Local News

St. Mary’s Mission seeks to inspire hope

By Katrina Genereux/Associate Editor, OND

Each November, the Diocese of Crookston holds the St. Mary’s Mission Appeal collection in parishes across the diocese on the weekend following Thanksgiving. The annual collection supports the ministry and work done in the Red Lake Nation through St. Mary’s Mission and School. Over the past year, the school has expanded to seventh grade, the community has been working to address the suicide epidemic and the parish is dealing with the aftermath of the loss of their church in a fire last December. St. Mary’s Mission is rising to the challenges and providing faith-filled support to the people of the Red Lake Nation. To view the 2018 St. Mary’s Mission Appeal video and give to the appeal, visit www.crookston.org/smma.


St. Mary’s Mission School has expanded to include seventh grade and, according to Principal Mike Hougen, they hope to add eighth grade as well.

A few years ago, Father Jerry Rogers, Pastor of St. Mary’s Mission, noticed the graduating sixth graders looked sad. When he asked them why, they said they did not want to leave St. Mary’s School. Father Rogers told the students when the entire school was reading at grade level, the school could expand.

“Our reading scores have been consistently improving. Last year 91 percent of our students were reading at or above grade level,” Hougen said.

He and Father Rogers felt it was a good time to add grades to the school.

The addition of seventh grade was finalized last fall and announced to the school during the winter.

“Our plan is to add eighth grade next year, so our students can transition right to high school instead of having to transition from St. Mary’s to a middle school then to a high school,” he said.

“Seventh grade has been a great addition to the school,” Hougen said. “The students have been doing a great job of being engaged in learning as well as being leaders in the school.”

The addition has come with a few growing pains.

“We have the nice problem of being full in all of our classes and space has been an issue in every grade level,” he said.

The former rectory building has been converted to classroom space for the seventh grade.

“Our faculty and staff are tops and visitors to our school remark about how contagious is the spirit to learn and how impressed they are as the kids live up to the high standards of behavior we set for them,” Father Rogers wrote in the school’s fall newsletter. “St. Mary’s Mission gives our students and people the opportunity to imagine their world at Red Lake in a much better way, where the Kingdom is experienced and lived.”


Thanks to a grant from Catholic Extension Society, St. Mary’s Mission has had a Suicide Prevention and Education Worker since February. Tashina Branchaud worked as an administrative assistant at St. Mary’s Mission School before pursuing her degree in social work and returning to the Mission to help address the suicide crisis. She works with school students and community members.

Suicide rates on reservations are double that of the general population. Within the Red Lake Nation, 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line, unemployment is around 60 percent and there are high rates of crime and drug use or abuse.

“We have had eight potential suicidal situations in the past 10 months, and we have been able to help the students get the help they need,” St. Mary’s Mission School Principal Mike Hougen said.

He said there is a community effort with assistance from Branchaud, tribal programs and Red Lake Public School.

“The suicide problem is too big for any one person or program to be the solution. On a reservation where suicide is too much of an option, suicide prevention provides other options and our students are choosing other options,” Hougen said.

Branchaud is someone students can speak to about their problems confidentially.

“The students and families trust her and she is able to offer support and advice that myself or the teachers can’t,” said Hougen. “She is able to work with our students and give them tools to help themselves.”

He said through Branchaud’s support, a group of seventh grade girls had the courage and language to speak to their friends about stopping destructive, self-harming behavior.

“The girls showing leadership is a good development and a clear sign that the suicide prevention counselor and group counseling sessions that our social worker does are having a positive impact,” Hougen said.

Branchaud is part of the Tribal Suicide Prevention Task Force comprised of people from St. Mary’s, the public school, tribal programs and community members.


Feelings of shock and mourning filled St. Mary’s Mission in the days following the loss of their church to a fire in the early morning hours of Dec. 2, 2017. The church, built in 1888, burned to the ground.

Father Jerry Rogers, Pastor of St. Mary’s Mission, said the fire was caused by an electrical failure due to lightning strike the month before. A power surge following an outage on Dec. 2 ignited the building.

Mass for the First Sunday of Advent was held in the gymnasium the day following the fire.

“We will rise up from the ashes,” Father Rogers told the congregation during that Mass.

The community continues to celebrate Mass in the gymnasium while plans are made for how to proceed with building a new church.

Principal Mike Hougen said the lack of a church building has been hard on the students of St. Mary’s Mission School. The school has had to shuffle around classroom space and utilize parts of the former rectory. They have also lost some of their gym space to store materials needed to celebrate Mass.

He said holding special events such as the Christmas program has also been tricky in the wake of the fire.

“We use all of the gym for seating and need to quickly move tables and chairs for fellowship afterwards,” he said. “Our families have been understanding and it is great to see everyone pitch in and help set up tables and move the stage. Our community comes together like a big family and it is a blessing to see everyone work together to support the school and the church.”

“I told the people that out of the ashes a church will be built. Never did I realize that that fire ignited the spark in my people to be Church,” said Father Rogers in the 2018 St. Mary’s Mission Appeal video. “They were without a church, a building, but they rediscovered themselves as the Church. That spark was ignited and that has been the response ever since the fire.”

Hougen said the necessary building meetings, feasibility study and beginning stage planning work has brought the parish community together.

“The community has come together after the loss of the church,” he said. “When we rebuild, we will be rebuilding in a stronger parish.”

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