Bishop allocates funds for Native American evangelization

Native American Catholics make up a small, vibrant part of the Catholic community in South Carolina, but efforts to minister directly to them have been few and far between.

That will hopefully change in the near future, thanks to funds from the annual Black and Indian Mission Collection that Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone recently allocated specifically for Native American evangelization. Kathleen Merritt, director of the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Ethnic Ministries, said about $11,000 from the collection will be used to start a program of outreach, catechesis and spiritual development for Native American Catholics around the state.

The Ethnic Ministries office has worked to support outreach to Native Americans in the diocese before, including the long-time work by two Adrian Dominican Sisters in Ridgeville. 

From 1976 until early 2009, Sister Carol Dulka and the late Sister Mary Lequier ran an outreach to about 1,000 Edisto Indians who live in the Dorchester County community.

Merritt said the first step in the new evangelization program will be to determine where Catholic Native Americans are in the diocese, and to sit down with members of the community to learn their concerns and needs.

“We’re trying to bring Native Americans together, to bring them to the table so they have a voice and we can celebrate who they are and the gifts they offer to the church,” Merritt said.

She said the ethnic ministries office has identified 137 Native American Catholics in parishes around the state, but she is certain many more could be reached.

Funds will also be used to evangelize non-Catholic Native Americans.

“We’ve learned that some Native Americans have misconceptions about Catholics, and this is a real opportunity for people to really learn what Catholicism is all about, and for us to break down some of the myths,” she said.

Merritt will meet with St. Anne Sister Kateri Mitchell, executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference in Great Falls, Mont., in order to learn more about Native American culture and ideas for ministry to the community. Sister Kateri is a member of the Mohawk nation.

The conference is the only Catholic Native American/Aboriginal organization in North America, and represents 300 different tribes in the United States and Canada. It is named after Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, also known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” who is the conference patroness.

Sister Kateri will also be the spiritual leader at a women’s conference scheduled for Nov. 20 at the Hyatt Regency in Greenville.

The theme is “Who Am I?” and is sponsored by the Piedmont Deanery of the S.C. Conference of Catholic Women in cooperation with ethnic ministries. It will be funded by a grant from the Black and Indian Mission–Native American Evangelization.

Merritt said she is trying to develop a contact list of Native American Catholics in South Carolina. To participate, call (864) 242-2233 ext. 209.