November West River Catholic 2018

Enjoy the November 2018 edition of the West River Catholic

Open PDF



FOCUS at SDSM&T: ‘Connecting the head and heart’


FOCUS missionaries at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Newman Center Joey Fritz, Avery Hembrook, Michael Newsham, and Megan Henle. (Courtesy photo)


By Becky Berreth

According to a combined study, from St. Mary’s Press with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, approximately 13 percent of young adults between ages 18 and 25 are former Catholics. It also states that they desire a spiritual connection even though they do not consider themselves affiliated with the church. One way of encouraging a connection is to reach out to students on college campuses.

Enter Megan Henle, Avery Hembrook, Michael Newsham, and Joey Fritz. The four campus missionaries are part of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, better known as FOCUS, on the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology campus, Rapid City. They are tasked with helping engineering, geology, math, and computer science students navigate college faith life through friendship, Bible studies, and mentorship. SDSM&T is one of 19 new FOCUS campuses this academic year.

FOCUS is a Catholic outreach organization whose mission is to share the Gospel with college and university students. Missionaries are trained in church teaching, prayer, Scripture, evangelization and discipleship — inviting students to have a personal relationship with Jesus and accompanying them along the way. On the SDSM&T campus, it’s also about taking the analytical thought process of many of the students and connecting it to a relationship.

“It’s connecting the head and the heart,” explained Megan Henle, FOCUS team director in her fourth year of campus work. “Yes, it’s the analytical part, but then teaching them to live out the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Everything about us should be living out the intellectual and allowing the Holy Spirit to do what it wants with us.”

“I had to go through the process of connecting of my mind and my heart in my relationship with God and I knew that would be a big thing here,” agreed Joey Fritz, a third-year missionary.

Fritz majored in computer science at North Dakota State University, Fargo, N.D., and encountered FOCUS at a SEEK2015. He explained that faith was something he did out of habit until he heard a talk from Father Mike Schmitz at the yearly national conference presented by FOCUS.

“He said we were made not just for a relationship with God but added we are made for a deep intimacy with him,” he said. “My analytical side told me if the Eucharist is really Jesus then that’s the greatest source of grace on earth (going to receive him) so there should be nothing in my day that should stop me from that.”

“The girls I have been working with have so many questions. I have been focusing on trying to introduce them to a relationship with Jesus before answering the questions,” said first-year missionary Avery Hembrook, admitting that she does not think as analytically as the students — she majored in therapeutic recreation at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse — but she is happy to learn alongside the students. “I am not engineer minded so we challenge each other.”

When the missionaries first arrived on campus, they helped students move in and attended campus events, Newman Center Masses and other happenings. After this initial outreach, missionaries  begin to organize, facilitate, and train students to lead small group Bible studies. The goal is to bring students closer to Christ and to help students establish and/or deepen their relationships with Christ.

“Through the Bible studies I was able to take an extra step and go a little deeper on a regular basis. I didn’t have anyone challenging me until that moment,” said first- year missionary Michael Newsham.

He was active at his Newman Center at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., but it was with the FOCUS missionaries who started on campus his third year that he began to understand his relationship with Jesus.

“I had weekly accountability. I had to make time to read scripture and get to know Christ better to build a relationship with him. I didn’t really understand that part of my faith life up until that point.”

Within those Bible studies, FOCUS missionaries welcome students into a discipleship program teaching them how to take the faith out to their friends, lead their own Bible studies, and teach others how to pray.

It was in Henle’s fourth year at Winona State University in Minn., when she began to realize what kind of  an effect this had on her faith life and her future. “My senior year I was leading a few girls, who were leading a few girls, who were leading a few girls, and I was able to see this beautiful reproduction of a life of prayer, virtue, and evangelization,” she said. “I was able to see that this might be something God might be calling me to do in the future — teach the faith.”

Fellowship is also an important part of the missionary’s time on campus. Events have included formations nights, men’s and women’s nights, camping, and coffee with the students.

“Events outside the Bible study with students is key to what we do. It allows us to get to know them outside the religious environment and build a relationship with them, so we can help build that relationship with Christ,” explained Newsham. “We make an invitation and have the patience to bear the fruit that only Christ can.”


