Sunday, June 28, 2009

Priest to leave Crookston after 15 years for new assignment on the Red Lake Indian Reservation

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Father Jerry Richards is leaving Crookston after 15 years for the Red Lake Reservation; he will be one of the few non-Native Americans who will be allowed to live there.

When most Catholic priests are assigned to area parishes by the bishop of the Crookston diocese, it’s usually for a period of six years. Occasionally, they might be asked to stay for a second six-year term.

Father Jerry Rogers has been the pastor of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Detroit Lakes for 15 years.

“Which is about nine years longer than I had expected to be here,” Rogers says.

When Rogers first came to the Detroit Lakes community in June 1994, he had been serving as a missionary in Africa.

“I had hoped to return back to Africa after my first term of six years (at Holy Rosary),” Rogers says. When asked why he ended up staying in Detroit Lakes, he adds, “The need here was greater.”

When his second six-year term was up, the bishop asked him if he would continue to serve for another half-term of three years, bringing his total years of service in Detroit Lakes to 15.

Of his 33 years in the priesthood, Rogers says, 30 have been spent serving the Crookston diocese — and half of those years were spent in Detroit Lakes.

But this Wednesday, July 1, Rogers will be leaving his duties at Holy Rosary to take on what he calls “a new challenge,” as pastor of the St. Mary’s Mission — on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. He will also serve as pastor of the nearby parish of Wilton, Minn.

Before his new duties begin on Sept. 1, however, Rogers plans to take a two-month vacation, visiting friends and family in the Chicago area — where he was born and raised — and where “hopefully,” Rogers adds, “the only soul I’ll have to take care of is my own.”

Though he is looking forward to the time off, and eventually, the challenges of his new assignment, Rogers says there is much he will miss about Detroit Lakes.

“I’ll miss the people,” he said. Since starting his tenure in Detroit Lakes, Rogers added, “I’ve met some of the finest people God created — and a few of his challenges.”

In his farewell letter to the congregation, Rogers told his parishioners that “while they’ve had half of my priesthood, they have all of my heart — and while I may no longer be their pastor, they will always be my people.”

Nevertheless, he is excited by the unique challenges posed by his new assignment: As pastor of the St. Mary’s Mission, Rogers will be one of a very small number of non-American Indian people given the opportunity to live on the reservation.

“Red Lake is a closed reservation,” he explains. “You cannot live there unless you are Native American.”

Rogers adds, “I consider it an honor… I couldn’t imagine not living amongst the people you’re called to serve.”

“The one thing we desire (most) as priests is to make a difference,” he says, “and I believe I will be facing the greatest challenge I have or will ever face as a priest.”

The Red Lake reservation is facing considerable economic challenges, Rogers explains.

But “where the hope comes in,” he adds, “is that the beauty and traditions of the people will outweigh any economic challenges we will face.”

He is encouraged by the comments he has heard from former pastors, “who speak of the love and admiration of the people there.”

Ultimately, Rogers says, “I feel I will receive far more than I will give.”

Rogers’ successor at Holy Rosary will be Monsignor Timothy McGee, most recently pastor of the parish of St. Bernard’s in Thief River Falls.

Father Jerry’s farewell celebration is set for 2 p.m. today (Sunday) at Holy Rosary Catholic Church. Detroit Lakes Online

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