Enjoy the October edition of the West River Catholic
Catholic Social Services held their annual banquet on October 1 in Rapid City. The Founder’s Award, given in honor of the late Msgr. William O’Connell, went to Richard Thompson, former Superintendent for the Rapid City Catholic School System.
Thompson was instrumental in getting St. Thomas More High School started in 1991. Before the current building was completed in 1995, classes were held in the basement of National American University. He worked as a principal, superintendent and fundraiser for a new building.
Three people gave testimonials on behalf of Thompson. Barbara Honeycutt is the current Superintendent of the RCCSS. She previously served in the development department for the schools when Thompson was superintendent.
She roasted him on the conditions of the new Catholic high school: “In the fall of 1993, my family and I moved to Rapid City from Grand Island, Nebraska. It was important to us that there be a Catholic School System in the town we relocated to. I learned about St. Thomas More High School and we decided we had found our new home. When I inquired about the school I don’t remember being told at that the students ate lunch on the floor in the hallways, that every clock in the building had a different time on it, or that students had to crawl over their desks in Wayne Sullivan’s math class in order to be seated.”
His daughter, Kara Thompson, who teaches at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, spoke second. She was attending with her sister Tammy and brother Brian. (Their brother Kevin passed away in 1986.) “I am a 1996 graduate of St. Thomas More. Msgr. O’Connell was a dear member of our family, of Kevin’s especially. The Founder’s Award contains special significance for all the Thompsons.”
She lauded her father’s sense of fairness and justice and his work toward seeing underprivileged students get a Catholic education.
Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, gave his congratulations to Thompson via video testimony. Thompson worked for Archbishop Chaput in the Diocese of Rapid City and the Archdiocese of Denver. “Dick Thompson is one of my heroes. He is a great man; he served the Diocese of Rapid City in extraordinary ways. Back in the early days of St. Thomas More (High School) I don’t think we could have survived without the encouragement and hard work he committed to education, to the church, to the Diocese of Rapid City, and to his family. I can’t think of anybody who deserves this honor more.”
Jim Kinyon, executive director of CSS, and Susan Raposa, president of the CSS board, presented the Founders Award.
When Thompson took the stage he thanked Honeycutt and her staff for keeping the school going.
He thanked his children for coming and his wife of 55 years, Judy, for keeping him going. “This award acknowledges that by the grace of God and the hard work of hundreds of people great things can be accomplished and continued,” he said. “It means so much because in reflecting on the life and spirit of O’C what better priestly model of Christ to the community of the faithful could we have than O’C? He’s a very special member of many families here I know, and certainly of ours,” said Thompson. He recalled all the support Msgr. O’Connell had given his family — especially when his son Kevin had gone through treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma of the spine.
John Garvey, president, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., a nationally recognized expert in constitutional law, religious liberty, and the 1st amendment, gave the keynote address.
Garvey said, “Most universities promote the idea that there are no good or bad choices. I am the judge of my own good; you are the judge of yours. If you mean to do good, that’s what matters most.”
That brings up two areas of concern — moral ambiguity and moral complexity. He gave examples of moral ambiguity themes promoted in pop culture. One is where physician assisted suicide is looked at as heroic and another where non-traditional family structures are held up as just as good as old-fashioned ones. In contrast, he used the Catechism and teachings of Pope Francis to illustrate Catholic moral tradition offers clear counter-cultural answers.
For moral complexity, he addressed a personal issue — the decision to attend a family wedding wherein a person had not gotten their previous marriage annulled. There was a lot of family discussion on whether attending would give young family members the impression they approved of the union. Garvey said he attended and was following Pope Francis’ position on staying close to a person in a messy real life situation. When the time was right, family members encouraged the groom to get an annulment and then be married in the church. Which is what happened.
Garvey said, “The Holy Father says to error on the side of charity. In Francis’s words, “Heal the wounds and warm the hearts of the faithful.’”
There are a lot of great things happening in our diocese. I see many ways that we are moving from having simply a culture of maintenance to developing a culture of mission in our parishes. The more we embrace our diocesan priority plan together, the more we will see the abundant fruit of living as missionary disciples.
To lay it before us again, our Sacred Mission as a diocese is: “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.” We are called to keep before us our vision statement as well: “Reconcile — Make Disciples — Live the Mission.”
As I reflect on our mission and vision statements for the diocese, I cannot help but think about Nicholas William Black Elk Sr., who was a Lakota catechist in our diocese. I was excited to read in last month’s West River Catholic that Bishop Robert Gruss will be offering a Mass as he opens the cause for sainthood of Nicholas Black Elk, on at Saturday, Oct. 21, 4 p.m., in Holy Rosary Church, Pine Ridge, on the campus of the Red Cloud Indian School.
