Our Native Catholic Community has been present in what is today the Diocese of San Bernardino since time immemorial. Our ancestors became the first Catholics of California in the 1700s. There are 15 local Indian reservations in our Diocese. Tribes indigenous to our Diocese include the Serrano, Cahuilla, Luiseno, Tongva, Southern Paiute, Halchidhoma, Chemehuevi, and Mohave. In more recent times American Indians from tribes throughout the United States and the Americas have come to live here also. There are Catholic missions located on seven of the Indian reservations located within our Diocese.
In 1994, Sister Marianna Torrano came to live at St Joseph Mission in Soboba. Since her arrival we have had five other religious sisters stationed at the reservation helping with various ministry initiatives, most notable among them, the establishment of St. Jude Mission School. The school continues to serve the children of the Soboba reservation with a Catholic education that emphasizes our Catholic faith and Native American culture. Sr. Marianna and Sister Adele Schroeder, RSCJ, continue to serve at the Soboba reservation today.
Father Earl Henley, a Missionary priest of the Sacred Heart, came to serve as Pastor/Chaplain to Native Americans in the year 2000 and continues to serve us in a very dedicated way. Much has grown in ministries at Indian Missions on the local reservations during his tenure and we have been blessed just this year to have Father Tom Burns, MSC, join him in this work.
Through the years our Bishops have always reached out to include the Native American Catholics in all of the Diocesan celebrations. Many of us have had the privilege of sharing in these Diocesan events representing the many Native peoples of our Diocese. We are always aware of our oneness in the Lord when we are able to share our Native American culture and faith with our fellow Catholics.
Bishop Barnes has made many visits to the Indian reservations and is well known and loved by the faithful in these places. We have also enjoyed many visits from Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Rutilio Del Riego and, before him, +Auxiliary Bishop Dennis O’Neil during the years of their ministries.
For the past two years we have benefited from a renewed Faith formation program at the Native American missions, which has been spearheaded by Deacon Andy Orozco. There have been many new baptisms, first communions, and confirmations due to the success of this program.
Moving into the future we look forward to the continuing growth of the Catholic faith among the Native peoples. We have a very rich Catholic heritage going back for more than two centuries. In all of our endeavors we keep in mind future generations of Native American Catholics who will continue to share the good news of our Catholic Christian faith for many generations to come.
Michael Madrigal is a member of the Cahuilla Band of Indians and President of the Native American Land Conservancy.