Epic weather becomes focal point of conference

Justin Krenke, a third-year candidate, "channels" Fr. Dehon during the opening session of Mission Education
Justin Krenke, a third-year candidate, “channels” Fr. Dehon during the opening session of Mission Education. More photos from Mission Ed are on the province Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151430082855073.1073741829.169113070072&type=1&l=72c2c39092

Storm brings Mission Ed to a quick close

The Priests of the Sacred Heart began ministry in the United States near Chamberlain, S.D., in the early 1920s.

Upon hearing this fact during the Mission Education Conference one of our province employees said she that could easily guess why:

“They were stuck!”

The tongue-in-cheek comment came in midst of news updates about an impending storm. Mother Nature turned what was to be a two-day Mission Education Conference into an abbreviated one-day event on April 8 at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Some travelers made the decision to leave before the storm. Some stayed, assuming that their travel might only be delayed by a day

Later in the week, many found themselves still stuck in South Dakota, waiting for roads to re-open and planes to resume flying.

Mission Education was held in South Dakota to give participants a first-hand look at SCJ ministries on the Great Plains.

“We sure got that,” said one participant, “but even more so I have a greater appreciation for what those early SCJ priests and brothers had to endure. I cannot imagine being here in the winter, with blizzards shutting down contact to the outside world for days on end… traveling to those small reservation churches, not knowing if you would be stuck there and for how long…

“I identify with Fr. Dehon’s call to ‘Go to the people,’ but taken literally, that is a very challenging call during a South Dakota winter!”


Lots of smiles before the storm
Lots of smiles before the storm

Seventh conference

Held approximately every three years, this year’s Mission Ed (originally planned for April 8-9) was the seventh such gathering. Mission Education brings together SCJs, employees and other collaborators to learn about Fr. Dehon, SCJ spirituality, the worldwide congregation and specifically, about the people and ministries of the host community. This was the second time that the conference was held in South Dakota.  Previously it has been in Mississippi and Wisconsin.

The conference began with prayer in Our Lady of the Sioux chapel followed by words of welcome from Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, provincial superior. St. Joseph’s has a special place in Fr. Tom’s heart since he was principal of the school before entering provincial and general administration.

Fr. Tom Cassidy
Fr. Tom Cassidy

Standing at the podium in a suit he said that he “dressed up today because I heard that our founder, Fr. Dehon, will be with us.”

Soon after, a thin, bespectacled man in a cassock came to the front of the chapel. With a suitcase in hand covered with stickers from the many places he had traveled in the United States, he was introduced as Fr. Leo John Dehon, SCJ founder. He came to South Dakota to talk about his observations of the United States from his original travels in 1910 and to share a bit of his background with those gathered.

After talking about how the Sacred Heart called him to take action when he saw injustice in his own time in San Quentin, France, Fr. Dehon told those gathered that “You are all here because of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  When you go home to Texas, Wisconsin, Mississippi, wherever you call home, you need to walk the talk. You need to take action, not just talk about what needs to be done.

“Christ wants his love to be seen in people, and in societies.  I did it in my time, now the responsibility is yours, including the children among us. Even children can reflect the love of Christ with their friends, on the playground, on the basketball court, on the football field, in the science lab.  Don’t just work on your own heart, but work so that every group you belong to, every team you are on, is good, right, and just in everything it does.”

The powerful words of Fr. Dehon were actually “channeled” through Justin Krenke, a third-year SCJ candidate, who served as a stand-in for the founder. Justin’s formation director, Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ, prepared him for his role as the founder and his interview with Mary Gorski at Mission Education.

Julie Lepkowski and Fr. Tim Gray
Julie Lepkowski and Fr. Tim Gray

Following in the founder’s footsteps

Throughout the day of presentations, classroom visits and small group sharing, Mission Education participants heard short reflections from their fellow co-workers on what it means to them to “be a Dehonian.”

“I am the High School Residential Coordinator at St. Joseph’s Indian School,” started Robyn Knecht. “I am most like Fr. Dehon as a social service minister… I work not only with young people and families, but also with school staff who have a profound impact on the students. Fr. Dehon once wrote, ‘I have been led by Divine Providence to plow many furrows, but two in particular will leave an indelible mark: Christian social action and the life of love and reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.’

“These words speak to the calling that I have to embody Christian social action by serving those in need with guidance that promotes positive change.”

Dianne Graves, an administrative assistant at St. Joseph’s, said that she is a “Dehonian because I believe in Fr. Dehon’s vision and values; I feel I show them in my daily work with the students. We have a very busy office with lots of paperwork, but I put the children’s needs first.   In the last 36 years of employment with St. Joe’s, I have worked with many, many students, showing them love, respect and compassion and treating them with dignity.  I have followed them throughout the years, being a mentor to some of them.  Many of our former students have children attending school here now and we share memories when they visit.  I feel I make a difference in the lives of students as I respect them and they know I care about them, thus forming relationships that last a lifetime.”

Click here to read more of the “I am a Dehonian because…” reflections.

And stay tuned to learn where our next Mission Education conference will be held. After being stuck in the snow for several days members of our Mississippi contingent said that they would be willing to host the next gathering, “or perhaps somewhere even further south of the snow belt.”

CLICK HERE to view photos from Mission Education.