FORT YATES – Four religious sisters from the Congregation of Teresian Carmelites (Kerala, India) are now serving the people of the Bismarck Diocese’s Catholic Indian Mission on the Standing Rock Indian reservation in south-central N.D, marking the order’s first foundation in the United States.
The sisters—whose home in southern India is nearly 8,500 miles from Fort Yates—come to the diocese by the invitation of Bismarck Bishop David Kagan as missionaries to assist Fr. Basil Atwell, OSB, Fr. John Paul Gardner and the parishes in Sioux County. The sisters will also teach at the St. Bernard Mission School in Fort Yates.
Fr. Biju Chitteth, an Indian-born priest serving in western N.D. who knew the congregation and their Mother General (Mother Liza), made the connection. Oncethe priests at Fort Yates learned that the School Sisters of Notre Dame would soon be phasing out of ministry on the reservation, the sisters from India proved to be the perfect fit.
During Mass on Feb. 22 at the Church of St. Peter in Chains in Fort Yates, Mother Liza read aloud the establishment letter in the presence of Bishop Kagan, formally founding the order’s presence in the U.S. The order was first founded in India in 1866.
In his homily, Bishop Kagan especially noted the importance of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience that the sisters take.
“To have consecrated religious men and women in our midst is not only a tremendous blessing to us, it is a necessity for all of us because they stand as living reminders of what you, I, and every single person who is baptized is called to do in our vocations: to live the poverty of Jesus, to be truly chaste (not just in word, but in fact), and to be obedient to Christ,” he said.
“This begins a real new historical chapter in the life of the Catholic Indian Mission and the people the mission serves,” commented Atwell, a Benedictine priest who has served on the reservation since 2009. He also noted that the new foundation marks the first time Teresian Carmelites will live and serve in the entire western hemisphere.
The sisters have moved into the convent on the property of the Church of St. Peter in Fort Yates (which has been re-named St. Bernard’s Carmel Convent) and have a long-term commitment to remain in the diocese. According to Bishop Kagan, the order is very interested in bringing more sisters to western N.D., making it a “permanent and stable” location for future foundations in other cities.
“As I raise my heart in thanksgiving to God almighty, I’d like to state that this will be an ever-memorable moment in the history of our congregation of Teresian Carmelites, as we enter, as missionaries, to the United States of America for the first time,” commented Sister Liza, adding that her heart was “filled with joy and gratitude to God.”
“I would like to extend our sincere thanks on behalf of the whole congregation to Bishop Kagan for inviting us to come and render our service in his diocese,” she said.
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