Archbishop’s ties to native people are appreciated

By Michelle Martin | Staff Writer
Sunday, November 16, 2014

Johnnie Jimenez holds sage during a Native American "Four Directions" prayer before a Feb. 26, 2012 Mass at the Kateri Center, 3938 N. Leavitt St. The city is home to more than 10,000 tribal people, Kateri Center staff say. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

When the director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Kateri Center learned of Archbishop Blase Cupich’s appointment, it was appropriate that she was at a Native American celebration.

“I was at a powwow when I first heard it, and it was the United Methodists who told me,” said Georgina Roy, an Ojibway. She was pleased to learn that when he was bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, he had ministered to indigenous people.

“I was glad that he knew, so we wouldn’t have to work so hard to introduce ourselves,” said Roy, who directs the center in a former convent at St. Benedict Parish, 3938 N. Leavitt St.

The difference is that in Chicago, the native Americans come from tribes from all over North America, and many have spent their entire lives in the city. The reality of “urban Indians” is often all but invisible, Roy said.

Of the Diocese of Rapid City, she said, “Someone said there were more buffalo than Catholics there.”

He might be surprised to learn that Chicago is home to more than 10,000 native tribal people. Thousands more are scattered across suburban Cook and Lake counties.

“We’re peppered everywhere, because people go where they can get a job,” she said

The Uptown area on the North Side of Chicago has the largest concentration of agencies and organizations that serve Native Americans. There are 14 agencies in the neighborhood, including the American Indian Center, which acts as a sort of umbrella gathering place for groups from different tribes.

The Kateri Center, founded as the Anawim Center in 1982, provides spiritual guidance for indigenous Catholics; scholarships for Catholic education and indigenous culture and heritage studies; and opportunities to continue ancestral wisdom and oral history.

“We are quite diverse in our own tribes,” Roy said. “We walk in balance with our Catholic ways and our traditional ways.”

The Kateri Center tries to help people hold onto those traditional ways and languages while practicing their Catholic faith and recently got a grant for a project to help its members write their own stories so they won’t be lost, Roy said.

Archbishop Cupich often incorporated Native American rites and customs into diocesan liturgies in the Diocese of Rapid City, according to Margaret Simonson, that diocese’s chancellor. The Diocese of Rapid City includes all or parts of five Native American reservations.

“He became immersed in the native culture,” Simonson said, and was honored by being given a Sioux name, “White Thunder.”

“That’s a real honor for a white person to be given a native name,” Simonson said.

Archbishop Cupich followed Archbishop Charles Chaput, himself a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe, as bishop of Rapid City, and Archbishop Chaput had focused on ministry to Native Americans as well, Simonson said.

The diocese has had an office for Native American ministry since Archbishop Chaput’s tenure.

Roy said that Kateri Center members seem pleased with Archbishop Cupich’s plans to live with humility among his people, and tie it to the example set by Pope Francis.

“It’s a rippling effect from the Holy Father,” she said. “He’s going to be the pastor first. He’s going to be with his people first.”

At the same time, they are sad to see Cardinal George step down. “But he deserves some peace,” Roy said.


  • cardinal blase j. cupich
  • native american

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