Silver anniversary of Totus Tuus vocation camps coming next summer

This WRC archive photo was taken in 2009. It shows the Boys Totus Tuus Camp held at Storm Mountain. Zane Pekron of Milesville throws a frisbee past Vocations Director Fr. Brian
Christensen during a game of ultimate frisbee. Adam Hofer in the yellow bandana and David Cordes, both of Rapid City, and Joseph Syman, from Spearfish, are also on the field. Today,
Fr. Adam Hofer is a parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament Church, Rapid City, and Deacon Zane Pekron is a Theology IV student at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
(WRC photo by Becky Berreth)


Fr. Mark: Next summer, the Diocese of Rapid City’s Totus Tuus (“All yours”) Vocation Camps will be celebrating 25 years of bringing together middle school and high school youth from across the diocese. This is a way to help our young people hear the voice of Jesus and to encourage them not to be afraid to ask this question of the Lord: “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?”

Totus Tuus has been a great blessing for our diocese in building and promoting a culture of vocations, and it has borne much fruit — not only in the number of priestly and religious vocations, but simply by helping our young people to seek a living and personal relationship with the Lord.

As we begin to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Totus Tuus, I asked Father Tim Hoag, founder of the camp as we know it, to share a bit of the history of this remarkable gift.

Fr. Tim: Totus Tuus Vocations Camps developed mostly through trial and error. Bishop Steven Biegler and I, while we were in seminary, recognized a need to develop a community of young men who were interested in priesthood.

We held our first vocations camp in 1989 at Camp Rimrock. Fifty-six middle school boys and girls attended. It was a great retreat. However, we took a four-year hiatus as both of us went off to theology school.

The summer of my diaconate year I sought permission from and the support of Fr. Arnie Kari, who was the vocation director at the time, to put on a vocations retreat. He gave us his blessing. Bishop Steven Biegler and Father Peter Kovarik, who were newly ordained, other diocesan seminarians and I put on a retreat at St. Martin Monastery.

It was a weekend retreat (Friday through Sunday) and was offered for high school and college-aged men. Father Tony Grossenburg attended this retreat and has shared that it was instrumental in his decision to go to the seminary the following year.

We learned from this retreat that the age spread of high school through college was too big, plus we thought a camp atmosphere would work much better than a retreat format. Also, the research provided by the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors highlighted that the first time a young boy begins to think about being a priest is in his middle school years. So, we decided to start with middle school boys with the hope of building the camp by later adding high school boys and young men as leaders.

From 1996 – 2011 it was held at various Protestant camps throughout the Hills because, at the time, we did not have our own retreat center. Camp was held at Camp Rimrock, the Wesleyan Camp, Atlantic Mountain Ranch and Camp Bob Marshall. Eventually, we settled on a permanent place in the schedule at Storm Mountain Camp. In 2012, we moved to our diocesan retreat center at Terra Sancta Retreat Center in Rapid City.

In those early years we had to prepare our meals and snacks for the camp. These were largely put together through volunteers from the cathedral parish where I was assigned as an associate pastor.

When the first sixth grade group had attended Totus Tuus for three years and were moving into high school we realized we needed to have a leadership camp to continue to build a community for these young men who were interested in seminary. We developed the high school leadership camp which was held two days prior to the middle school camp. Alongside diocesan seminarians, the boys from the leadership camp helped run the middle school camp.

When Father Brian Christensen became vocation director in 2002, we realized there was a need to encourage young girls to consider religious life. Thus, we developed Totus Tuus Girls. Father Brian and I really did not know how to put a camp like this together. Therefore, we turned to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious to find young women religious who were willing to assist us.

Not knowing any better, we set the schedule for the first girls camp exactly as we had run the boys’ camp. About a half a day into the first camp, the sisters who had come to assist us met with Father Brian and me to revise the schedule. They wanted to add things we would never have dreamed of adding with boys.

For instance, they suggested an hour of preparation time to get ready for breakfast and an hour for lunch, allowing the girls to have time to visit. They also wanted to give the girls time for crafts. We would never have included crafts with the boys. Putting things like sharp objects (scissors), glue and the like into the hands of the boys didn’t seem wise.

In time, the sisters, in coordination with the vocations office, were designing the schedule and the talks for the girls’ camp During this time, the first fruit of Totus Tuus was received. Father Grossenburg, who attended that first retreat, was ordained.

Under the direction of Father Brian and Susan Safford, at that time a newly consecrated virgin, as well as Father Kevin Achbach who succeeded Father Brian as vocations director, the camp’s numbers increased. We also began to see more fruit from the camps.

