Diocesan Youth Rally

West River Catholic: July 2017

Enjoy the July edition of the West River Catholic

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Tekakwitha Conference — A Condensed History

1656-1680 Kateri Tekakwitha (Mohawk-Algonquin, 1656-1680) lived a holy life in the Mohawk Nation of New York and later in Quebec, Canada. Soon after her death, devotions were initiated by local Indian and non-Indian Catholics who had known her. In 1676 she was baptized Catherine after St. Catherine of Siena, also a mystic. The next year, three Mohawk catechists from La Prairie (Quebec) visited the Mohawk Nation and took Kateri with them on their return home. In Canada, her feast day became the anniversary of her death (Apr. 17) whereas in the United States, it became the anniversary of her flight to Canada (Jul. 14).

1884 At the Third Plenary Council at Baltimore, the U.S. bishops signed the postulation brief to introduce the canonization causes to Rome for the Jesuit martyrs and St. Kateri

Tekakwitha. (Her cause was separated later)

1885 From Jan. to Apr. in Canada and the United States, 906 native people supported St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization cause by signing letters of endorsement. The signers included Charles F. Finkbonner (Lummi ancestor of Jake Finkbonner — see 2006 entry), the holy man Black Elk (Oglala; baptized 1904), and over 150 Lakota people from present-day North and South Dakota. These letters were added to the postulation brief, which the Vatican published with signatures in 1916.

1891-1900 Congregation of American Sisters: Under the leadership of Mother M. Catherine Sacred White Buffalo (Hunkpapa) and Rev. Francis M. Craft (Mohawk), several Hunkpapa women from the Standing Rock Reservation founded a religious community inspired by Blessed Kateri. … four of the American Sisters served as nurses in the U.S. Army in Cuba and reportedly they were the first American Indian women to serve officially in the Armed Forces   of the United States.

1931 Since the Congregation of Rites had separated St. Kateri’s cause from that of the Jesuit martyrs, her cause was reintroduced and a postulator was appointed.

1930s Native Catholics awareness of Kateri Tekakwitha grew through books, sodalities, and school plays.

1939 1st Annual Meeting, Fargo, N.D.: Oct. 4-5. Topics: Purpose of conference, native language usage, and Catholic schools. 27 clergy and three native lay Catholics from Minn., N.D., and S.D. convened at the invitation of Bishop Aloysius Muench. Pope Pius XII declared

Catherine (Kateri) Tekakwitha a “Heroic venerable Servant of God” the first of three steps

towards canonization (formal recognition) as a saint.


1946 7th Annual Meeting, S. D. Immaculate Conception Mission, Oct. 7-9.Topics: Catholic schools, native vocations, and Catholic life on reservations.

l 1948 9th Annual Meeting, Marty, S. D.: St. Paul Mission, Oct. 4-6.

Topics: Catholic life on reservations and movement of families to off-reservation towns.


1950 11th Annual Meeting, Stephan, S.D.: Oct. 10-11. Topics: Catholic schools 1956 17th Annual Meeting, Chamberlain, S.D.: St. Joseph’s School, Oct. 8-10. Theme: Social Order and the Indian. Guest speakers: Dr. Ben Reifel (Brule) and Robert Bennett, both of the

Bureau of Indian Affairs.


1957 18th Annual Meeting, Rapid City, S.D.: Mother Butler Center, Sept. 23-25. Topics: Catholic schools, youth and urban adjustment with reports from Los Angeles, Rapid City, Salt Lake City, and elsewhere. 38 attendees.

1964 25th Annual Meeting, Chamberlain, S.D.: St. Joseph’s School, Aug. 10-13.Topics: Catechetics and liturgy on the reservation and at reservation schools. 39 attendees from 14 states.

1965 26th Annual Meeting, Marvin, S.D.: Blue Cloud Abbey, Aug. 9-11. By 1965, native clergy such as Reverend John J. Brown, S.J. (Siksika [Blackfeet]), were members of the conference.

1967 28th Annual Meeting, St. Norbert, Manitoba, Canada: Villa Marie Retreat House, Aug. 7-9. Topics: mission of church, effective evangelization, liturgical adaptation with the sacred pipe and problems of alcoholism. This was the first meeting held in Canada and the first to involve Canadian scholars and missionaries.

