The Irish priest who lost his parish in South Dakota because of a messy green card snafu was told in January he could return to work on a fill-in basis until the summer. Father Cathal Gallagher, a native of Co. Donegal, was a priest in the De Smet, Iroquois and Arlington parish for more than 10 years. He was told last spring that he was to leave the country after a number of paperwork errors held up his application for permanent residency, making the priest undocumented. After months of pursuing his case, with the help of local De Smet parishioners, Gallagher was granted a green card at the last minute on July 18 of last year. However, Bishop Paul Swain of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls had already replaced Gallagher with Father Shane Stevens, leaving the Donegal priest with no parish. Since he received his green card, Gallagher has been back and forth to Ireland spending time with family. While in the U.S. he has been helping a priest friend at Rochester in Minnesota. Gallagher, who was in Minnesota on Tuesday, told the Irish Voice that he was delighted when the bishop offered him an opportunity to return to South Dakota in January and the option of a permanent parish on July 1, the day the diocese distributes its annual assignments. "The bishop called me before Christmas and said there may be a new assignment for me in January, but he said the only places open were in problem situations like a death of a priest or an emergency situation," said Gallagher. Agreeing that these wouldn't be the best assignments, Gallagher told Swain he would wait until July to be assigned a parish. "Lots of priests' terms will be up, so looking at the bigger picture I said I'd wait, and in the mean time I would do temporary assignments where I am needed." It's the temporary assignments that Gallagher really enjoys. "I'm a wanderer and I really like it," he said. Wednesday, for example, Gallagher's services will be required in St. Charles, Minnesota, and on Thursday he has another assignment in another town. "It's a good opportunity to get to know the other places. I'm not someone who likes to be settled in places for a long time, sure I'll be settled long enough," he said. "I don't have to be lord of the manor. Let me wander," Gallagher told Swain. The bishop informed every priest in Kingsbury County that Gallagher is able to replace them for a short period if they need time off. Gallagher said he is "more than happy" to act as a fill in until he receives a more permanent post in July. "I know from my time in De Smet that it's impossible to get time off. Unlike a lot of places there may be no priest nearby, and if there was then they are probably too busy to cover anyway," he said. Gallagher, during his tenure in De Smet, said he would do his best to get the first Sunday after the New Year off but he added, "It rarely happened." Enjoying his wanderings, Gallagher said he is especially looking forward to St. Patrick's Day when he will attend a big fundraiser in a South Dakota town organized by a school. "I will speak at the school and I am looking forward to it," he said. "You see, I could be doing anything from saying mass to prayers to speeches." On returning to South Dakota full time in July, Gallagher said it is "everything I ever wanted." "I had plenty of time to think. I am not 26 anymore, so I looked at my options back in the summer. Would I go back to Japan, or maybe Ireland or would I like to remain in South Dakota," he said. Gallagher said without question the answer was clear. He wanted to remain in South Dakota. "I think the biggest factor in my decision was not spiritual. It was because of what the great people of South Dakota did for me," he said. "They knew there was nothing in it for them, yet they still rallied and prayed hard for me, they lobbied hard and pulled every string that was to be pulled. "I'd never been at the receiving end so that really touched me. I had really never seen anything like that in my life." Gallagher has only been back to the parish of De Smet once since he was replaced, but he said it was very memorable. He had an opportunity to speak at an event that Senator Tim Johnson attended, one of the politicians who was influential in helping Gallagher obtain his green card, in September. Gallagher publicly told his former parishioners how much their work on his green card situation really meant to him. For now Gallagher will remain a wanderer, but he is looking forward to July when he will be settled again.
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