked the owner of the bodega if he knew of any Catholic masses in Spanish. Overhearing that, I responded that I knew of none, but suggested that if he wanted we could start one, perhaps in someone’s home. The next Sunday, we held our first Spanish-language mass at Mr. Monson's home on 656 Broad Street, which was located in front of the St. Joseph Hospital in Providence.

"Soon after that, more people started coming and we then we moved to the basement of the San Miguel Church. An artist painted a beautiful chapel, where the Spanish-speaking community could attend. We celebrated there for many years."

Father Ray referred to those days as "the golden years." It was a new community, mainly from Santo Domingo. People became very involved because people started to meet, express their needs, and everyone listened. He remembers organizing and supporting many great activities, and watching new social programs for young people form.

Latinos Get Their First Center

October 30, 1970 was the official opening of Rhode Island's first Latin American Community Center (LACC ), located at 3 Harvard Avenue in South Providence. With the help of Father Ray, it was donated to the state's Latino community by the Diocese of Providence.

That same weekend, Spanish-speaking residents came together for the first Latin American Convention. It was also led by Father Ray, who was appointed to head the Latin American Apostolate by Bishop McKinney. Father Ray remember that at the time there were about 5,000 Spanish-speaking residents in Rhode Island. According to the Providence Visitor, the Diocesan newspaper, the meeting held at St. Michaels School hall was a coming together of many diverse people from Latin America. Flags set up at the head table represented participants from Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Guatemala, Uruguay, Bolivia and Costa Rica who came from Providence, West Warwick, Coventry, Pawtucket and Central Falls.
Stacks Image 2486
Through the years, Father Ray Tetrault was active in leading countless marches, sit ins, and protests where he invited and encouraged Latinos and other newcomers to speak out, raise their voices if they felt an injustice was happening. One of his last actions was in 2021, when he joined a Poor People's Campaign march in Olneyville that drew attention to the lack of affordable housing.

NOTE: Father Ray Tetrault passed away at age the 87 on January 3, 2023

If you have a story or memory of Father Ray which you would like to share,
contact us here


Stacks Image 2444