Men who had attended the camp as middle school and high school boys were beginning to be ordained including Father Tyler Dennis, Father Jonathan Dillon and Father John Paul Trask. We have also seen the fruit of the girls’ camp with Rachel Wilhelmi (Sister Familiae) and Giovanna Julian (Sister Poveri) with the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, and Audrey Blankartz (Sister Lucia Christi) with the Nashville Dominicans. We also have three seminarians who were Totus Tuus campers: Deacon Zane Pekron, Andrew Sullivan and Robert Kinyon.

This trend continues under vocation director Father Mark McCormick. Last year, the camps served 95 middle school and 38 high school young people.

Fr. Mark: If you or your children have any stories to share about the blessings of Totus Tuus in their lives, I would love to hear them. We can see the fruits of those who have chosen priesthood or religious life and have shared with us the impact Totus Tuus had on their decision, but it is harder for us to see how the camps have assisted young people in general to draw closer to the Lord and to listen to his call.

We are planning several events this summer to celebrate the gift that Totus Tuus has been to our young people, families, parishes and diocese. Help us to celebrate and live Totus Tuus in our lives.Back in the Day


Improving the lives of homeless individuals and families

Imagine providing a solution to the serious homelessness problem in Rapid City — helping homeless individuals and homeless families improve their quality of life, setting them up for success and long term stability. Shouldn’t that be the goal of every community which care about all of its citizens?

There is an initiative currently in progress in Rapid City to address this serious problem in our community. I do not know if everyone in our Catholic community is aware of this important initiative. This initiative is the work of the Rapid City Collective Impact, as stated on their website, “a community-supported initiative involving members of local government, nonprofits, faith-based communities, businesses, grass roots citizens and a backbone organization who share the common goal of improving quality of life in Rapid City. RCCI is a program of the Black Hills Area Community Foundation.”

Their work focuses on three priorities —food security, behavioral health and affordable housing/homelessness — by creating a campus that would serve homeless by providing transitional housing and connected services in one location. The campus, known as One Heart: A Place for Hope & Healing, will encompass the majority of the former National American University properties, spanning much of the 100 to 300 blocks along the south side of Kansas City Street. It will neighbor and complement Pennington County’s Community Restoration Center.

The mission of this transformation campus is to elevate the human spirit and the spirit of the Rapid City community, improving quality of life for all who live in Rapid City and “to make Rapid City the most caring community of its size.”

What follows appeared recently as an op-ed in the Rapid City Journal in support for this important initiative in our local community.

Our Obligation to the Homeless

What is the responsibility of the Christian community in response to the Gospel call to serve the least among us — the most vulnerable and often neglected?

Throughout the pages of the New Testament, we find a consistent response to the poor. The health and holiness of Christian communities rested on their willingness to aid those in need, adhering to the teachings of the Christian church about the right use of material goods. The “community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common,” (Acts 4:32).

St. Paul was always mindful of the obligation to serve the poor. He clearly stated that disciples should participate in God’s generosity by offering relief for Jerusalem Christians, (Rom 15:25-27, 1 Cor 16:1-4, and 2 Cor 8-9).

The clearest call comes from Jesus himself in chapter 25 of St. Matthew’s Gospel. “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs? Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me,” (Mt 25:45). Perhaps this clarion call will be the final exam we face on this side of life.

It is easy to look at homelessness in Rapid City as someone else’s problem — the city, county or faith communities. This is a complex, largescale social problem which presents many challenges for those who seek solutions. No one organization can solve it singlehandedly. As a Christian community, we have an opportunity to stand strong, city-wide, to provide innovative, effective, comprehensive, local solutions.

I believe that the Rapid City Collective Impact is an important initiative for meeting these challenges directly.  The initiative addresses three priorities: food security, behavioral health and affordable housing/homelessness. This community-supported initiative can be instrumental in improving the quality of life and building a more caring community.

When we invest in the most vulnerable of our community in a responsible way, we will achieve long-term financial savings for our local government and, at the same time, provide comprehensive services to our most vulnerable in a more humanitarian way, thus upholding their God-given human dignity. Consolidating services would also allow precious resources to be more efficiently utilized, thus practicing good stewardship.

I support the proposed transformation campus – ONE HEART. One location where the community could provide transitional housing and many other needed services for our homeless would be a valuable asset, not only for those among us in need of such services, but for our community itself. It is clear that when people beaten down by circumstances in life are given a chance and the necessary resources to turn their lives in a new direction, inspiring things happen. They discover their own dignity in a new way and grow in the confidence that they can become the persons whom God has created them to be.

