Clear vision for the diocesan archives


Preserving a Catholic Community By Kathy Cordes, Diocesan Archivist

(Writer’s note: These firsts do not encompass the of history of the five Indian Reservations in the Diocese of Rapid City.)

History will be made in 2020 with the first Catholic Pastoral Center in our diocese. Following are lists of the firsts we have recorded. Unfortunately, the claims for these firsts are not well documented and many dates contradict one another. These make for interesting history discussions. We would love for someone to say — “hey, wait a minute our marriage was the first recorded in …” and then we could record it as the diocesan’s firsts.  

From the Dakotas to New Dakota Territory to Lead City to Diocese of Lead City and finally, to the Diocese of Rapid City – The recorded first priest, diocesan or religious order; the first Mass, low or high Mass; first church (framed, wooden or structure).

The first West River Catholic issue was published in May 1973. Publisher: Bishop Harold J. Dimmerling, Editor: Fr. William J. O’Connell. The diocesan cathedral was dedicated on May 7, 1963. Ten years later to the day the first issue was published. It was “to serve as reminder to everyone that the Blessed Virgin plays an important part in our spiritual life.”

The first Mass in Rapid City was celebrated on Christmas Day, 1883 by Rapid City’s first resident pastor, Rev. Alfred Vigeant in the first church of any denomination to be built in the new town. St. Mary Catholic Church (framed) was constructed beginning in 1881. -Excerpt from Rapid City in Retrospect, published 1982.  

The first resident Jesuit Catholic priest in 1876 was Father Bernard Mackin, SJ. He was reportedly the first priest buried in St. Ambrose Cemetery. Interestingly enough, the first cemetery – St. Ambrose, the Catholic section (also called Mount Moriah) was established in Deadwood in the early 1880s. -St. Ambrose Parish 100th Anniversary booklet 1877-1977.

St. Ambrose was the first Catholic church in our diocese. Fr. John Lonergan presided at the first public low Mass in Deadwood on May 20, 1877. -The Black Hills Daily Times, Dakota Territory, 1877.

The first Mass reportedly was said in Kendall, Dakota Territory, in 1683 by a French missionary priest. Among the fur traders, he paused to say Mass for any group he came across. -Typewritten statement, author unknown. 

The first Spanish speaking missionary, Rev. Pedro Morante, was in charge of the Spanish mission people in the Black Hills. 

The first grammar school was named St. Martin Academy in honor of Bishop Martin Marty.

The first hospital, St. Edward Hospital was opened 1878 in Deadwood and staffed by Sisters of the Holy Cross. 

“In order to make this (these firsts) as interesting as possible I would appreciate any news clippings, photos, written historical remembrances that parishioners might have which would help tell the history of our diocese.” Fr. Eugene Szalay, May 1973, wrote in the first column “Heritage In the Faith” published in first West River Catholic newspaper. 

The well-known mantra of all archivists as reiterated in Fr. Szalay’s message above, of yesteryear and for the future, we must preserve and report history and send it to the archives! 

St. Joseph School in Gregory formed a rhythm band which made its first public appearing in Gregory May 2, 1929. — Dedication booklet, 1969 St. Joseph Parish

A sneak peek at the new diocesan archives

Those who have toured the basement love that I have put my title on the door already. (WRC photo)

Did you know there are three floors in our new pastoral center? Not many people do. A basement is often overlooked but in the new pastoral center this floor will be taking on new life as we move our current diocesan archives. The move in date has yet to be determined.

The diocesan archives have been on quite a journey. Over the years, we have moved from a 290 (est.) square footage one room Chancery building basement (behind the Cathedral) to nearly 2,000 square feet at Terra Sancta Chancery Annex to the upcoming new Pastoral Center in downtown Rapid City.

Our diocesan archives are at maximum capacity!  Making this new move will enable us to work more efficiently, timely, up to date. Currently, the archives occupy five rooms on two floors, and two small closets at Terra Sancta.  My main workspace serves as an office and processing area all in one.  At times, more often than not, it looks as if I am moving and there are boxes and artifacts all over! Packages and boxes are left on my doorstep, sometimes anonymously, as someone is usually downsizing or cleaning out their attic. 

The new floor space will be in a much larger room with the space needed to process files, artifacts and collections. These will be easy to access and items will not be stacked on top of one another. Additional surfaces for sorting and arranging collections and some storage for supplies will be beneficial. I will have ample storage space and I will be able to scan photographs and books without moving a separate desk around to line up with my computer. My hopes are to purchase a book scanner that permanently sits on a separate desk to use efficiently and not have to move and reinstall this piece of equipment every time I want to use it. I will be able to work among the ‘stacks’ and not have to move my research into a different office. 

