The last of the three Centennial celebrations for the US Province of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians) was held on July 30 in the place where it all began: Lower Brule, SD. It was there in 1923 that Fr. Mathias Fohrman, an SCJ priest from the German Province, first celebrated Mass at St. Mary’s parish. The parish had just been entrusted to the Priests of the Sacred Heart by the bishop of what was then the diocese of Lead, SD.
The religious order continues to minister at St. Mary’s but the church is too small to hold all of the people who came to celebrate the Centennial. Instead, the nearby Lower Brule Community Center was quickly turned into a church, banquet hall and stage.
Among the guests at the Centennial were dozens of Dehonian priests and brothers from around the world. Countries represented included Poland, Canada, Cameroon, DR Congo, the Philippines, Belgium, Indonesia, and Germany. Fr. Stefan Tertünte, SCJ, provincial superior of the German Province – the “mother province” of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in the United States – was the homilist. Fr. Vien Nguyen, SCJ, US provincial superior, was the main celebrant.
An international religious order came to celebrate an international ministry among the people of South Dakota. The current pastoral team in Lower Brule includes Fr. Christianus Hendrik, SCJ, originally from Indonesia, and Fr. Jean Claude Mbassi, SCJ, who is from Cameroon.
Fr. Hendrik was not only one of the primary organizers of the celebration, but its emcee and cantor. He was joined by a choir made up of religious sisters who have ties to the area, including Sr. Charles Palm, OSB, at the organ. Sr. Charles, now retired, is known to just about everyone on the Lower Brule and Crow Creek reservations after her 38 years of ministry at St. Joseph’s parish in Fort Thompson.
The celebration began with a Lakota smudging ceremony and drumming, followed by the Centennial Mass and a Native American song of honor. Speakers shared the history of the area and the Dehonians who have served it. Native American dancers brought the celebration to a close.
“I am still under the impression of the smudging ceremony,” said Fr. Stefan as he began his homily. “It was very beautiful and confirmed my conviction that whenever I go to other countries or cultures, I am not forced to learn from the others. No, it is an absolute opportunity to learn how others try to live, try to believe; it is absolutely enriching and broadens the horizon. Thank you for that.”
Fr. Stefan said that as a German SCJ priest “I know almost nothing about your cultures, little about your history. Yes, I have read something, talked to one person or another. But what does this mean if you go from one world to another world?
“Similar, yet quite different, was the situation of the confreres who began the ministry of the SCJs in Lower Brule 100 years ago…
“To minister with and among the Lakota people in the 1920s was not an easy job. Fr. Fohrman and the first Sacred Heart priests had absolutely no training and preparation for this, no course in cross-cultural training, no mission theology studies, they knew almost nothing about Native Americans.
“But maybe their hearts were somewhat prepared. That’s what comes to my mind if I think of these beginnings here in Lower Brule and of the first reading we’ve just heard, of what Solomon asks for and what God grants him: ‘a listening heart, an understanding heart so that you may know what is right.’”
One of three celebrations
As noted, the South Dakota celebration was one of three held by the US Province. The first two, on July 16 and 17, were in what is now the headquarters of the Dehonians in the United States: Hales Corners, WI (near Milwaukee). The first was a moment to thank the many benefactors who have made the Dehonian mission possible. The second was the “family” celebration when SCJs gathered with coworkers, collaborators, family, and fellow area religious communities. Both events took place at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.
Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ, was one of the speakers at the July 16 gathering. His reflection was not just as an SCJ, but instead, from the perspective of someone who grew up in South Dakota, ministered to by the community that he would one day join.
“These men knew where the love of Christ needed to be experienced, and they did their best to reflect that. Eucharist on Sunday was intimately tied to acts of love from Monday through Saturday. Eucharist was not about their collar, title, pomp, or circumstance. Eucharist was about loving people in concrete ways, knowing that they needed to be loved all week long.”
“Over the years, I am happy that the Heart of Christ led me to become part of their lives, to wear the hat that they wore. I find challenge and joy in the Dehonian words of love and reconciliation I once heard as a teen: ‘Being a Christian means: here comes everybody.’ God’s love is expansive. Like them, I want to experience the Real Presence of Christ’s love in my life, and feel impelled to reflect it concretely in people’s lives, where they are.”
From that first Mass in Lower Brule…
One hundred years ago the ministry of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in the United States was centered around a small parish in Lower Brule. In 2023 that ministry extends from South Dakota to Wisconsin, Mississippi, Texas and Florida, reaching across ethnic, social, and economic lines.
In Houston, the Priests of the Sacred Heart are in the central city parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the oldest Hispanic parishes in Texas.
In Mississippi, Dehonians are responsible for the Church’s ministry in the five northwestern counties of the state. Through Sacred Heart Southern Missions, Dehonians offer social services and emergency aid, advocacy, housing, education, job training and counseling. The Sacred Heart Auto League, which promotes safe, prayerful driving, is also a part of SHSM’s ministry.
Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis., prepares men from around the country – and the world – for ordained ministry. It also offers master’s programs for lay students, and an internationally regarded ECS (English and Cultural Studies) program specifically designed for those in or preparing for ministry in the Church.
The Priests of the Sacred Heart minister at St. Martin of Tours parish in Franklin, Wis., where they also serve the Vietnamese Catholic community of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Just a few miles away, Dehonians operate Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake, a senior apartment community with several units reserved for those who are economically challenged.
One of the oldest ministries in the United States – begun just four years after Fr. Fohrman celebrated that first Mass in Lower Brule – is St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, SD. Since it first opened its doors in 1927, the school has expanded its outreach well beyond the classroom with family counseling, healthcare, social programs, and education in Lakota traditions. Among those at the July 30 celebration was Mike Tyrell, president of the school. He represents another growth in Dehonian ministry: the increase of the laity in carrying on the dreams of the congregation’s founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon. Dehonians also continue to minister in reservation parishes on the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Reservations.
And just as the Dehonian presence in the United States was begun by missionary outreach, the US Province is committed to building the Church by supporting missions throughout the world including Vietnam, India, the Philippines, South Africa, DR Congo and Indonesia.
Dehonians, Priests of the Sacred Heart, SCJs – several names for a religious community of priests and brothers with a single mission: bringing the love of the Sacred Heart to those in the greatest of need.