Father Jerry Rogers
Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota
Father Jerry Rogers is originally from Springfield, Ill., and was ordained in 1976 after attending the Theological College at Catholic University. He has a unique priesthood experience. He began as an associate at Sacred Heart in East Grand Forks, Minnesota where he was extremely involved in campus ministry and built a development office to support the struggling school. From there, he went to Zambia, Africa for three years to complete his life-long dream of being a missionary. After completing his work in Africa, he returned to the Diocese of Crookston to serve as the pastor at Holy Rosary Parish in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota for 15 years.
He has now been at St. Mary’s Mission in Red Lake, Minn. for more than a decade. St. Mary’s is a parish and Catholic school located at the heart of Red Lake Nation, one of the two closed reservations in the United States, meaning the area has been able to maintain legal status as a sovereign nation. The reservation is communally owned by the Chippewa.
Red Lake Nation is one of the poorest regions in the country. The Catholic Church has been on the reservation sine 1858, and Red Lake Mission was on the brink of being shut down when Father Jerry took over in 2009. Its culture has been characterized by crime and fractured families for decades. Most residents were not baptized and Catholic rituals did not always resonate with the natives.
Despite their differences, Catholics and the Ojibwa share a mutual respect for the sacredness of life, and Father Jerry understood that he must seek that shared value as a common ground to change things around. His mission focused on the offering of friendship with Jesus Christ so the native people are naturally drawn to it out of trust and mutual respect, not a mission of strict conversion. His natural skills of understanding and compassion has led him to successfully navigate the tricky historical territory of Red Lake Nation. He has grown the faith by living it and being a witness to Christianity and Catholicism.
Since being on the reservation, Father Jerry has doubled the enrollment of the Catholic school and raised the academic standards to an unprecedented level of excellence. He has also added an instructive toddler daycare, Baby Space, which was created to begin educating children at an earlier age to ensure they would be prepared to take on the challenges of school. The Catholic school is valued by the native people because the children are safe and learning non-violent values from a faith-based and dedicated teaching staff. The children learn and grow the faith for Father Jerry by taking their lessons home and spreading it to their caregivers and the rest of the community.
Mass attendance and lay ministries have grown, and the hospitality of the mission has become immense. In addition to all his work, Father Jerry also runs a food shelf and thrift store and offers micro-loans for gas and utilities to several natives. Father Jerry Rogers exemplifies what it means to be Catholic—being universal, loving and serving our brothers and sisters of all races and cultures.