1969 30th Annual Meeting, Marvin, S.D.: Blue Cloud Abbey, August 4-6. Theme: The New Indian Generation. Topics: “Red power” with discussions led by Br. Edward M. Red Owl, OSB. The

Tekakwitha Conference reorganized its governance with the position of Executive Secretary as the principal office. The conference’s first newsletter was distributed.

1971 32nd Annual Meeting, Pine Ridge, S.D.: Holy Rosary Mission, Aug. 9-11. Theme: Present-Day Thrust of Indian People for Self-Determination. Topics: Native diaconate and conversion of mission schools to lay control with Birgil Kills Straight as keynote speaker. Association of Native Religious and Clergy (ANRC) established, which is comprised of Native American Catholic clergy and religious from the U.S and Canada.

1977 38th Annual Meeting, Rapid City, S.D.: Aug. [8-11?]. Theme: Re-evaluation of purpose. Msgr. Paul A. Lenz, secretary of the Commission for Catholic Missions Among the Colored People and the Indians (and director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions), promised financial support for further development of the conference.

1978 39th Annual Meeting, Rapid City, S.D.: St. Martin Academy, Aug. 7-10. Theme: Toward a Better Understanding of the Present and Future Direction of the Catholic Church with Native

American Tribes. Highlights: Critical and provocative addresses provided by the principal speakers: Sr. M. Jose Hobday, SSSF (Seneca), Rupert Costo, editor of Wassaja, and R. Pierce Beaver, historian of Protestant Indian missions. 220 people attended.

1979 40th Annual Meeting, Yankton, S.D.: Mount Marty College, August 6-9. Highlights: Native American Catholics comprised 66 of the approximately 200 participants. They

challenged the clergy to listen to the concerns of Native Americans. (They) met with Msgr.Paul A. Lenz (Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions), Bishop Harold J. Dimmerling (Rapid City, S.D.), Bishop Thomas Murphy (Great Falls, Mont.), and Bishop William G. Connare (Greensburg, Pa., Chair, U.S. Catholic Conference Mission Committee) to articulate their concerns. The Tekakwitha Conference incorporated with a board of directors, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops appointed an Episcopal Moderator, and it became listed in The Official Catholic Directory.

1989 50th Annual Meeting, Fargo, N. D.: North Dakota State University, Aug. 2-6.Theme: Walking the Sacred Circle with Jesus Christ. Also, 1989, a lay Native Catholic director was appointed as the first Native American director and the Conference is awarded the Pope Paul VI Award of the N.C.C.E. (National Council of Catholic Evangelization).

2002 64th Annual Meeting, Sioux Falls, S.D.: Augustana College, Jul. 30-Aug. 3. Theme: We are All Related through Kateri and Share our Culture and Faith on the Great Plains.

2006 On Mar. 4, by special request, Sister Kateri Mitchell went to Seattle to prepare for the annual meeting to be held in Seattle. She first visited Jacob Finkbonner at Seattle Children’s Hospital who was gravely ill with a strep A infection on his face. While at his bedside Sister Kateri and Jake’s mother prayed to Kateri Tekakwitha for her intercession while pressing a first-class relic to his body. While in surgery minutes later, hospital staff removed Jake’s bandages and discovered that he was disease free. Yet on the previous day when they applied the bandages, the upper half of his body was disease covered.

67th Annual Meeting, Burien (Seattle), Washington Pilgrimage to Lummi Reservation, Jul. 21, included an announcement on the investigation of Jacob Finkbonner’s miraculous healing.

2011 72nd Annual Meeting, Tucson, Ariz.: Tucson Convention Center, Jul. 20- 24. Theme: The Grand Canyon State is Enriched by Kateri Tekakwitha. On Dec. 17, Pope Benedict approved the 2006 instantaneous healing of Jacob Finkbonner as a first class miracle attributed to Kateri Tekakwitha’s intercession.

2012 73rd Annual Meeting, Albany, N.Y.: July 18-22. Theme: Walking in Her Footsteps in Kateri Country. Pilgrimage to Auriesville and Fonda shrines, July 21. Pope Benedict XVI canonized Kateri Tekakwitha as a saint in heaven on Oct. 21.

