Lakota lay minister named parish life coordinator at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pine Ridge

posted on January 24, 2011

Charles McGaa has been named the new parish life coordinator at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. McGaa is responsible for operating the day-to-day programming of the Church in the absence of a full-time resident, ordained pastor.

“My mother and father were married at Sacred Heart in 1938,” McGaa says. “This fact takes on even greater meaning for me now that I am the parish life coordinator. As I am mindful of the roots of my own family here, it helps me to appreciate the importance of each and every family that is part of our Church community in Pine Ridge.”

McGaa’s journey to pastoral ministry came from teaching at Red Cloud Indian School. After graduating from Black Hills State University, he taught religious education at the school until the late-Fr. Bill Pauly SJ, former president of Red Cloud, asked him to work full-time as a lay minister at Sacred Heart. Always active in the Church and yearning to learn more, McGaa completed a four-year ministry formation class and was commissioned as a lay minister by the Diocese of Rapid City in 1999.

Fr. Steve Sanford SJ, pastoral coordinator at Red Cloud, says it is the goal of the diocese as well as the reservation parishes to have local, Lakota leadership within the Catholic Church. He says this is not primarily due to the diminishing number of priests, but because in order to be an authentic Lakota-Catholic Church, there must be Lakota leadership. Fr. Sanford says he hopes to someday have Lakota clergy running the parishes as well.

“Charles brings abundant pastoral gifts, plus 20 years of experience at Sacred Heart,” Fr. Sanford says. “The people of the community know and trust his leadership abilities.”

Fr. Sanford also says that it takes a team to run a parish like Sacred Heart, and the community can be assured that they are in capable hands with the entire staff, which includes Angie Stover, office manager and pastoral minister; Wanda Standing Bear, community outreach minister; and Sr. Barb Bogenschutz, youth ministry coordinator and director of religious education.

As McGaa settles into his new position, he says he always keeps in his mind an ancient expression: ecclesia domestica (the Church of the home).

“It helps me to understand the holiness of family life and the sacredness of the home,” he says. “With the help of the Holy Spirit, I want to do everything that is necessary to build up the Church of the home so that everyone, from a little baby to an elder, will have the fullness of life that Jesus promises. This is my hope as I continue pastoral ministry at Sacred Heart with other leaders of faith.”

To learn more about Sacred Heart Church, call 605/867-5551.