Guatemala Credit Union to Celebrate 50th Anniversary

Sometimes dreams come true, and in a big way. That’s what this story is about, but it took 50 years to arrive at this point.

Msgr. Vincent Haselhorst entertained three people from the Diocese of Jalapa in Guatemala, which, if you know Msgr. Haselhorst would not be considered unusual. However, in this case, two of the people brought a videographer with them to record the story of their credit union that will celebrate its 50th anniversary July 6th.

Msgr. Haselhorst figures prominently in the story of the creation of this credit union because he was on loan to the Jalapa diocese, beginning in 1964 for six years.

When he arrived there, banking was complicated. In fact, many of the campesenos dealt only in cash because only government employees could use the banks.

In 1966, a group of people from Guatemala City came to the parish in the town that was then called El Progreso, now Guastatoya.

They asked if the town would be interested in setting up a credit union.

Msgr. Haselhorst hosted three meetings so the 30 or so people could find out what it would take to start a credit union.

When the meetings were over, he said no one said anything. He suggested a break so they could think it over.

Several of them came to him and said everyone wanted to start the credit union, but nobody trusted anyone else with the money.

Msgr. Haselhorst was immediately and unanimously elected the first treasurer of the soon-to-be-formed credit union.

The rules stipulated that to form the credit union, 20 people had to contribute $5.00 each. Msgr. Haselhorst was one of the founding members as well as, in the end, 26 other people.

At first he kept the money in a lock box at the parish.

The members decided to call the credit union Guayacan — an indigenous name for a “tree that grows slowly and becomes very strong.”

Evidently, it was a good name.

At the beginning, the people from Guatemala City continued to guide the local people to apply for their charter.

Msgr. Haselhorst continued his role as treasurer until the new credit union qualified to have the deposits insured.

When that occurred more people joined.

Today, the credit union has 140,000 members.

What started in the parish office with 27 people at $5.00 per member has grown to a $90 million operation with a five-story headquarters in Guastatoya and 20 branches in other communities.

The president of the board of directors, Elsa Guillermina Orellana, was 10 years old when the people gathered at the meetings with Msgr. Haselhorst. Her father was one of the men who went to him during the break.

Because his role was pivotal in the formation of the credit union, Orellana and Sylvia Oliva brought videographer Jairo Chamalá to the Diocese of Belleville to interview Msgr. Haselhorst about the history of Guayacan Credit Union.

“I had no idea how it would grow over the years,” Msgr. Haselhorst said.

He congratulated the representatives who visited him and said even at the beginning, many of the people who became charter members were professionals — teachers and business people — as well as campesenos.

“With the deposits insured it made more sense for the people to deposit their money in the credit union rather than hiding it in a pillow or under a rock,” he said and laughed.