100 Years Dehonians USA

100 Years of Dehonian Ministry in the United States!
(A note from the US Province of the Priests of the Sacred Heart)

100th Anniversary of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in the USA 

2023 is the year when we celebrate centennial anniversary of the SCJs in the USA. It is a wonderful opportunity to refresh the history and names of those who brought the congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (SCJ) to this/our country. St. Martin of Tours parish has its own part of the SCJs history. The SCJs have ministered at our parish for fifty years. However, the SCJs presence in the USA did not begin at St. Martin of Tours in Franklin, WI. The first SCJs’ presence was established in South Dakota, where the pioneer SCJ’s missionaries began their ministry to the Lakota People.

The SCJs are also known as Dehonians. Dehonians comes from the name of the founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon, who began this religious congregation in 1878 in France. Dehon built his charism on the spirituality of the Sacred Heart and Jesuit’s discernment. Dehon asked his brothers and priests to leave the sacristies and go out to meet people where they were. He sent his first priests to a local textile factory in Val-des-Bois, and others, to foreign missions in Ecuador and Congo. Dehon was a holy man but also a man of vision and mission. His congregation was attractive and grew fast. Dehonians spread throughout France, and then, move out to neighboring countries in Europe, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Finland, and Italy. Then, the SCJs moved to Africa, Asia and South America. At present, the SCJs minister in 45 countries throughout the World. Dehonians moved eventually to the USA one hundred years ago.

The first SCJ who arrived in the USA was Fr. Mathias Fohrman, a Luxembourger priest. He arrived in the USA in1919 but it took time and much effort before the Dehonian presence was stabilized in our country. Fr. Forhman, who is considered the founder of the SCJs in the USA, was invited to South Dakota to serve Native American people. He began his ministry in 1923. Fr. Forhman was soon joined by a bigger group of Dehonian missionaries from Europe.

For the Feast of the Epiphany in 1923, Fr. Fohrman visited Lower Brule, SD and was introduced to the Native American culture. During Palm Sunday on March 25, 1923, Father Fohrman said Mass for the first time at St. Mary’s Church in Lower Brule, SD and the work of the Priests of the Sacred Heart “in service to the mission” began in the United States. The official presence and ministry of the Congregation became a fact and reality. (Claudia M. Duratschek, Builders of God’s Kingdom. The History of the Catholic Church in South Dakota (Chamberlain, SD: Register-Lakota Printing, 1989), 282; see also: Joseph Golden, “Work of Divine Providence” (Cor Unum, November 1951), 10-12).

It is quite significant that the day from which the SCJs officially began to count the presence of the SCJs in the USA is that day on March 25, 1923, when Fr. Fohrman celebrated the first Mass in South Dakota. In fact, there were many arguments about which day should be commemorated and written down in the acts (papers) as the day of the beginning of the presence of the Congregation in this country. Wayne Jenkins, SCJ, in his work We the Congregation in Service to the Mission: Tale of Two Beginnings, which provides a detailed history of the US Province, describes the possible beginnings and the dates well. Hence, it is not the day when Fr. Fohrman arrived in America, nor when he arrived in South Dakota, nor when the SCJs decided to establish their first community and bought a house, nor even when the United States was declared as a Province, but instead, it is the day when the SCJs began their ministry among the Lakota people. (Jenkins, W., We the Congregation in Service to the Mission: Tale of Two Beginnings, Hales Corners, Wisconsin: US Province Archives, 1998, p. 4-5).

Paul J. McGuire, SCJ, effectively explains the foundation day and the tradition to commemorate the most significant events of the province on the day of March 25.

That might be seen to be rather odd even to celebrate. After all it is not the beginning of our presence in this country, nor is it the official recognition of our status as a distinct province within the Congregation. Instead it is the commemoration of the day when our religious community began its ministry to the people of this country. That calls attention to the fact that we see ourselves, we understand ourselves as an apostolic community. To be physically present and to be canonically recognized are important, and even crucial, but our identity is wrapped up in mission. We are here to serve, and so we count our days from when that first act of ministry began its service in mission to the people of the United States. (McGuire, SCJs in the USA. The Early Years, Franklin, WI: Dehon Study Center, 1999, p. 4.).

Indeed, from that day March 25, 1923 on, time started to move quickly and the presence of the SCJs with their ministry among Native Americans began to spread extensively. A few more men came from the German Province to join the mission. During the same year, Fr. John Emonts and Fr. Charles Prantauer were sent to work on the Cheyenne River Reservation. Fr. Emonts became responsible for the Cheyenne River Reservation with headquarters at Corpus Christi Church, and Fr. Prantauer at St. Mary Church, La Plant. In the following year, two more missionaries, Fr. Henry Hogebach and Fr. Charles Keilmann, joined the group of the first SCJs (Claudia M. Duratschek, Crusading Along Sioux Trails. The History of the Catholic Church in South Dakota, Yankton, South Dakota: Grail Publication, 1947, p. 242).

