Eric Immel, 30, is a 2nd year novice. As part of his
Jesuit formation, he spent the last five months offering support in pastoral
and social ministry at St. Francis Mission which serves the Lakota Sioux on the
Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. In August he hopes to profess
First Vows and then he’ll continue his education and training for 8-10
more years. He shares the following reflection of his time on the Reservation.
four months, I’ve been offering a Communion service at the tribal elders’
living facility in Rosebud, South Dakota. The elders I visit are women of
a deep and lasting faith; their knowledge of the Catholic Church on the Rosebud
Indian Reservation is all-encompassing, they know and love the Jesuit priests
that have come and gone from these small towns and long roads, and they deeply
desire to continue growing in their love of Jesus Christ.
During one of these services, I discovered that many of these women have
friends and family buried in the cemetery near St. Charles Parish in St.
Francis, just seven miles down the road. Due to their fragile state,
however, they have not been able to visit graves for many years, and feared
that they might not get the chance again in this lifetime. And so, I
offered to take down the names of their loved ones, walk through the cemetery
myself (I had not yet visited it), and offer prayers at the graves on their
behalf. I saw it as a way to make their day, and to deepen the bond we
have been forging since I came to the Reservation in January.
When I arrived at the cemetery, however, I was immediately confronted by a
group of other visitors. They had been drinking, and waved me over. As I
approached, I was berated with a series of quick insults and criticisms of the
old Mission school, of the sex abuse scandal, of the state of the Church today,
and I was called a few nasty names. Looking for a way out, I redirected
by asking, “so, what brings you all to the cemetery today?”
“We’re visiting our kids that have passed,” one mother choked.
“Well, may I join you?
Such began one of the more remarkable afternoons of my time on the
Reservation. Together, this rag tag group of mourners moved slowly and
prayerfully among the tombstones, stopping to pray at the resting places of
those we knew. I stopped at the graves of their kids, grandparents, parents,
brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. They joined me at
the graves I promised I would visit not an hour before. It was an
afternoon of sadness, joy, peace, reconciliation, and reality.
As I look back on my discernment to come to the Reservation, I realize that
part of it rested in the fact that I would face great difficulty—the broken
homes, the addiction, the death, the poverty, the lack of hope that life on the
Reservation sometimes offers. I wanted to know that in spite of the
difficulty, I could maintain a desire to be a Jesuit. What I have come to
realize, though, is that my vocation hasn’t been strengthened “in spite” of
anything—from this or any other novitiate experiment. It has been strengthened
because of it all. In considering the vows, I can look back to thousands
of moments, places, and faces, and say with certainty that I desire to proceed.