Xavier Magazine

Profile: Sister Marie Rose Messingschlager

Sister Marie Rose Messingschlager Master of Education in remedial reading, 1973 Director of Indian Ministry, Diocese of Duluth, Minn.


Sacred Circle | Sister Rose believes Native American spirituality and Catholicism have many similarities, as represented by the Native American Sacred Circle. “It has no beginning and no end. All of God’s creations are on the circle—the plant world, the animal world, humans, rocks. We owe it respect. There are no hierarchical points on the circle. No one is ahead of anybody else.”

Farm Girl | Growing up on a small farm in Independence, Ky., seasoned her for her life’s vocation as a missionary to Native Americans. Since earning a master’s in pastoral missiology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, she’s been living with, teaching and serving the residents of reservations in New Mexico, South Dakota and Minnesota.

Soft Spot | Her parents first taught her about how the Indians were mistreated. Most of her college research papers were about Indians. She loved their spirituality and their identification with animals, such as the owl and eagle, still the sacred bird because it soars the highest and takes their prayers to God.

Divine Calling | “My sister was already in the convent, and I fought that voice inside me to follow her, but when I was in college, one Easter, it just hit. My interest was in helping people, and this just seemed the natural thing to do.”

Native Ways | After becoming a teacher and principal in Kentucky, Sister Rose worked summers with the Navajo. She asked to go full-time. “I wanted to learn more about them and their simple lifestyle, which was like my farm girl-ness and closeness to nature and seeing God in all of creation.”

Wounded Hearts | The saddest place for her was Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux reservation. She was there nine years. “The little village is trying to rebound since the occupancy movement of the early 1970s. There isn’t much there.”

Go East | In 1993, the Duluth diocese hired her to start a department of Indian ministry. She oversees the Catholic ministry for the Anishinabe tribe on five reservations spread across 22,354 square miles. Anishinabe simply means “The People.”

The People | “It was an area of fur traders and trappers and the iron range, so there was a lot of intermarrying. So when I do education about Indian culture and show symbols of their culture and Catholicism, I see we’re more alike than different.”

Closure | Sister Rose helps the priests and organizes educational programs and lay ministries. A favorite project was creating Kateri prayer circles named after the Mohawk woman now blessed in the church. “I’ve received more from our Indians than I’ve given them. The gift is tying it all together. I’ve left a piece of my heart in each place.”

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