2013 74th Annual Meeting, El Paso, Texas: July 17-21. The Tekakwitha Conference purchased and relocated to a new National Center in Alexandria, Louisiana.

2017 78th Annual Meeting, Rapid City, S.D.

(From Marquette University Archives, Milwaukee, WI. Used with permission. Statue photo taken at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City)


Catholic Social Services helps birth mother and daughter reunite

Catholic Social Services is one of the few adoption agencies that still assists with birth parent/child searches. Merri Blake and her daughter, Courtney, found each other after 28 years. (Courtesy photo)


By Mary Garrigan
Catholic Social Services

In 1987, Catholic Social Services helped Merri Blake make an adoption plan for her newborn daughter.

Twenty-eight years later, CSS was there again for Merri when she decided to search for the baby who grew up as Courtney, the happy, healthy and beloved daughter of Joan and John Luft.

Because Merri shrouded her pregnancy and adoption decision in deep secrecy, only her parents, now deceased, some close friends and her husband, Jake, knew of the baby. Merri, already the single-mother of a toddler, never told her six siblings or her four other daughters, now ages 30, 24, 21 and 16, about Courtney.

“I was raised to believe that something like this was a bad thing, you know, like you did something bad and that’s why this has to happen. I didn’t realize that it could be something other than a bad thing,” Merri said.

The culture of adoption has changed dramatically in recent decades, says Natalie Lecy, director of the CSS Family Services Department. “We really encourage open adoption for everyone today. It’s healthier all around. Open adoption doesn’t mean that you’re going to be each other’s best friends, or even have regular contact. It’s just that the lines of communication are always kept open, so that medical questions or grief issues that may come up with a child can be addressed as they do,” Lecy said.

Over time, Merri came to see her adoption decision as a beautiful choice. “I just wish I would have known that a lot sooner,” she said. But once she decided to search for Courtney, things happened quickly.

By law, any birth parent or adoptee is allowed to initiate a search once the adoptee has reached the age of 18. Catholic Social Services is one of the few adoption agencies that still assists with searches. “Most agencies no longer offer this service, but CSS values the courage and selfless sacrifice of our clients who made this decision years ago so much that we’ve made a longterm commitment to help them,” Lecy said.

CSS was able to quickly connect Merri with Courtney’s mom, Joan, who grew up in Mud Butte and happened to be in the area visiting relatives.

“Courtney was the second child we adopted through Catholic Social Services and it was never a big secret that they were adopted,” Joan said. “The doors of communication between CSS and us were always open.”

After the two women met over coffee, Joan quickly shared Merri’s phone number with Courtney, who is married and living in Nashville now. The next day, Merri received a text that read: “This is Courtney. I want to talk sometime. How about tomorrow?”

“This whole thing moved a whole lot faster than I expected it to,” Merri laughed.

Courtney calls Merri’s decision to reach out to her “perfect timing.” Her older sister, Erin, had recently searched for her birth parents and the experience was a positive one. “I was planning to do it soon, too,” Courtney said. “Ever since I was little, I was always intrigued and kind of wanted to know who she was. After all, she’s part of who I am and the reason I am where I am today.”

Merri and Courtney’s first meeting took place in 2015 at a Nashville mall. There were lots of questions and answers, and plenty of tears, too. “We stayed and talked and talked until they kicked us out,” Merri said. “She just asked and asked and asked and I just answered and answered and answered.”

Courtney’s questions were mostly about Merri’s circumstances at the time of her birth, her birth father and the history of her extended birth family. “She was so gracious answering all my questions,” Courtney said.

Merri’s biggest fear — that Courtney would resent her for choosing to parent her first child but place her second for adoption – proved unfounded. “I just wanted her to know the reason that I did this. I couldn’t bring another baby into my home when I couldn’t even feed or clothe the one I already had.”

Courtney says she would have done the same thing. “I never felt any resentment at all. I know I was very fortunate to wind up where I did,” she said. “If someone has the courage and bravery to give their child up for adoption, then they must be a really caring and kind person.”

Merri says she couldn’t have chosen better parents for her baby, something which was not an option 28 years ago.

