Father Emmett Hoffmann

Father Emmett Hoffmann (1926-2013) was born in Wisconsin in 1926 and was raised on a farm. At the age of 27, he was ordained a Capuchin priest at St. Mary’s Church. His first parish assignment was in St. Labre Mission in Montana, a school for the Northern Cheyenne that was on the verge of closing due to a lack of funding.

Despite growing up during the Great Depression of the 1930s, he was unprepared for the impoverished conditions he found on the reservation. Families lived in tents and dilapidated cabins, many suffering from malnourishment and drinking from contaminated wells. The weather was extreme, dipping well below zero in winter and burning hot in the long summer months.

Father Emmett shared his experience with his first spring on the reservation, including his first experience with “Gumbo Mud“.

Saving St. Labre

After just a year in Montana, Father Emmett became the Executive Director of St. Labre Indian School and Superintendent of Schools. Knowing that funds would be needed to save the failing schools, he organized what would become the first of many fundraising campaigns. In the coming years, many generous and compassionate people responded to Father’s appeal letters from, “Your beggar friend.”

Under his direction, St. Labre Indian School went from a few condemned buildings with less than 100 students to one of the finest modern Indian schools in the nation with an enrollment of 700 students in three schools.

With help from donors, he also led the building of a factory, helped to found three industries to employ reservation residents and oversaw the rebuilding of a sawmill. He facilitated the construction of dozens of homes, three churches, three schools, and five homes for neglected and abused children. Funds he raised also led to the creation of Dull Knife Memorial College. Through his faithful endeavors, thousands of Native American children were able to receive a quality education and go on to attend college.

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Father Emmett Becomes an Honorary Chief

It is customary for priests to be transferred to different parishes throughout their ministry; however, Father Emmett declined all transfers. The Cheyenne people had such love for Father Emmett that they signed petitions to prevent transfer. They also made him an Honorary Chief of the Northern Cheyenne Council of 44, one of only two white men in history to attain that honor at that time.

Father Emmett passed away in 2013. While never wealthy as to the things of this world, his legacy is an astounding one. His life’s work and tireless advocacy on behalf of the Northern Cheyenne ensured they would never again be forgotten.

Learn more about Father Emmett by purchasing his biography, Renegade Priest of the Northern Cheyenne. All proceeds from the book go to support Soaring Eagle Charity.

Saying Goodbye to a Legend

It can be said that Father Emmett Hoffmann sacrificed nearly
60 years of his life to the Northern Cheyenne people. His humanitarian achievements on behalf of the tribe stand unequaled in the history of the Catholic Church in the 20th and 21st centuries of the American West.

February 1, 2013, Father Emmett Hoffmann passed peacefully on to the next camp to join the old chiefs of the Cheyenne who had been his beloved mentors. We honor Father Emmett as a fundraising pioneer and a true advocate for the Northern Cheyenne. The entire course of his life was devoted to God, to humanitarian justice and to the grace of giving to the poor. We have traced his memory in our hearts.

Renegade Priest

Learn more about Father Emmett by purchasing his biography by Renee Sansom Flood that tells Father Emmett’s story and his 1954 post to St. Labre Mission in Montana with many obstacles that stood in the way of his vow to educate Cheyenne and Crow children.

All proceeds benefit Soaring Eagle and the Heritage Living Center.

Soaring Eagle is a 501(c)(3) organization unaffiliated with any tribe or religion, and we receive no federal funding. We depend solely on the support of generous donors who share our vision and our commitment to honoring Native American history and heritage.