This Mass is for everyone in our diocese and not just for the Native American community. As the cause for Black Elk’s sainthood is being formally opened, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”
This is great news for all the people of our diocese. We should be inspired by the story of Nicolas Black Elk who, after converting to Catholicism, spent his time building up the local church. As I read the story of Black Elk, I see our diocesan mission statement and vision statement come to life. I also see Black Elk as a faithful steward who lived stewardship as a way of life.
They say Black Elk watched and studied the Christian faith which grew out of his curiosity for Christianity. The life of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who was canonized a saint by Pope Benedict the XIV, on Oct. 21, 2012, was a particular inspiration to him. In 1885, he signed the petition supporting her cause for canonization.
In 1904, he met a Jesuit priest who invited him to study Christianity at Holy Rosary Mission near Pine Ridge. I see in this the first lens of our stewardship initiative — generous hospitality: invitation, welcome and fellowship. There is nothing like a personal invitation. This personal invitation by this priest opened the door for Nicholas Black Elk to begin to understand the way of Christ, and on the Feast of St. Nicholas, Dec. 6, 1904, he was baptized.
In 1907, he was appointed as a catechist because of his love for Christ, his enthusiasm and an excellent memory for learning Scripture and Catholic teachings. Deacon Marlon Leneaugh describes Nicholas Black Elk as one might describe St. Paul: “He traveled widely to various reservations; preaching, sharing stories and teaching the Catholic faith with his ‘Two Roads Model’ of the catechism (the black road and the red road — the black road representing evil and the red road representing good).”
Black Elk’s two roads reminds me of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s teaching in the Spiritual Exercises on the meditation of the two standards (flags). As disciples, we are called to choose where we are going to stand — with Jesus or with the world. No matter what life the Spirit has drawn us to, once we are baptized and confirmed, we are called to stand in Jesus’ company under his flag, under his standard.
Deacon Marlon continues: “Black Elk’s mission was to build the faith among his people and to strengthen the relationships between native and non-native people. He did this by promoting his culture as he worked in the Black Hills and by promoting the message of Jesus Christ as love, peace and harmony that was revealed to him at an early age in the vision.”
His mission reminds me of our mission: to Reconcile — Make Disciples — Live the Mission. Today we continue his legacy when we call forth the power of the Holy Spirit to bring a new Pentecost among us as God’s people, native and non-native, working together as the Body of Christ.
Nicholas Black Elk also came to mind as I read the book “Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church” by Brandon Vogt. In chapter six, Vogt talks about the importance of learning to equip ourselves in the faith. That was very much part of Black Elk’s conversion as he watched and studied the Catholic faith.
This, too, is at the heart of our stewardship initiative (lively faith: prayer, study and formation). Vogt contends that it is important that we equip ourselves, learning our faith through the study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bible, but we also need to know our testimony and be willing to give it.
Nicholas Black Elk equipped himself to know the Catholic faith and to live it in the context of being Lakota. He also inspired others to live Christ by his own story.
This opening of the cause for sainthood inspires us to continue to equip ourselves with a solid understanding of the teachings of our faith and in the giving of our testimony to what Christ is doing in our lives.
After Oct. 21 Nicholas Black Elk will be called Servant of God. His consistent faith as a catechist and his teaching in joyfully living the Catholic way of life has become a beacon for all of us in our diocese and for the church as a whole. May he model for us a way of walking on the road with Christ, leading us to reconciliation and peace among all God’s people.
Young Black Elk photo from Marquette University Archives
Our Diocesan Priority Plan was completed and implementation began over a year ago. As you recall, the process of creating a priority plan led to the development of a vision statement. Vision statements reveal the overall vision and mission of an organization. In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes time, and vision with action can change the world.”
The vision of the Diocese of Rapid City reflects the vision and mission of Jesus in his public ministry: Reconcile — Make Disciples — Live the Mission. These are the foundation stones for moving the diocese forward into the future. Vision with action will tangibly make present the kingdom of God.
The vision statement of the Diocese of Rapid City became the building block for creating the three Diocesan Pastoral Priorities — Reconciliation, Forming Disciples, and Funding the Mission. These priorities serve to guide our diocesan efforts over the next few years. The Priority Plan as a whole describes the mission of the Diocese of Rapid City in many ways. But the mission goes beyond the wonderful ministry that takes place across the diocese. We also have to have sufficient resources, both in terms of facilities and finances, to fulfill our sacred mission. This is why Funding the Mission is one of our priorities.