I recall the challenging words of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, whose aim was to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ, bringing hospitality to those on the margins of society – “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love least.”

I am deeply grateful for the business leaders whose leadership and support have led the way to bring this vision to life. Now Rapid City is graced with a great opportunity, from which we cannot turn away. Let us band together as a community and show compassion in a way that leads to a better quality of life for the least among us — the most vulnerable and often neglected.


Most Reverend Robert D. Gruss
Bishop of the Catholic
Diocese of Rapid City


A Statement from the Diocese of Rapid City

John Praveen was accused of sexual contact with a minor and arrested on October 2, 2018.

This was reported in the news media. Bishop Gruss and the Diocese of Rapid City continue to cooperate with civil authorities as this case moves through the court system. In light of recent news, it is important to give an update about this case.

Bishop Gruss and the Diocese of Rapid City remain committed to protecting the safety of our children. Any allegation of abuse is taken seriously and if it is deemed credible the diocese reports the allegation to civil authorities and cooperates with them.

At the same time, we reach out to the victims and their families through the Victim Assistance Coordinator. This protects the privacy and the anonymity of the victims and their families. The bishop and the diocese seek to offer concern and solace, medical care, mental health services and spiritual guidance. In the case of Father Praveen, the diocese has reached out through the Victim Assistance Coordinator to the victim and family. They are also receiving support from their own pastor and other priests who know them.

The Diocese of Rapid City also seeks to treat all persons involved in any misconduct with dignity and respect, seeking justice with compassion. This is the Gospel message and the call of Jesus. In addition, the bishop of a diocese is obligated by Church law to take care of the priests assigned to his care. This means assisting them in fulfilling their assigned ministry, providing for their basic needs and holding them accountable for their behavior. Bishop Gruss is concerned not only for the victim and the victim’s family, but also for Father John.

Father John Praveen is a priest from the Holy Spirit Fathers located in Hyderabad, India. He and Fr. George Vincent were released from ministry in India by their religious order to serve in our diocese for several years. Both of them went through a careful screening process, in both the religious order and through our own Safe Environment process prior to beginning ministry in Eagle Butte, SD. Father John began ministry at the Cathedral in Rapid City in July and Father George continued ministry in Eagle Butte. Father George has discerned that he is not called to continue ministry in our diocese and he returned to India this week.

Father John is currently in the Pennington County Jail. His bail is $100,000 cash. On Tuesday, November 6, 2018 an arraignment was held, in which Father John was expected to enter a plea. His lawyer, who was retained and is being paid for by Father John’s religious order in India, asked that an interpreter who could speak Father John’s native language be contacted through a translation service. This was to ensure Father John’s clear understanding of the hearing. Because the interpreter could not be contacted, the arraignment was moved to November 16th. A request was made by his attorney for a reduction in bail so that Father John could be released thus allowing easier access to Fr. John and sufficient time with him to prepare his case, especially in light of his language difficulties.

If Father John’s bail is posted, the question of where Father John would be housed will need to be addressed, including protective measures to ensure public safety. That would ultimately be determined by the judge as well as any type of monitoring system. Bishop Gruss, working with chancery staff and priests in the area, have been exploring options. The Casa Santa Maria, a fourplex designed to house retired priests of the diocese, was suggested as a potential option. That has been removed as an option because of the proximity to a middle school and the Our Lady of the Black Hills Church and concerns expressed by members of the Catholic Church and other persons in the community.

There remains no attempt to be secretive about anything in this process. Contrary to the perception of some, the diocese is not and will not attempt to hide or protect Father John from the  consequences of his actions nor would the courts allow this. At the same time, if bail is reduced and posted, the Bishop will be required to provide some sort of adequate housing for Father John. He is responsible for all priests serving in the diocese, that they are treated with justice and dignity.

This situation is complicated and very difficult. It is painful for the victim and the victim’s family in ways that only those who have been victims of abuse of any kind can understand. Many people in our community, indeed in our whole country, are hurt, angry and confused. It is important that prayer surround our dialogue so that charity will remain at the center of this process, first and foremost for the victim and family and for all victims of abuse. Prayer is also important for those who are immediately involved with working through this process, as well as for Father John and all alleged perpetrators. Living the Gospel calls for this prayerful response. We also know that God’s justice is always tempered with mercy, and so should ours.

The Diocese will continue to be transparent in listening to and responding to the questions and concerns that are raised. Please know that you may call or email the diocese and we will respond.

605-343-3541 or

USCCB Fall Assembly Closing Remarks