International Gathering Fêtes 100 Years of SCJ Ministry in the United States

Posted on: July 31, 2023

(Lower Brule, S.D.) Priests and brothers of the Sacred Heart (SCJs) from around the world gathered at St. Mary’s Parish on Sunday, July 30, to celebrate the beginning of their ministry in the United States one hundred years ago. Countries represented included Poland, Cameroon, DR Congo, the Philippines, Indonesia, Italy and Germany.

Fr. Stefan Tertünte, SCJ, provincial superior of the German Province, gave the homily. Fr. Vien Nguyen, SCJ, provincial superior of the United States, celebrated the liturgy. The German Province is the mother province of the SCJs in the United States. Fr. Mathias Fohrman, an SCJ from the German Province, first celebrated Mass at St. Mary’s in 1923. The parish had been entrusted to the Priests of the Sacred Heart by the bishop of the then diocese of Lead, S.D.

The current pastoral team in Lower Brule includes Fr. Christianus Hendrik, SCJ, originally from Indonesia, and Fr. Jean Claude Mbassi, SCJ, who is from Cameroon. Fr. Hendrik was not only one of the primary organizers of the celebration but also its emcee and cantor.

The celebration began with azilya, the Lakota smudge ceremony, and included drumming, dancing and a Lakota honor song. “I am still under the impression of the smudging ceremony,” said Fr. Stefan as he began his homily. “It was very beautiful and confirmed my conviction that whenever I go to other countries or cultures … it is an absolute opportunity to learn how others try to live, try to believe; it is enriching and broadens the horizon. Thank you for that.”

“Similar, yet quite different, was the situation of the confreres who began the ministry in Lower Brule 100 years ago,” Fr. Stephan continued. Fr. Fohrman and the first Sacred Heart priests had no training and preparation for this, no course in cross-cultural training or mission theology studies. They knew almost nothing about Native Americans.

“But maybe their hearts were somewhat prepared. That’s what comes to my mind if I think of these beginnings here in Lower Brule and of the first reading we’ve just heard of what Solomon asks for and what God grants him – a  listening heart, an understanding heart so that you may know what is right.”

One hundred years ago, the SCJ ministry in the United States was centered around that small parish in Lower Brule. Within four years, the SCJs opened St. Joseph’s Indian School. Today the SCJ ministry in the United States extends from South Dakota to Wisconsin, Mississippi, Texas and Florida. And like the crowd gathered this past weekend, it reaches across ethnic, social and economic lines.



The Priests of the Sacred Heart is an international religious community of priests and brothers located in more than 40 countries on five continents. Founded in France by Fr. Leo John Dehon, the order is now based in Rome.