Ministry Formation Program Trains Lakota Lay Leaders to Lead

posted February 6, 2016 

In parishes around the country community members gather to train and grow as lay leaders. The same is true on Monday evenings on the Pine Ridge Reservation where Lakota lay leaders are busy with coursework and conversations of faith as part of the Lay Ministry Formation class.

Started regionally in the 1990’s, the class is a more than three-year program sponsored by the Diocese of Rapid City for those interested in the ministries of the Church. “The Lay Ministry Formation class gives participants confidence to be able to stand up and lead a rosary or serve as a catechist for children’s sacrament classes, holding conversations with their community about their faith,” says Sr. Connie Schmidt, SSND, assistant for evangelization and formation at Red Cloud Indian School. Sr. Connie and Pastoral Coordinator Veronica Valandra together lead the weekly class in an effort to increase the number of trained Lakota lay leaders on the Pine Ridge.

“The class allows us to see the Catholic Church from its very origin,” explain Sr. Connie. “In the beginning of the Church there were no ordained clergy. The apostles were simply fishermen called by Jesus. After Pentecost, these apostles did what Jesus did and proclaimed His message with their lives of faith.”

Now, however, the seven Lakota lay leaders in training have the benefit of curriculum as well as textbooks written by two Jesuit priests from the nearby Sioux Spiritual Center. “As Jesuits they were very conscious of the fact that this training would also take place on the reservations; their writings are sensitive to the traditions of the Lakota people,” says Sr. Connie, as she pages through the course textbook.

Additionally, as part of their ministry formation, class participants attend an annual retreat where they meet other lay people on the same journey. This provides the opportunity to create community with faith learners from other parishes similarly engaged in the Diocese who are also a part of the larger conversation about what is happening within the Church.

After more that fifteen years of an active formation program on the reservation, there is little doubt of the impact it has had on the community. Most of the Catholic churches on the Pine Ridge are led by individuals who have completed their training through the classes, now helping to lay a stronger foundation for the Lakota-Catholic Church on the Pine Ridge Reservation. And, says Sr. Connie, with a little training and a little help, they are following in the footsteps of the earliest Church leaders.


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Photo © 2016 Red Cloud Indian School, Inc.