“Her parents could not have raised her any better. She is so caring and considerate and such a good person. She is such a sweet girl,” Merri said.

Today, Merri and Courtney keep in touch by text, telephone and Facebook. Tragically, John Luft died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack five years ago, before getting to meet the birth mothers of his two daughters. “Not a day went by that we did not want to thank the birth mothers and birth fathers for this gift,” Joan said. “We were never threatened by them searching, or thought it would hurt our feelings.”

Joan, Courtney and Merri come from different perspectives on the adoption experience, but they share a common gratitude.

“We are all very lucky,” said Joan.






Plan to become a Stewardship Parish

I wanted to share some good news with you! After many months of work, the Office of Stewardship has finalized “The Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish,” which is called for in our diocesan priority plan, Through Him, With Him and In Him: A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan.

If you have not taken the time to read and pray over our diocesan priority plan, I encourage you to do so because it lays out the mission and the vision for our diocese for the next three to five years. Just think if all of us took the time to read and pray over our diocesan priority plan and worked with our pastors, finance councils, parish councils, stewardship committees and vocation committees — to name a few — what an impact it would have in the way we live our Catholic way of life. We would truly “attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ leading us to eternal life.”

“The Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish” was sent to every pastor in our diocese. This document outlines the characteristics that an ideal parish, one that is committed to living Stewardship as a way of life, would have. It is the first step in meeting one of the goals outlined in the diocesan pastoral plan — to increase by five to ten the number of parishes who have met the criteria to be recognized as stewardship parishes.

This document strives to paint a picture of the ideal parish, a vision of what a parish could be. As Tom Corcoran shared recently at Pastoral Ministry Days, a vision is often seen as unrealistic and hardly attainable, but one worth pursuing as it can impel us to live more fully the life to which Christ is calling us.

All parishes in our diocese will find outlined in this document characteristics they are already doing well; they will also find many that challenge them. It is our hope that parishes will look at these characteristics as providing helpful assistance in long-term planning.

When Bishop Robert Gruss approved this document, he said something I have heard him say many times. Namely, it is his greatest desire that our people fall deeply in love with our Lord. He is hopeful that this document is seen as a means to that end. If it serves to help parishes more effectively bring people into a deep encounter with Jesus, then it will prove its usefulness, whether or not in the end we have five or 50 “Stewardship Parishes.”

In my letter to pastors, I suggested the document be used in this way:

1) Meet with the leaders in your parish and ask them to read it, pray over it and then begin by using these characteristics to form an honest and realistic picture of your parish. This becomes the baseline for where your parish is today. Basically, what are the parish’s strengths and weaknesses?

2) Know that these characteristics build upon one another and that if there are weaknesses in the foundational structures, these should be addressed first. In the areas of Hospitality, Lively Faith and Dedicated Discipleship, simple and complex criteria are expressed.

3) Use the strengths and weaknesses identified by parish leaders as a baseline for setting some realistic goals for growth and development, remembering that stewardship is a way of life, not a program; it is always an ongoing process of growth.

Some questions to think about:

How do these goals align with our mission statement?

What are going to be the markers we can point to in meeting these goals?

What does success look like in particulars?

Commit to an annual assessment of these goals. Choose to pursue formal designation as a stewardship parish through the Office of Stewardship.

The Office of Stewardship is here to serve the diocese and we are happy to assist in this process in any way we can. I will be working to develop a way to assess parishes and a system for designating parishes as stewardship parishes. A tiered system best encourages us to keep working toward achieving this lofty vision as well as conveys the reality of stewardship as a way of life.

The first step in achieving the designation of stewardship parish will be to be designated as a foundational parish, indicating that your parish has in place all of the foundational structures necessary to begin fostering stewardship in your parish. After this, there will be three additional benchmarks, each more challenging than the previous one, requiring a greater number of criteria be met. Parishes meeting these benchmarks will be designated as hospitable parishes, lively parishes and then, finally, stewardship parishes.

If you would like to see this document, please ask your pastor for a copy or download one on our webpage at www.rapidcitydiocese.org/stewardship.

