The Montana Capuchins
Ministering with the Crow and Northern Cheyenne
“Serve Jesus crucified in every person who is marginalized.”
Pope Francis, homily to Cardinals of the Church, Febraury 15, 2015
St. Labre Parish in Ashland, Montana
The Capuchin charism of joyfully accompanying those living on the margins of society is rooted in the Gospel as witnessed by St. Francis of Assisi. This ministry of accompaniment can be seen in southern Montana, where eight Capuchin friars minister on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations. These tribal lands make up an area larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
The Montana Capuchins work to share peace, hope, and a chance for a brighter future to the people they serve.
The tabernacle at St. Charles Parish in Pryor, Montana
Capuchin friars have been working on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation since 1926, though the mission began there in the late 1800s by a lone Jesuit priest traveling on horseback. Centered in Ashland, Montana at St. Labre Parish and School, the friars also serve the Catholic communities at Lame Deer, Busby, and the surrounding area.
In the 1960s, the Capuchin ministry presence expanded to care for the parishes on the nearby Crow Reservation. These include St. Charles in Pryor, St. Dennis in Crow Agency, St. Xavier Mission, Our Lady of Loretto in Lodge Grass and St. Kateri Tekakwitha Mission in Wyola. The friars also serve at the various schools of the St. Labre System: St. Labre (High School, Middle School, Elementary School) in Ashland, St. Charles Elementary at Pryor, and Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy in St. Xavier.
Br. Mark Joseph Costello, OFM Cap. celebrates outdoor Mass in Lodge Grass, Montana
Today, Capuchins serve as pastors of these parishes, administering the sacraments and providing for the spiritual and material needs of the people. The Province of St. Joseph has re-committed to ministry among the Crow and Northern Cheyenne. In 2015, new friars were assigned to minister in Montana, as senior friars enter retirement.
The friars have adapted a pastoral approach that is well-suited to the unique challenges of life on the remote reservations of Montana. Substance use disorders are common on the reservations, and with it, many social problems that contribute to the sufferings of the people. Being present to those who are recovering or struggling is one of the many ways that the Capuchin friars seek to find healing and wholeness for the people. The rich cultural traditions of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne enhance worship and life in this setting.
Our main church on the Crow Reservation is St. Dennis in a town called Crow Agency, which is a welcoming community that is really the heart of hope on the reservation. It is home to vitally important religious education, literacy, and summer programs for children. It is a refuge for children whose families are broken. It offers space for Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs. It is a place where major life events on the reservation — weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals — are celebrated. And of course, St. Dennis and all the churches on both reservations are Catholic parishes where Mass and the sacraments are celebrated, bringing Christ’s love to every willing heart.
“Rebuild my Church”
Br. Tien Dinh, OFM Cap. celebrates Mass at St. Dennis Parish in Crow Agency, Montana
The Capuchin Province of St. Joseph has recommitted itself to serve the Crow and Northern Cheyenne into the future. In support of this, the Capuchins are in the midst of capital projects at St. Dennis in Crow Agency and at St. Xavier Mission. At St. Dennis, the Capuchins are in the process of building a new ADA-accessible community center to replace the aging parish hall. This new community center will provide a warm, friendly space for parishioners, as well as the wider Crow community, to gather.
The old St. Dennis Parish Hall
Also on the Crow reservation, St. Xavier started as a simple wood-frame church built in 1888 with funds raised by St. Katherine Drexel. The Capuchins are in the process of raising funds for a painstaking restoration of the church to ensure it continues to serve future generations of Crow families.
Capuchin community life in Montana
Clockwise from bottom-left: Br. Mark Joseph Costello, Br. Jerry Cornish, Br. Bill Frigo and Br. Tien Dinh sharing a meal
Living in community is part of being a Capuchin friar. The friars in Montana combine their unique gifts, complementing one other’s talents and aptitudes, to provide spiritual care to the people of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations. The friars come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and are of various ages and personalities. For the Capuchins, living together in community, sharing in meals and prayer, is a source of stability and joy, allowing the friars to face challenges and meet the needs of the people of God. In this way, the Capuchins live out the Gospel teaching: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).