Our extended family

Spring 2011 Red Cloud Country

Community is a fundamental foundation of the Catholic Church—the very human response to God, who invites people into a personal relationship of faith, hope and love. And on the reservation, the community of the Church has no boundaries, extending life-giving relationships not just into the lives of the local Lakota people in Oglala, Porcupine and Manderson, but also to communities in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and many other states.

“Each year, we open our doors—and hearts—to friends from all over the country,” says Sr. Connie Schmidt SSND, parish life coordinator at Our Lady of the Sioux in Oglala, who notes that the past few years have seen a growth in “sister parishes” around the country. “These relationships are a blessing, helping us to grow as an extended family…a Catholic, universal family.”

Parishes like St. John’s, a Jesuit church at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, travel to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation every year to visit, pray and share the sacraments during the holidays. The faithful from Resurrection Parish in Dubuque, Iowa, work alongside parishioners at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish in Wanblee to spruce up the cemetery and fashion an older building into a modest parish office and hall. Members of St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Kinmundy, Illinois, stop for Mass and breakfast at Our Lady of the Sioux whenever they are visiting the Black Hills. There are countless other examples.

Shelia Feipel, chairperson of the sister parish committee at Our Lady of Victory in Davenport, Iowa, made the 14 hour drive to Porcupine last fall to meet Fr. Phil Cooke SJ and parishioners from Christ the King for the first time. The experience, she says, was one she’ll never forget.

“Amidst one of the poorest areas in the country is this wonderful community of people, unwavering in their faith,” Feipel recalls. “We learned about the parish’s struggles and witnessed, firsthand, the dedication they have to make their parish—and the reservation—a better place.”

Feipel says OLV parishioners pray that the reservation’s youth will continue to make healthy life choices and offer Masses for the community each month. They are even hoping to assist with vacation Bible school this summer. She also would like to see a pen-pal program developed between students at Our Lady of Lourdes in Porcupine and John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport. Someday, she’d like to welcome a group from Christ the King to Our Lady of Victory.

Sr. Schmidt says through programs like this, God’s love is extended in new, unexpected ways.

“Parishioners are able to celebrate their differences and realize their commonalities by praying for the greater glory of God,” she says. “We are strengthened because of it.”

“It seems important to remember that the word ‘companion’ comes from the Latin word ‘cum panis,’ or ‘with bread,’” adds Fr. Rick Abert SJ, a pastor on the reservation and Jesuit superior at Red Cloud. “Our relationship is one of sharing the bread that is Christ, who is alive in our midst and who becomes a greater reality as both parish communities share a cultural, social, spiritual experience. Like bread, we ‘break open’ our spiritual journey with one another, and in doing so discover ways to nourish one another’s life.”