By Jonni Joyce
St. Francis Mission Among the Lakota welcomes Father Edmund Lunghar as their new parish priest. Father Ed, as he is called, comes to St. Francis Mission after spending seven years serving as an associate pastor on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Originally from the Kohima region of India, Father Ed will oversee the four catholic churches on the Rosebud Reservation, St. Charles Borromeo Parish, St. Agnes Parish, St. Bridget’s Parish and St. Thomas Parish.
His road to the priesthood was greatly influenced by his grandfather’s story. Early in his grandfather’s life, evangelical Baptists came to their village. Influenced by their message, his grandfather became a Baptist and served as a Baptist pastor for the village. Later, Catholic missionaries from Italy came to the village.
“Grandfather was curious and he had a good heart,” said Father Ed. His grandfather listened to the Catholic missionaries and was so impressed, he converted to Catholicism.
“I grew up hearing his testimony,” said Father Ed. “After listening to the priest, he was so convinced this was the faith the bible was talking about. He was a very veracious bible reader.”
The conversion to Catholicism surprised everyone. Even though this conversion upset the village, his grandfather persevered.
“He had chosen this new faith out of conviction,” said Father Ed. “He was ready to face all the consequences.”
It took about a year but finally his closest family members converted to Catholicism. His grandfather would tell bible stories and missionary stories and how he was converted to Father Ed and his friends.
“I was fascinated by his stories” said Father Ed about his childhood.
Father Ed would use tea and cookies at home to replicate what he had seen and experienced at mass. He knew by high school he wanted to be a priest. His fascination lead to him entering the seminary at age 18 to study to become a Jesuit Priest. It took him thirteen years to complete.
“In the first two years, we limit the connection to the outside world,” said Father Ed.
A great amount of time is spent in prayer. It is a time of discernment. There is a 30 day retreat of intense prayer and spiritual exercises. At least a month is spent serving the sick in the hospitals. There is a one or two week spiritual walk where you must learn to trust in the providence of God. You have nothing and must beg for food and shelter. You must move after a day as you are a pilgrim. You study the Jesuit Order and Constitution. There are undergraduate studies and Master Degree studies. Father Ed spent two years teaching in an academic school during this time and then went for his theological studies. He earned a Masters of Arts in Philosophy and Political Science, speaks seven different languages, and is pursuing a Master of Arts in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University, in Omaha, Neb.
One of his goals is to learn the Lakota language.
“We are encouraged to learn other languages,” said Father Ed. “You learn that every culture is beautiful.”
Father Ed has a deep relationship with the creator and sees his role is to help the community grow in their faith.
‘God is in our lives,” said Father Ed. “Silence is not absence. God is there.”
“Irrespective of what faith or spirituality we practice, we cannot forget God in our lives,” said Father Ed.
“In times of doubt, we are to pray all the more,” said Father Ed.
Father Ed’s upbringing was in the tribal communities of India. This experience gives him a profound belief in the importance of families. Faith formation and family rebuilding in the community will be one of his priority.
“I know how important family is,” said Father Ed. “The entire reservation is my community.”
Father Ed wants to visit homes and families and help to foster family ties.
“I know for sure if families are strengthened, that’s where the real magic is,” said Father Ed.
“Children need to grow up in a loving environment,” said Father Ed.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Father Ed. “I feel this is a big blessing. I want to be a blessing to our people. My ministry is not limited to the church. We are all related. We are all part of the community and I want to be a blessing to my Oyate. I look forward to walking with them.”
“All of our people, take our prayer life and spiritual life very seriously,” said Father Ed. “Our ancestors were very prayerful people.”
Father Ed then quoted Nicholas Black Elk: “Let every step that you take be a prayer.”
St. Francis Mission is a ministry of the of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) among the 20,000 Lakota (Sioux) people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota. It is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1886. The purpose of the Mission is to re-evangelize Catholic Lakota people and bring the Gospel of Jesus the Christ to those who have not heard it. The mission respects the traditions of the Lakota people as they collaborate with them to meet the spiritual, educational, social, and physical needs of the community.