After 10 years in Mississippi serving in pastoral ministry, Fr. Greg Schill, SCJ, got to thinking that maybe it was time to think of a new assignment. Thankfully, Fr. Ed Kilianski, SCJ, had the same idea.
“The night before Fr. Ed was scheduled to meet with me for the annual provincial visitation, I was thinking about St. Joseph’s Indian School and suddenly found myself up late that night researching, looking at St. Joseph’s web page, its Facebook page, and other online information,” said Fr. Greg.
“Early the next morning –– with little sleep –– it was time to meet with Fr. Ed via Zoom,” he continued. “I don’t know why, but my gut told me that the position of chaplain at St. Joseph’s was open. Before Fr. Ed even had the opportunity to ask me if I was interested in the position, or to let me know that he was considering transferring me to the school, I asked him about it.
“I will never forget his reaction. He was just about to ask me if I was interested in going to St. Joseph’s. We both had the same idea, so it was an easy conversation. Of course, I told him that I was very willing to go. The idea had only come to me the night before, but I knew that it was what I wanted to do. Providence?”
Fr. Greg was ordained to the priesthood in 2011; just six weeks later he joined the Mississippi pastoral team that serves six parishes in the northwest corner of the state.
“My time in Mississippi laid the groundwork for my priestly ministry,” said Fr. Greg. “Those ten years of parish ministry were very rewarding. I met and ministered to people of diverse backgrounds. I visited and administered the Eucharist to the homebound, presided at funerals. I was also involved in marriage preparation and weddings. I was very involved in the life of the parishes, in the many ministries that are a part of parishes.”
Fr. Greg said that he greatly enjoyed the people he encountered through parish ministry, and it is the people that he misses in his new assignment. “I formed what will most likely be lifelong friendships,” he said. “I miss the conversations over a cup of coffee, drinking the sweet tea that the South is known for, and tending to the community koi pond.
“I really enjoyed things like the parish festivals, even when it meant that I spent some time in the Dunk Tank. I enjoyed the Wednesday religious ed sessions, especially the ‘open gym’ time that the kids would take part in before class, playing sports and eating pizza.”
However, Fr. Greg quickly fell in love with St. Joseph’s Indian School after he arrived in July. He felt that it was a ministry and a place to which he was called.
“I have had a very warm welcome at St Joseph’s,” he said. “I have enjoyed meeting the students and going to the student homes for house blessings and dinners. I have had the opportunity to meet just about every staff member. The most challenging thing for me is learning names, as I have never been gifted with learning names.
“As for my new position, my role as chaplain is to follow Fr. Dehon’s call to his priests to ‘get out of the sacristies’ and go to the people, not wait for them to come to us,” said Fr. Greg. “I make it a point to constantly visit the school classrooms as well as participate in activities such as in the student gym classes (I get a workout!). But it isn’t just something that I ‘should’ do; I enjoy it.
“I enjoy walking around the campus and saying hello to staff. I have also gone to Eagle Butte to visit the Sacred Heart Center, and twice now to Sioux Falls to meet staff at the Mission Advocacy Center. And just today I visited with a few new employees from the center who were in Chamberlain, learning more about St. Joseph’s. I’ve enjoyed going to St. Joseph’s Thrift Store in town as well as the school’s Donor Care Center.
During Advent he plans to give a reflection for the school community on Fr. Dehon’s work; this will be the 150th anniversary of the founder’s Christmas sermon at his first parish assignment. “I hope to reflect on his sermon and how it relates to the challenges of social justice and why we as an institution at St. Joseph’s do work that reflects the vision of Fr. Dehon,” he said.
Besides visiting the people and ministries of St. Joseph’s Indian School, Fr. Greg is also spending significant time visiting the Akta Lakota Museum, learning about not only about the school’s history, but more about Native American culture. “I need to know about these things in my role as the ‘face’ of St. Joseph’s to our benefactors,” he said.
After living in Chicago for his studies, and then only a half hour drive away from Memphis when he served in Mississippi, small-town Chamberlain might seem like quite a challenge to get used to for a new transplant. But Fr. Greg said that he feels at home. “I like the small-town setting and know that I am just two to three hours away from a major city [Sioux Falls or Rapid City],” he said. “And then there are the Black Hills – I look forward to hiking there.”
“I definitely enjoy it here, at St. Joseph’s,” he concluded. “I enjoy the ministry, I enjoy the people. And I even enjoy cold weather, so I should feel right at home this winter.”
Welcome to St. Joseph’s Fr. Greg!