Monday, August 3, 2015

Montana Pilgrimage

By Sr. Rejane Cytacki

​"Come North!," was the call our past Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (SCL) heeded when they set out from Leavenworth for Helena, Montana in 1869.  Traveling north to trace our sisters’ footsteps, four of us set out from Kansas in July for a two week pilgrimage to Montana.

Arriving first on the Cheyenne and Crow Reservations, we spent two days with our sisters who minister in the schools and churches of the native people. The land is arid and beautiful with its big open spaces and large mountains and so too are the people who are part of this land. They have a history that is older than ours and filled with the tragic loss of their lives and lands with the arrival of the white people. That history continues to play itself out on the reservations with drug and alcohol addiction and lack of resources. However, the bright spot is the value of education. 

This is where our Sister of Charity history becomes intertwined with the native peoples. To paraphrase the last Crow chief, Plenty Coups: education is the path to equality with the white people; without it native people are just their victims.

Next we traveled to Billings, Montana.  We learned the largest percent of Billings people who are homeless and struggling withdrug addiction are native people.  At the Society of Vincent de Paul, where two of our sisters work, we learned their mission isto break through the stigma of racism and addiction to help those who are in need. The Vincentian charism was present in the bridging of the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  Our Vincentian heritage was also obvious as we spent time learning how integral our sisters were and are in the operation of Saint Vincent Hospital.

Our next stop took us west over the Bozeman pass and down into Butte. What a breathtaking view of the Beartooth Mountains! Seven of our sisters welcomed us with a wonderful meal and prayer.  The next day we headed to Virginia City where three of our sisters opened and ran St. Mary’s hospital from 1876-1879 to minister to the miners. Virginia City was a very lucrative gold mining town and today is preserved as part of Montana’s history. 

All of these different people: native people, miners, SCLs, and Vincentian family, are part of Montana’s history woven together into a tapestry of story. This trip reemphasizes the important role history plays in who we are. From education, healthcare, social services, to pastoral ministry we as sisters today stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, ready to evolve our charism and mission in new ways serving those in need.

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