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Sister leaving St. Stephen's Indian Mission after 34 years of service

Nov 29, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Sister Florence Petsch, a longtime resident of the Wind River Indian Reservation, will no longer be able to serve the patrons of St. Stephen's Indian Mission. The 82-year-old woman was called to continue her religious duties with the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in Tacoma, Wash., said The Rev. Father Phil Wagner of St. Stephen's.

Petsch, who served as a pastoral assistant, said the news came as a surprise to her, and she will miss serving her community as she did by visiting the sick at home or in hospitals, teaching religious classes, laundering church linens, leading rosaries at wakes and comforting the hearts of family members who suffered the death of a loved one.

Petsch said she was most concerned with the usual visits she gave to residents on the reservation and others who lived farther away.

"I thought, 'What in the world are people going to do for communion?'" she said.

Her service with St. Stephen's and reservation residents stretched 34 years, and she was a respected figure to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal members. Sister Edith Johnson said she was unhappy with the news but valued the work her sister has done in the community.

"I feel sorry for all the people she serves," Johnson wrote in a letter to the Wind River News. "They will not get that service anymore."

Petsch made the cover of the 2011 edition of Good News, a publication of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. Petsch expressed her comfort in providing words of encouragement to others and inviting them to praise the word of God. Her ministerial duties in Washington won't be as active as they were on the reservation, Wagner said, but her presence with her sisters will remain vital.

"I wish her nothing but the best," he said.

New father

St. Stephen's finally has an assigned father, as the Diocese of Cheyenne had struggled to find a permanent priest. Jesuits were present at St. Stephen's for several years, until most recently the foundation rotated priests on the weekends for several months. Five months ago, Wagner filled the hole at the parish that depends fully on donations.

"We're trying to do what we can with a tight budget," Wagner said, adding that repairs are scheduled to be done to their facilities for improvement and upgrading purposes.

Wagner also has served as a priest in other American Indian reservations and said he hopes to continue bringing people to God at St. Stephen's.

Before, Wagner said, churches such as St. Stephen's had three to four priests but now most are lucky if they find one. The Catholic foundations in Wyoming operate under the Diocese in Cheyenne.

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