A Sister’s Ministry in the Wide Open Spaces

Klagetoh, Arizona is the definition of mission territory in the United States. At an altitude of almost 7,000 feet, there’s only one paved road and no major city for 70 miles. While the landscape of the wide open spaces is breathtakingly beautiful, the realities of everyday life in this isolated community are challenging for Native Americans living on the area’s Navajo reservation.

At St. Anne Mission Church, Sister Monica Dubois has been quietly and passionately serving this community for nearly 20 years. The Catholic mission was established by the Franciscan friars in 1927 and has been working to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the Native American population ever since.

St. Anne’s offers Mass once a week, or as often as a priest can make the 70-mile journey from Gallup. The mission’s remote location makes everything more difficult. The elderly Navajo—who make a living raising livestock—live mainly in the nearby mountains. Snow and rain often make the dirt roads impassably muddy, making it impossible to come down to the mission.

Younger Navajo families live mostly in government-built housing in the valley, but Sister Monica said the geographic separation of the two generations is hurting family ties and tribal traditions. Grandparents who culturally tend to take on a large role in their grandchildren’s upbringing are frequently cut off from this role. As young parents struggle to find jobs in an area where they are almost nonexistent, Navajo youth often lack the oversight needed to keep them on the road to success, she said. With alcoholism, drug use and suicide plaguing the community, Sister Monica said the mission is often the only stabilizing force in a young person’s life. Weekly youth group meetings and summer Bible camps are always well attended.

The mission also addresses the area’s extreme poverty by providing a rummage for clothing and an emergency food pantry. Because of Klagetoh’s remoteness, groceries are exorbitantly priced at local stores and the residents’ food stamps don’t go as far as they would elsewhere.

Every summer, Sister Monica oversees the work of dozens of visiting volunteer groups from high schools and colleges from across the country. They spend a week or two living at the mission and undertaking various projects at the homes of needy and elderly people in the community.

While all the challenges facing the community can sometimes seem overwhelming, Sister Monica is quick to stress the hope she sees in the community. A deeply spiritual people, the Navajos are quick to support one another in times of need and greatly appreciative of the mission’s work.

Catholic Extension funds a grant to the Diocese of Gallup to help support Sister Monica’s salary, so she can continue her vital work on the reservation, evangelizing the good news of the Gospel to help the Navajo people realize that they are more than their circumstances.

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