To move this priority forward, I met with key members of the chancery staff and Rapid City Catholic School System leadership. We discussed the many needs of the chancery, the retreat center and the school. A facility master planning process was engaged over the course of several months, beginning in January and concluding this past June. The purpose of this process was to discern the needs of each entity necessary to continue to live the mission of Jesus Christ throughout the whole diocese.
To backtrack a little bit, much wonderful ministry has happened since we purchased and renovated the former St. Martin Monastery to create the wonderful retreat center and elementary school we currently enjoy. Through the generosity of people across the diocese, we had a very successful campaign in the We Walk by Faith Appeal, raising over 18.5 million dollars. This completed phase one of our diocesan plans. In that process we also helped fund the building of two Newman Centers in our diocese.
But in many ways, our needs have only increased. Our current Chancery staff is located in two places — on Cathedral Drive and at the Terra Sancta Annex. Our spaces in both locations are inadequate and overall ministry is best accomplished when we are all in one place. The retreat center has been a great gift for the diocese. Its use is far beyond what we could have imagined. But for large diocesan events, the retreat center has also become insufficient. The Rapid City Catholic School System has pressing needs as well. High school plays and the many things needed to make them successful are currently taking place in an old, dilapidated gym at St. Elizabeth Seton School. At St. Thomas More Middle School the students begin eating lunch at 10:30 in the morning because of shared space limitations at St. Thomas More High School.
These and other issues were the catalysts for the facility master planning process. This process resulted in the development of a Facility Master Plan for the Terra Sancta Campus looking out many years into the future. This plan includes a new pastoral center and a fine arts/multi-purpose events center at the Terra Sancta campus, as well as additional classrooms for St. Elizabeth Seton School. Rapid City Catholic School System leaders simultaneously engaged in a master planning process for the St. Thomas More campus. This master plan includes a new kitchen and lunch room for the middle school as well as future plans for additional classrooms and a new gymnasium. These are some needs among others identified on the facility master plans for both the Terra Sancta and St. Thomas More campuses. The basic footprint of both completed master plans are below my column.
As I wrote in Through Him, With Him and In Him – A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan, “While we are doing many great things in the Diocese and providing many opportunities for people to grow in their faith and step out in mission, it is important that all of our efforts are coordinated toward a more comprehensive vision for the whole diocese.” This master planning process has helped to set a more comprehensive vision aligned with the mission statement of the diocese — 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.
As we know, if we are to live the mission we must be able to fund the mission. Although this master planning process was important in looking to the future, buildings are not the complete story regarding our needs. There is a great need to fully fund our priests’ retirement. It is currently funded at around sixty percent. The Rapid City Catholic School System needs to grow its endowment to support tuition assistance and to make salaries and benefits more competitive so as to retain and attract quality educators. Finally, and no less important, as we seek to properly carry out ministry on the Native American reservations in our diocese, I would like to create an endowment to enable us to provide and expand the personnel and resources for those living on the reservations we serve. Our current outside monetary resources are decreasing each year. These are some of the basic needs as we look to the future that will help us carry out the mission of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The needs included in Funding the Mission have been prioritized without having a clear indication of how much money could be raised in order to make these dreams come true. To that end, we sent out Requests for Proposals to twelve fundraising consultants. We received back four responses and interviewed three companies. We have selected Community Consulting Services (CCS) to assist in conducting a feasibility study to help determine what might be possible in terms of raising the money necessary to fund the various needs outlined above. This study will take place over the course of the next three months, with completion, hopefully, by year’s end.
The details of the feasibility study are being worked out at the current time and are not yet completed. A feasibility study will help determine which projects will move forward as well as when and how to proceed with a diocesan-wide campaign aimed at funding our mission.
In conclusion, I would like each of us to remember that first among the Core Values in our Diocesan Priority Plan, which we must embrace in all of our endeavors, is Prayer. In Jesus Christ, the Father has withheld nothing from us, but has given us everything. Nothing is lacking for those who place their faith and hope in him. But without Jesus, encountered through daily prayer, we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:15). Without sustained prayer we can make no progress in carrying out Christ’s mission. Let us turn to the Holy Spirit daily, asking that he stir up the gifts in our own hearts and give us the courage and strength to step out in faith, hope, love and trust. He will “teach us everything” (Jn 14:26) and “guide us to all truth” (Jn 16:13).
As our Holy Father Pope Francis encourages us: “Keeping our missionary fervor alive calls for firm trust in the Holy Spirit, for it is he who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26). But this generous trust has to be nourished, and so we need to invoke the Spirit constantly. He can heal whatever causes us to flag in the missionary endeavor. It is true that this trust in the unseen can cause us to feel disoriented: it is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing what we will find. Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful!” [Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (November 24, 2103), no. 275]