Fr. Eugene Buechel, SJ, is shown in an undated photo from the Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum archives.
Featuring the Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum, St. Francis Mission
Fr. Jacob Boddicker, SJ
(Editor’s note: The first part of this series ran in the May 2020 West River Catholic, highlighting the Heritage Center at Holy Rosary Mission, Pine Ridge. Part II is a highlight of The Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum, St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.)
We are in a unique position to visit this phenomenal museum and appreciate the contrast between our archives and a museum.
In 1947 a Jesuit missionary priest named Fr. Eugene Buechel (beak-ull), celebrated his fiftieth anniversary in the Society of Jesus. That same year the Lakota Museum was built in St. Francis, offering a means of displaying the massive collection of Father Buechel’s. Today, seventy years later, the museum still stands. It has grown since his death in 1954 with continued donations of items entrusted to the safekeeping of the St. Francis Mission.
Father Buechel was born in Germany in 1874, entering the Society of Jesus in 1897. From 1902 to 1904 he taught at the boarding school in St. Francis before going to St. Louis to finish his training for the priesthood, which occurred in 1906. He would move between Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations before returning to the St. Francis in 1929, remaining there until his death.
He dedicated his life to two pursuits: evangelizing the Lakota people and seeking to share the treasures of our faith with the native people of this land, and doing all he could to learn and preserve their culture, primarily by means of photography, artifact collection, and linguistic study.
One of his greatest accomplishments was the compilation of the first Lakota-English dictionary, containing over 30,000 words, including rare and archaic words nearly lost or forgotten in recent years. As he continued to learn from the Lakota people, they saw his love for their culture and desire to preserve it for future generations, leading to the donation of many personal items; the museum’s collection of authentic beadwork, clothing, weapons and other items dating as far back as the mid-1800s, before the establishment of the Rosebud Reservation.
It is thought that the museum contains one of the largest collections of Native American artifacts outside of major institutions like the Smithsonian and various universities. The collection is possibly the only such collection still present among the culture to which its items belong: the items were made here, used here, and remain here.
Next to the museum is a small wooden church named Holy Family. It was originally located on the prairie northeast of Parmelee, and was closed in the 1940s. In the 1970s it was moved to its current location, repaired, and repurposed as an addition to the museum. On display within are a number of artifacts showcasing the Catholic faith of the Lakota people on the Rosebud. This tiny church represents the thirty or more small churches that once dotted the reservation, which once included Tripp and Melette counties, in addition to Todd county.
In November Father Boddicker tells what the museum has to offer.
Bishop Peter Muhich as a young priest. (Courtesy photo)
(Editor’s note: This is the annual vocation issue for the West River Catholic. Pages 8-14 feature deacons, deacon candidates and seminarians. Bishop Peter M. Muhich was interviewed by Editor Laurie Hallstrom on his personal vocation.)
WRC: Fr. Mark McCormick, the diocesan vocations director, keeps reminding us that vocations begin in the home. How does that resonate with you?
Bishop Muhich: My vocation began in the home. I grew up in an active Catholic family, where going to church and doing things in the parish were just a normal part of daily life. Praying before and after meals, praying at bedtime, those were regular things.
My parents created an openness in their children’s lives to have a relationship with the Lord.Without that, I’m not sure you could ever discover a vocation. My parents never pushed religious vocations, but they honored priests and religious and they knew that they were important. Like every Catholic boy I think I was fascinated by what the priest was doing at the altar — my parents remember that better than I do.
WRC: When did Jesus get you thinking about a call to holy orders?
Bishop Muhich: It was in ninth grade when I started thinking about that more. We were part of a (charismatic) prayer group at that time and it started to occur to me that maybe God was calling me. I’m not a part of a prayer group today, but I think it opened up a more personal level of prayer. It wasn’t a dramatic thing, it wasn’t a big change in my life, it was a thought — maybe I should be a priest?
WRC: What did you like about going to seminary?
Bishop Muhich: I really loved studying theology, church history, and scripture. We had great priests who were professors (at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.) I always enjoyed getting to know them and having good deep conversations with them and seeing the way they were living their priesthood.
WRC: What attracted you to studying in Belgium?
Bishop Muhich: The Catholic University of Leuven is the oldest Catholic university in the world with a continuous history. There were ones founded before Leuven, but they were shut down during the French revolution or some other period of history. It’s been there since 1425 and I thought it would be really cool to study there. We were between bishops at the time I graduated from St. Thomas, so, I lobbied and lobbied and lobbied and wore the vocation director down and the diocese finally agreed to send me to Leuven. I was very persistent.
WRC: What did you enjoy about being a parish priest?
Bishop Muhich: I really enjoyed being a parish priest and being with people at all stages of life. You see the whole trajectory of a person’s spiritual life and their earthly pilgrimage.
WRC: Do you have any words of advice for a young person considering seminary or religious life?
Bishop Muhich: Keep asking God to show you the way, there is no replacement for allowing God to be in the driver’s seat with that. Don’t be surprised if it takes some unexpected turns. That happens, because God is preparing you in the perfect way for whatever he wants you do. Enjoy the adventure, continue to ask God to be the Lord of your life.
WRC: What do you want people to know about you as you go out into the parishes?
Bishop Muhich: I am a parish priest, that is my background, parish life is something very familiar to me. I’m just excited to see what God is doing here. The first year for a new bishop is a lot of watching, listening and learning.
WRC: COVID-19 has made it an odd year to begin your ministry here. Do you think things will get back to ‘normal’?
Bishop Muhich: We will need to pay special attention to bringing people back to the practice of their faith after all these unusual circumstances. Be praying and thinking of ways we can do that — forming parish committees for simply calling our parishioners and saying “hey we know you probably haven’t been able to come to church, we want to make contact with you and invite you to come back when it’s safe to come back.” I think we are going to have to do a lot of that. Committee members could even visit and say, “now we have these things going on in church and we want to tell you about them.”
We are moving through very unusual history; we haven’t had a pandemic in a hundred years, and we live in a time when there are so many things competing for our attention. We should not be surprised it’s going to take work to invite people back.
WRC: What is happening in your ministry now?
Bishop Muhich: I am enjoying visiting, I went to churches in five different parish clusters, last weekend. That was a big swing through the prairie — Faith and Eagle Butte, Timber Lake, Trail City, Isabel, Lemmon, and Buffalo.
WRC: How do you want to be addressed?
Bishop Muhich: People just don’t know what to do with the “h” in the middle of my name; it stymies them. So, Bishop Peter is fine in normal conversation.