Eighteen years ago, I arrived in North Dakota to begin my Aspirancy with the Society of Our Lady and to serve at St. Ann’s Mission to the Chippewa and Metis people of the Turtle Mountains. I had no idea what to expect, but I was amazed by the beauty of the mission. The native people welcomed us and shared their culture and unique blending of Native American and French traditions. The SOLT Family Ecclesial Team and the way the priests and sisters loved and served the people with such joy and a familial spirit had me falling in love with our SOLT community. There was another unique aspect to the mission and the team: the lay missionary volunteers who came with such enthusiasm, love, and generosity of spirit. They brought tremendous joy and witness to the people and to the team. The lay missionaries prayed, served, ate, and recreated with us.
Three years ago, when I was again assigned to serve in the Turtle Mountains, it felt like coming home. What a blessing to be back, but sadly there was a change in the atmosphere. Something seemed to be missing in our volunteer program. It had grown thin with only a couple of veteran volunteers holding the line during most of the year. During the summer we still had an amazing Summer Camp with many volunteers, but only a few could commit to a year of service. Several people remembered the “good old days” with affection and many were praying for a renewal of the Volunteer Program.
Our wonderful bishop, Bishop John Folda, instituted a Marian Year of Grace for the people of the Turtle Mountains from October 2019-October 2020, and during this time many people consecrated themselves to Our Lady. Sr. Caritas Sparke was sent by SOLT to help us renew the Volunteer Program. In the midst of the pandemic, God chose this time to send us the great gift of young people willing to serve. During the last week of the Marian Year our new volunteers began to arrive and there are now ten of them serving.
The volunteers’ first few weeks started with a retreat led by Sr. Caritas and Fr. Dave Brokke, SOLT. Deep friendships and a strong community were forged during that time of retreat, and this group is exceptional in their prayer, joy, and graced friendships. They are a tremendous blessing, serving in our Catholic school, development office, food pantry, youth ministry, Summer Camp preparations, and parish ministry.
The joy we experience and the friendships we have all formed are founded on our love of God and on our faith. So many different personalities and gifts, yet one family in Christ. I enjoy the time I get to spend with them and Fridays have become a favorite day in the convent as we serve with volunteers in St. Mary’s Mission Store, preparing toys for Christmas and cooking together. They radiate joy during this time when many are struggling with uncertainty and unbelief. They are a true witness of hope.
SR. MARYANN RICHWALD, SOLT