Sister Barbara Bogenschutz, OP
Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota
“Where I am, is where I am supposed to be.” Discover how one Catholic sister became a beacon of hope for those in need.
Picking up hitchhikers isn't in most job descriptions. But Sister Barbara Bogenschutz's job is more than just a position; it's a calling.
In the vast landscape of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, it is impossible to get around without a vehicle. So when she is driving, she often sees people looking for a ride and stops to pick them up.
“I know they don’t have cars or transportation, so they're walking and they rely on people to help them,” she said. “They appreciate it.”
As the parish life coordinator at Our Lady of the Sioux church, Sister Barbara Bogenschutz, OP handles the multitude of responsibilities that most would expect from that title: overseeing weekly Mass and first communions, taking care of the finances, and helping with religious education. She also takes on less predictable duties; she organizes funerals, delivers food, and helps people access clean water.
After years of building trust and relationships among the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, she has become the go-to woman for many of their greatest needs.
A member of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, Sister Barbara maintains a service-oriented worldview that embodies the order’s values of community, prayer and spirituality. She spent 17 years teaching in Catholic elementary schools before ministering at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana and Red Cliff Indian Reservation in Wisconsin. In 2010, she answered the call to serve among the Lakota.
When she arrived, she found a community that needed help with basic physical needs as well as spiritual. In a town with a population of about 1,500 who endure a 60 percent poverty rate, many people experience food insecurity and do not have electricity, sewage systems, or clean, running water.
As she developed her ministry around this understanding, Sister Barbara began transforming the parish into a social services center as well as a sacramental center.
She installed a water pipe in front of the church that allows anyone to access free, clean water, day or night.
This clean water is life-changing for the many residents who lack it either permanently because of inadequate infrastructure or seasonally when pipes freeze.
She organizes a food bag distribution once a month. She also raises funds to help people with utilities payments to heat their homes.
As the principal manager for four Catholic cemeteries on the reservations, she maintains a busy funeral ministry that is open to everyone, regardless of their religion. This involves managing about 40 wakes, funerals and memorial services each year—events that are always unexpected and require patience and compassion while tending to the families.
“I try to make the rosary or the reflection I give at the wakes and funerals to be about the person,” she said. “I listen to the people talk about the person they love and bring that in so they can hear their words echoed back to them.”
Services are held in the parish hall, built with the help of Catholic Extension donors in 2000.
She helps people with common problems of everyday life such as figuring out transportation plans during community events. People come to the church to ask for a ride, knowing that if she can help, she will.
In the summer of 2018, a severe hail storm swept through Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, damaging hundreds of homes and leaving an already impoverished community in shock.
Sister Barbara recognized that homes were going unrepaired, a big problem for the coming winter. She collaborated with charities and the Oglala Sioux Tribe authorities to repair roofs, windows, and siding on homes.
Photo: Catholic Social Services
“She's out there raising money, nailing down boards, hiring local people to do the work. She's been the principal organizer of all that,” said Fr. Daoust, a sacramental minister at Our Lady of the Sioux.
In addition to these many responsibilities, she has been active in promoting the cause for canonization of Nicholas Black Elk, a revered Lakota holy man who built the Catholic faith in harmony with native traditions.
In June 2019, she attended a Mass celebrating the successful completion of the diocesan phase of the beautification and canonization process. She continues to assist this growing effort.
Although her days are filled with unpredictability, Sister Barbara remains sure of herself and her place in God’s plan. She has a mantra that guides her:
“Where I am, is where I am supposed to be.”
The Lumen Christi Award is proudly presented by Catholic Extension, a non-profit that
provides grants to build the Catholic faith in the poorest areas of the United States.