St. Mary’s Mission is the hand that guides on the Red Lake Indian Reservation.
Amid the widespread unemployment and crippling poverty facing the Red Lake Ojibwa Reservation in northern Minnesota stands St. Mary’s Mission and School. Catholic Extension donors have supported this strong Catholic presence for decades. In fact, the school would have closed without the ongoing help of Catholic Extension. St. Mary’s serves the physical and spiritual needs of the area’s distressed residents, including the youngest of Catholics.
The school provides a fusion of faith and culture for children from kindergarten to sixth grade. On the first day of classes this year, students participated in an ancient Native American tradition known as “smudging.” As the children stood quietly in a circle, Michael Fairbanks, a local elder, blessed the room and performed the ritual by burning sacred herbs in a large shell and wafting the smoke with a feather.
Each class then proceeded to the school auditorium, where Father Jerry Rogers led a prayer service. The theme: Jesus is our rock and upon Him we must stand firm. He reminded all in attendance of the sign at the front door of the school: “Be it known to all who enter here, that Christ is the reason for this school.”
Father Jerry Rogers has himself been a spiritual rock for the reservation’s residents since his arrival in 2009. At his side are Sister Patrice, the pastoral associate, and Patty, the mission’s social worker. Catholic Extension donors support the salaries of both women. Together, the three servants work in the school; provide outreach to the community; offer support to families; and run a thrift store out of the parish house—the only store on the reservation. However, “our real ministry is in our presence,” said Sister Patrice matter-of-factly.
Sometimes, on restless nights, Father Jerry takes a walk to a four-way intersection not far from the rectory. With St. Mary Mission and School in front of him, he looks to the right. There stands the reservation’s hospital and prison. To the left stands a housing project for the poor. “It reminds me that the Church is at the center of it all,” he said, “and that we must do better.”
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