Ministry at St. Mary's Mission

St. Mary's Mission Appeal Video

Brief History

St. Mary's Mission began in 1858

and took the step to create a permanent place of ministry to the native people here at the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Benedictine Monks and Nuns came shortly after that. The Benedictine presence remained until 2009. The first church burned down, and a second church was erected in 1893.

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Around 1888, when the Drexel sisters* paid a visit to the reservation and heard the Ojibwa's plea for priests and sisters, Katherine begged the abbot of St. John's Abbey to take over the mission.  The following year in November 1889, two priests made the trip to Red Lake;  and St. Mary's Mission in Red Lake began in some empty buildings on the reservation.

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In 1927 the school, which still stands was built by the generous support of Katherine Drexel and her fellow sisters to offer education to the community in Red Lake and the surrounding area on the Reservation.

There are too many monks and nuns who are remembered to list them here. Suffice to say, there are many names still mentioned today from the days of the past. 

In 1991, the Benedictine Monks returned to their monastery at St. John's in Collegeville, MN. The Diocese  of Crookston assigned its first diocesan priest to the Mission. Monsignor William (Fr. Bill) Merkins served as pastor for six years gaining a reputation of being "one of the people." He is still remembered today especially among the older generation as a great ambassador of social justice for the people of Red Lake. Fr. Bill started a development program to help support the mission especially the school.

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In 1997, Father Patrick (Fr. Pat) Sullivan was assigned as the new pastor with Fr. Bill remaining to help and continue his ministry to the Red Lakers. Fr. Pat still has a reputation of being a very generous priest to the people. His pastoral generosity is unrivaled. Fr. Pat was here during the "school shooting" in 2005. That was a trying time for the folks here as well as emotional for Fr. Pat as he helped the grieving families through this difficult time. Fr. Pat will be remembered for his ministry of twelve years to the people here.

In 2009, Father Jerry Rogers came to relieve Fr. Pat. Fr. Jerry had previously served as a missionary in Zambia (Africa). Coming to Red Lake was a whole new experience according to him. Sadly, the sisters who had many years of service to the people here, were called back to the convent to care for fellow sisters at St. Ben's.

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In Fr. Jerry's time, the school increased in enrollment. Seventh and eighth grades were restored from former days. Development efforts were increased to help support the growing school.

Fr. Jerry will always be remembered for being a dreamer. He has always emphasized "the vision of the Church" and has shared that inspiration with everyone he comes into contact with.

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In July, 2021 Father John Christianson has joined the mission as co-pastor with Fr. Jerry. Fr. John, as a lay person, assisted Fr. Jerry and his ministry from 2009-2011 as he recovered from medical difficulties. Fr. John joins us already being known from his time spent here previously. 

Fr. Jerry and Fr. John will work together to enrich the ministry of St. Mary's.

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Fr. John will remain at St. Mary's to replace Fr. Jerry as he readies himself for his eventual retirement.

The Future of St. Mary's Mission is in the hands of the Staff and Friends of St. Mary's Mission. We are excited to continue the success of St. Mary's in new ways and adventures!

St. Mary's Mission School and Church