‘A good way to remember him, pray for him’

By Becky Berreth

Members of St. Patrick parish, Lead, and St. Ambrose Church, Deadwood, gathered for a hike up Black Elk Peak and a sunset Mass, on September 16, to celebrate the life of a former pastor.

Father Peter Kovarik was only in the parishes for a little over a year before he was killed in a plane crash, but in the 16 months he was assigned, he started a tradition at the top of the highest summit in South Dakota.

“Father Pete asked if I would put a hike together,” explained Jay Jacobs, parishioner in Lead. “That was our first hike. He loved being outdoors and wanted to share that with us. We were able to do two, Black Elk Peak and Cement Ridge, before he passed away.”

“Celebrating Mass on Black Elk Peak was something the people talked about who had hiked with him to Black Elk Peak,” said Father Leo Hausmann, current pastor. “They had a very fond memories of the event, so it seemed like making it an annual event in honor of Father Peter would be a good way to remember him, pray for him, and in the process find healing of our own grief related to his death.”

What makes this hike and Mass worth doing is the journey, explained Jacobs. “You’re hiking and then pretty soon you’re hiking with other people, and it becomes a journey to the destination.”

“Hiking to the summit of Black Elk Peak takes a while and there is a lot of good conversation about everything under the sun,” agreed Fr. Hausmann. “You really get to know people in a different way than you normally do at other social gatherings.”

The event, which has drawn anywhere from five to a dozen participants each year, has become a tradition for the two parishes, something Fr. Hausmann sees as important in today’s world.

“I think parish traditions are really important, especially for young people. Our culture today isn’t built on tradition to the extent of previous generations, probably for a lot of different reasons. We are so much more mobile these days and we lose some of our grounding.  Traditions ground us.

“Even though much of the stability from times gone by that fostered tradition in family life isn’t as common in our present culture, we can offset that somewhat by building tradition in the parish. I think that if a person has a fond memory of a parish tradition from their youth, but somewhere along the path of life fell away from the practice of their faith, the fond memory of a parish tradition might play a part in drawing them back into the life of the church. For older and more consistently involved parishioners, parish traditions keep them involved and united with fellow parishioners.”