I also want to point out the dates for this year’s Stewardship Summit: Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30 at Terra Sancta. Our keynote speakers for this year’s conference will be Tony Brandt and Chris Stewart from Casting Nets Ministries: http://castingnetsministries.com.

This year we are providing childcare and stewardship tracks for children at the Summit. If we want stewardship to really become a Catholic Way of Life, then we need to help our families to embrace stewardship. Thus, I encourage you to bring your children to the Summit.

Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, a pastoral letter on stewardship from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlights that stewardship “above all requires that parents themselves be models of stewardship, especially by their selfless service to one another, to their children and to the church and community needs.” I look forward to seeing your whole family there.


For more information about the Summit or our other stewardship initiatives, please contact me at (605) 716-5214 x235 or mmccormick@diorc.org.

Invited to become Spirit-filled evangelizers

In last month’s West River Catholic, I wrote about “The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” which recently took place in Orlando, Florida. This convocation was in response to Pope Francis’ call for the church to embrace her mission to go out to the peripheries in answering the radical call to missionary discipleship. The Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) was used as the guide and platform for the convocation.

The heart of the convocation directed us to examine and reflect upon the current landscape and mission field that is awaiting us; our response that leads us to renew our call as missionary disciples and our commitment to form missionary disciples; where are the peripheries and margins of society that await us and who lives there; and finally, strategies for addressing the issues; and equipping Spirit-filled evangelizers.

The Diocese of Rapid City sent a delegation comprised of myself and fourteen men and women from across the diocese. Throughout the four days, we heard many inspiring talks from various leaders in the Catholic Church and from panelists across the country who led discussions in the daily breakout sessions on a range of diverse topics.

An important point in one of the talks was that the work of evangelization is the means to address poverty in the world — all poverty and all forms of it. As we know, poverty is everywhere, in many different forms. We can see it all around us and it can also easily be hidden. It is in every part of our society, culture and geographical area. And because it can be hidden, none of us are removed from experiencing it in our lives.

This is perhaps why Pope Francis has invited “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal

encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” (EG #3).

Daily asking for this gift of a personal encounter with Jesus should be the beginning point of accepting our call to be missionary disciples, going to the peripheries across our diocese and across America. It begins with conversion in our own hearts which will not happen unless we seek this renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ unfailingly each day. If we are going to accept our baptismal call to radical missionary discipleship, it begins here for all of us. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight for the Knights Columbus, noted in his address that perhaps we ourselves are the first periphery.

This is at the heart of a life of faith. Many people express a desire for a deeper relationship with the Lord, but often neglect the means to facilitate this desire. Pope Benedict XVI shared these words with the people in St. Peter’s Square, “For every Christian, faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more” (Wednesday General Audience, October 21, 2009).

What is needed in our families, our parish communities, this diocese and our world is a new passion for holiness. If we are not seeking this, then we will not accept a radical call to missionary discipleship and a call to holiness. This was clearly one of the challenging messages of the convocation.

As a disciple of Jesus seeks to live out his or her call to holiness, first asking the Lord to accompany him or her, then it will be possible to practice the “art of accompaniment” as expressed by Pope Francis (EV #169). It is the Lord Jesus who will teach us as he accompanies us. This is precisely how Jesus began the early church — “accompaniment” with his disciples. Our response to this encounter with Christ also requires the accompaniment with others, leading us to become Spirit-filled evangelizers.

“To create a culture of encounter and witness, we must live explicit lives of discipleship. We are called not only to believe in the Gospel but to allow it to take deep root in us in a way that leaves us incapable of silence: we cannot help but to announce the Gospel in word and in deed. This missionary outreach is at the heart of disciple-ship” (USCCB, Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization, p. 14).

In the end, going to the peripheries requires us getting out of our comfort zones, leaving our all too familiar maintenance-mode mindsets, and becoming parish communities which are both creative and mission-driven to share the joy of the Gospel. This has been the encouragement given to us by Pope Francis in “The Joy of the Gospel. “

“Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel (EV #20).

This was also the challenge given to the participants who attended The Convocation of Catholic Leaders. This is the challenge I offer all of us in the Diocese of Rapid City.

It is our mission: We, the Diocese of Rapid City, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are called to attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ, leading to eternal life.