“The Great Pow-wow on the Plains”

During their first years of ministry, the first missionaries saw the need for working and living together as a community. A community house located on the Cheyenne River Reservation would resolve many of their problems. Another was the necessity of a school for the young Native Americans.  These, and a couple of other necessities, became the reason that the first group of SCJ missionaries met at Lower Brule on November 11, 1924. This meeting has become legendary and is sometimes, inaccurately, referred to as “The Shoot-out at Lower Brule.” In fact, there was nothing confrontational or belligerent about the meeting. The meeting “was an outstanding example of harmony and cooperation, a real meeting of minds and hearts which set the course of the American foundation for years to come” (McGuire, SCJs in the USA, 36).

For three days, these five missionaries conversed and evaluated their situation. They were afraid of the uncertainty of the situation of the Indian missions as the bishop could dismiss them at a moment’s notice. Their decision was threefold: to build an Indian School in the middle of the Cheyenne River Reservation; to find a suitable place for a mission house, novitiate and seminary in order to establish the permanent presence of the congregation in USA; and finally, to meet regularly as a group in Lower Brule or Cheyenne Agency. This is how the conclusions of the meeting were described in the chronicles:

First, they want the Congregation to be given responsibility for the missions; they are not content to work simply as helpers for the Diocese. If this change is not made, they will leave and seek a more permanent arrangement elsewhere. Second, they want a central school so that their efforts to reach the scattered Indian population can be more efficient. Third, they want a central community house so that the priests will not remain isolated in their ministry. Next, they want the Congregation to take root in American soil. For this to happen they must operate schools and houses of formation in the east. They decided to begin by first opening a minor seminary in a suitable location. Finally, they decided to meet periodically to discuss their situation and to act collaboratively in carrying out their work (Sacred Heart Monastery Chronicle, Hales Corners, Wisconsin: US Province Archives, October 17, 1930-December 31, 1964, p. 4-5).

This crucial meeting on November 11, 1924, which was the first assembly of SCJs in America, was named by McGuire as “The Great Pow-wow on the Plains” (McGuire, SCJs in the USA, p. 37). The decisions and consequences of this first assembly changed the course of action for the first Dehonian group and provided a moral foundation for the future US Province. Everything began to develop quickly in quality and quantity.

With characteristic order and determination, the first SCJs saw the value of setting out immediately to recruit and organize North American candidates to respond to the needs and problems of America’s own disadvantaged people. With the approval of Bishop Griffin in the Diocese of Springfield, IL, the Congregation signed a contract and purchased a house in 1925. The house in Ste. Marie, a former convent of the Sisters of St. Francis, became the first SCJ formation community in the United States. In September 1926, three students were accepted, and by October 1927, there were twelve of them. On October 29, 1928, Bishop Griffin officially dedicated this community as the Sacred Heart Mission House (Jenkins, We the Congregation, p. 9).

Another vital agreement was signed by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, on January 1, 1929. The Congregation decided to purchase an abandoned convent of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary. This house, after renovation and official dedication as Sacred Heart Monastery on July 1, 1929, became the first novitiate. Here, on September 1, 1931, John Thomas became the first North American to profess vows as a Brother in the Congregation (Brother John Thomas’s Memoirs, Hales Corners, WI: US Province Archives, 1931, p. 1-2.) In September 1932, after an addition onto the original building, Sacred Heart Monastery was established as a scholasticate of philosophy and theology. Expanding through the 1930s, the Depression years, each new work and community house was an unusual story of faith and ingenuity of its own.

The first Dehonian community decided to spread further to other states and missions in Midwest, Mississippi, Texas, California and East Coast. It became a large Province in the 70s and 80s. Nowadays, the US Province continues its missions in South Dakota, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Texas and Florida. We serve parishes and operate schools. We support social service ministries and family outreach programs. One of our oldest ministries in the United States is St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, SD., just a short drive from the location of that first Mass. Through Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, WI, we prepare men from around the world for ordained ministry and serve lay students through our master’s program. And just as the Dehonian presence in the United States was begun by missionary outreach, the US Province is committed to building the Church by supporting missions throughout the world including Vietnam, India, the Philippines, South Africa, DR Congo and Indonesia. The Province made a commitment to invite SCJ members from other countries, ethnic groups and cultures to join and support its missions in the USA. As a result, the US Province became intercultural. Over 30% of its members are international today.

As we celebrate centennial anniversary of the SCJ presence in the USA this year, I would like to invite St. Martin of Tours community to take part in our jubilee. We will have many opportunities to learn about the SCJs and our missions. Perhaps some of us will have a chance to visit South Dakota in October for the Mission Education trip at St. Joseph’s Indian School. I am grateful for your support and taking an active part of Dehonian mission at St. Martin of Tours and throughout the country.

Fr. Andrzej

The source: Andrzej Sudol, SCJ, Challenges and Opportunities of Initial Formation for Interculturality in the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in the United States Province, Doctorate Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of The Catholic Theological Union in Chicago in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Ecumenical Doctor of Ministry, 2021, p. 31-36.