Our diocese must adhere to record retention guidelines regulated by S.D. state law and our church Canon Laws. Canon law states a diocese must have adequate space to store records and artifacts.  Canon Law also defines what records need to be stored permanently. Records such as financial records, employee records, etc. must adhere to South Dakota State Retention guidelines. 

Windows are typically not used in archival storage areas. This practice is used to protect collections from light, humidity and excess heat gain or loss. Different areas to house such items as tin type negatives are individually temperature-controlled areas along with an area to house photos that will not be subject to the same elements as above.

Growth and expansion are important for our future, our history, and our especially Catholic history. We are called as Christians to reach out to the next generation, to pass on our faith. The foundation being the heart of Catholic history just may be found in the basement!

Curia Corner — Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, Pray for Us

A look inside the shrine to Nicholas Black Elk that Red Cloud students created. It is on a little patch of land outside of the school in Pine Ridge. (Photo courtesy Red Cloud Indian School)


Preserving a Catholic Community by Kathy Cordes, Diocesan Archivist

Diocesan update on canonization cause

“We are basically waiting for the thumbs-up from the Holy Father, Pope Francis!” says Fr. Joe Daoust, SJ. “I am hopeful that Nicholas Black Elk is declared Venerable soon!” 

Now that the final reporting from our diocese was sent to Rome in June of this year, in hopes of continuing the canonization cause, the Black Elk working group has begun the task of promoting and furthering the cause of sainthood.

Members of that group are Fr. Luis Escalante, procurator for the cause; Fr. Michel Mulloy, diocesan administrator; Vice -Postulators Fr. Joe Daoust, SJ, Bill White, Veronica Valandra and myself; Mark Thiel, Marquette University; Fr. Andre Benso, Italy; Joyce Tibbits; and Black Elk family descendants Myron Pourier, Penny Wolters, and Mitch Desera. We all are dedicated to promoting this cause, awaiting miracles to flow forth, and to see Black Elk become the first male Native American canonized saint in the U.S.

Many people are still learning the levels of deep respect that Native Americans have for family values.

Black Elk’s headstone reads, Chief Black Elk 1858-1950. At one of our group meetings, it was

explained that the word chief has other meanings to the Lakota. Although never technically a chief — someone who is a leader in the military, designated by rank, etc. — Ben Black Elk, Nicholas’ son, and his family bestowed the honor of chief to Nicholas because he was a humble Lakota and because of people’s devotion to him.

Black Elk is alive and well across the country, in South Dakota, at Red Cloud Indian School, and on the Pine Ridge Reservation. We must continue to bring that education and excitement to the world around us. The children at Red Cloud have built a shrine/grotto to Black Elk on a little patch of land outside of the school in Pine Ridge. They also have several school activities planned. Bill White is developing a talk for school children. 

John Corry, a layperson from St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Beaver Damn, Wis., promotes Nicholas Black Elk at every Mass he can. “I have a spiritual affinity, for some reason to Nicholas Black Elk,” he says. “I believe in the communion of saints, so I always add Nicholas and ask him to pray for me.” He goes on to say that he prays for Black Elk intentions for several others who are having health challenges. “Miracles happen everywhere, why not here in Wisconsin?” he said.

How can you help further the cause for Canonization of Nicholas Black Elk?

1) Pray. Through your prayers for the successful carrying out of this canonization process and by praying to him for his help in any distress so that all can walk the good red road toward God.

2) Evangelize. Spread the devotion to him as an exemplar of Native American

holiness, bringing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in indigenous spirituality forward in the church. 

3) Donate. You can help the Nicholas Black Elk Fund in the diocese of Rapid City which was established to help cover the costs of carrying this process forward at under the “Make a Gift” tab. Please designate your gift to Nicholas Black Elk.

“Nicholas — pray for us as we open our hearts to recognize the risen Christ in other cultures and peoples, to your glory and honor” (from prayer for the Canonization of Nicholas Black Elk).

What does a Vice-Postulator do?

Once Nicholas Black Elk is declared venerable the vice-postulators will represent the Postulator, Father Luis Escalante, in carrying out any investigation and anything necessary to further the cause of Nicholas Black Elk. This includes talking a closer look at miracles and items attributed to Black Elk. Vice-postulators can include people from the diocese and other interested parties from across the U.S.


