Br. Andrew Stettler, OFM
There are certain aspects of his Franciscan vocation that are a given for Andrew Stettler, in particular meeting people where they are in terms of their spirituality and relationship with God, going where he is called and the opportunity to step outside of his own comfort zone regarding ministry.
He eagerly embraced the chance to teach at St. Michael’s Indian School, a community of more than 364 students in preschool through the 12th grade, located near the Navajo Reservation in Saint Michaels, Ariz., starting this academic year. “One reason I joined the friars was to be with different people of different backgrounds and cultures, to learn from them, to have experiences that take me outside of myself,” Andrew said.
His previous ministry experiences, which include adult faith formation, serving as supervisor of transitional housing for the Christian Service Program in Shreveport, La., and as pastoral associate at St. Mary of the Angels in New Orleans, exposed Andrew to a “real cross-section of people. Whatever environment I’m in, I try to be respectful of the people and build rapport with them over time,” he said.
Andrew currently teaches 10th, 11th and 12th grade religion, some 96 students in seven classes, with approximately one third of the young people taking advantage of virtual learning, something that has become optional as result of the pandemic. “The kids are very engaging and very polite,” he said. “My goal is to help them feel and experience their spirituality in whatever way I can and to appreciate the sacredness of life. I want them to feel their faith and understand what they are saying ‘yes’ to as they go from young adults to adults.”
COVID-19 has hit the Navajo Nation especially hard, and between lockdowns, limited social opportunities and lower Mass attendance, Andrew acknowledged it’s been challenge thus far to come to know the people and their culture as much as he would like. “The Navajo people are still taking a lot of precautions and being very cautious about things,” he said. “It’s a very close knit community.”
While somewhat isolated, Andrew said, “This is beautiful country and the pace of life is very different here. It’s very calming and easy to feel connected with God when you are also connected with the earth.”
He deeply appreciates the missionary spirit of the SJB friars, including Blane Grein, who continues to serve the Navajo Nation, and embraces living and ministering with the Southwest Franciscans, whom he describes as “friars with big hearts, who are very engaged with the people.”
Most rewarding for Andrew is simply being with the students and experiencing their energy and optimism. “They really are the future, so I want to affirm them and give them a voice. I tell them, ‘Life is good. Life is a gift, and it can be even better if you appreciate the sacredness of it.”