I remember how run down St. Francis Mission was in 1995. The Jesuit residence smelled of kerosene from the stoves in the tiny individual bedrooms. The religious at the Mission worked hard, but seemed to lack a vision for positive change. They seemed to see themselves as accompanying a despairing people as they struggled with the unemployment, poverty, and all the attending problems, especially alcoholism. There was a lot of Good Friday in those days, but not much hope of Easter.
Hello. I’m Fr. Jim Kubicki, S.J., the new president of St. Francis Mission Among the Lakota. I am replacing our esteemed friend, Fr. John Hatcher, who has served the Lakota so faithfully for so long.
In this my first letter as president, I’d like to tell you a little about myself and my vision for the Mission. But first I want to thank you for your support of the Mission, some of you for many, many years. Your generosity is absolutely essential to this work.
I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After attending Marquette High School where I met the Jesuits, I decided to join them and one day teach in an urban, Jesuit, college prep high school–to do for other young people what they had done for me.
But God had better plans for me. My first and only teaching experience was among the Lakota people of the Pine Ridge reservation at Red Cloud Indian School. There a seed was planted in my heart. I learned there that I had gifts for ministry among Native people.
Several years after ordination in in 1983, I moved to Plainview, South Dakota, where Fr. John Hatcher, S.J., and I served at the Sioux Spiritual Center, a retreat house for Native people. Our six years together taught me much. I learned that a missionary’s work is not so much empowering people, giving them something that they don’t have. Rather, a true missionary helps people understand that the Holy Spirit, whom they received in Baptism, has already empowered them with gifts that simply need to be recognized and given the opportunity to be exercised.
In 1995, my provincial asked me to oversee the formation of younger Jesuits as well as our ministry among Native people. Those four years gave me many opportunities to return to Rosebud reservation and learn more about the work of the Mission. In 2000, I became associate director of the Jesuit retreat house near St. Paul, Minnesota. There I learned that, if something is done well, people will want to support it. The Demontreville retreat house receives all that it needs to continue because generous people see its value.
In 2003, I became the U.S. director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, the Apostleship of Prayer. Through retreats and missions around the U.S., radio and television appearances, and the internet and social media, I’ve promoted prayer for the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions and the spirituality of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Last year, my provincial asked me to consider becoming president of St. Francis Mission. It didn’t take long for me to see the Holy Spirit at work in this call. My experience in Native ministry, what I’ve learned from Fr. Hatcher, my many years directing a national organization, my speaking experience, and the many contacts I’ve made through my radio and retreat work—all point me in the direction of carrying on the good work Fr. Hatcher began fourteen years ago.
I’m excited to return to the wide open spaces of South Dakota and to the Lakota Oyate (People). In 1995, I was given a name by these beautiful people —“Can Tahsa Hoksila”— Wood (White-Tailed) Deer Boy. It seems natural that I would one day return and put my energies, joy, and hope into the “new mission” which Fr. Hatcher has been so instrumental in creating.
As I begin, I want to be prayerful, to listen and to learn. I want to hear what my new co-workers and the Lakota people have to say about St. Francis Mission. I want to hear from our faithful benefactors what we are doing well and what moves you to support us. And I want to share the story of St. Francis Mission with many more people. I’m sure that once they learn more about the good work we do, they too will want to join us in what Fr. Hatcher calls this “new mission among the Lakota.”
As I begin, I ask you to consider a generous gift to the St. Francis Mission. I have already learned that supporters like you believe in St. Francis Mission, just as I do. But we can’t continue the good work without your gift and, just as important, your prayers. I will begin my presidency by celebrating Mass for all supporters at St. Charles Church in August.
Fr. James Kubicki, S.J. President