A key American Indian ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Crookston will get $10,000 from the national Catholic Church’s Extension Society in Chicago, it was announced this week. The money will go toward the works of the Tekakwitha Center on the White Earth Indian Reservation, directed by Darlene Ballard.
Tekakwitha was the 17th-century Mohawk woman from the New York area renowned for her holiness and devotion that inspired many. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980, the first American Indian woman to reach that point, and sainthood is expected to be announced.
Ballard is a member of the White Earth Band of Chippewa and was hired two years ago to be religious education director for six parishes on the reservation, said the Rev. Walter Butor, a priest who lives in Waubun, Minn.
St. Benedict’s in White Earth and St. Anne’s in Naytahwaush have Indian membership, Butor said, while Most Holy Redeemer in Ogema, St. Theodore’s in Ponsford, St. Anne’s in Waubun and St. Francis Cabrini in Big Elbow Lake have both Indian and white members.
Butor is the priest in Ogema, White Earth and Ponsford, and one of three priests who live in a rectory in Waubun who are members of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the only religious order priests in the Crookston diocese.
Indian Catholic parishes on White Earth have a long history. “St. Benedict’s in White Earth was the first mission parish here,” Butor said. It was formed before the Crookston diocese itself was formed 100 years ago, carved out of the Duluth diocese.
Benedictine sisters provided religious education on the reservation going back more than a century before they moved on a few years ago to concentrate in other areas, Butor said. The Oblate priests, plus a brother, moved in to work with the Native American ministry on the reservation.
Hiring Ballard was a way of empowering the lay people and the American Indians in the six parishes, Butor said. “To show them they can do it, the work, and they don’t need it to be a sister, or a brother or a priest. They are capable of going into the parishes and doing religious education.” Ballard effectively is the religious education director for all adults and youth in the six parishes, Indian and white, Butor said. Her work, not any bricks or mortar, is the Tekakwitha Center.
More than half Ballard’s salary and expenses are paid by the Missionary Oblates congregation that has its U.S. headquarters in Washington, Butor said.
Catholic Extension, formed more than a century ago to reach out to Catholics facing challenges in their faith, will award 800 such grants this year across the U.S. and its territories. Last year, it granted $18 million in 84 “mission dioceses,” that represent “the poorest, most underserved and isolated areas in the United States,” according to the news release. Grand Forks Herald