Curia Corner — Moments in the diocesan archives

St. Anthony, St. Anthony, dear St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost and needs to be found. Please Grant me the serenity to accept the collections I cannot decline and the courage to decline the collections I can!

Did you know that archivists have their own serenity prayer and that St. Anthony is a major help when it comes to discovering and maintaining an archive and its historical artifacts?! 

Moments in the diocesan archives: Fr. Carlos Casavantes, FSSP, Immaculate Conception Parish, Rapid City, brought in this gem of an unidentified miter cap in a silk casing (right). Who does this belong to? Who wore this and when? Still researching but quietly hoping it is from the early years. St. Anthony …

A tourist couple from North Dakota was visiting Terra Sancta last week, inquiring as to the status of the cause of Nicholas Black Elk. After sharing their interest and collecting our brochures, and prayer cards of Black Elk, they asked for us to pray for them as they are in need of a family miracle. Nicholas Black Elk, pray for all those suffering and grant this couple the miracle they are so eagerly searching for.

Two newsletters have expressed an interest in publishing our accounts of Nicholas Black Elk. Exciting news as we continue to spread the word of this exciting cause and help Nicholas reach sainthood! 

I am assisting Fr. Joh Paul Trask with his hours of research of Eagle Butte and the land property on the Cheyenne Reservation. Eagle Bute has numerous parishes, missions and cemeteries. We are trying to preserve thos stories lost from the elders of family and the history that surrounds them before those parishes become only a memory. 

At the Summit 2019 last weekend, a few approached me and said “the picture you found of Bishop McCarty waving while driving a tractor” (right) that was used for the  Cathedral “Living the Mission Campaign” was fabulous.  They also curiously mentioned, “Are they really sticking you in the basement of the new pastoral center?” … The most infamous question as of yet! Stay tuned!

St. Anthony, St. Anthony pray for our diocesan archives and our daily work. Help us to uncover the treasures of our history and reveal our mission as we walk in HIS path! 

Curia Corner — Behind the scenes of the closing of the diocesan phase of Nicholas Black Elk

To examine all the writings and documents related to the Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk was the charge of the Historical Commission for the diocesan cause of the canonization.

We were comprised of Mark G. Thiel, CA, President of the Commission, Archives of Raynor Memorial Libraries, Marquette University, Wisc; Father Michael Steltenkamp, SJ, professor of Anthropology and Religious Studies, Wheeling Jesuit University, W.Va.; and myself, representing the Diocese of Rapid City as archivist.

The final report, from the Diocese of Rapid City, supporting the canonization of Nicholas Black Elk, Servant of God, was signed and sealed with wax before it went to Rome. (Courtesy photo)

Forming a collaborative network was quite a task. We were to search out and gather all published writings, those not yet published as well as historical documents. Father Luis Escalante, Postulator from Italy, asked that we research local areas, repositories, Black Elk’s time spent in Yankton/Vermillion areas, and to check Wyoming where he was reportedly born. One finding incorrectly reported Black Elk as being born in Montana.

Many, many emails, phone calls exchanging ideas, hours of research, waiting for return phone calls and excitement shared that one of us had found this or found that. “Did you know, there is a park in Nebraska …” “Please check out …” read one email. Another remarked “ Hmmmm, I had never heard of that manuscript of his …”

Thiel said, “The Historical Commission’s quest for archival documentation has been an exciting adventure of hunting and stalking into the past. With pain staking scrutiny, we uncovered and studied holdings large and small, which illuminated Black Elk’s holiness and added clues about obscure parts of his life. (Did you know that our diocesan archives and Marquette have an extensive collaboration between the diocese and St. Francis and Holy Rosary Indian Missions?)

The final Historical Commission Report detailed why the name change to Black Elk Peak, several photos of Mass being celebrated on top of Black Elk Peak and much more. To view the full Historical Commission report, please visit our diocesan webpage The link to Black Elk, Servant of God is in the lower left corner of the home page.

Many others from the diocese also put in many hours of work on Black Elk’s cause. The personal letters written by Nicholas Black Elk in Lakota were verified by Father Joe Daoust, SJ, of Pine Ridge and translated by Patricia Catches the Enemy, both of Pine Ridge. Catches the Enemy was the Official Verifying Translator on the inquiring commission of Cause of Canonization of the Servant of God — concerning the Life and Virtues and Father Daoust is Episcopal Delegate of the Cause of Black Elk.

“Nicholas — pray for us as we open our hearts to recognize the Risen Christ in other cultures and peoples, to your glory and honor” (from prayer for the Canonization of Nicholas Black Elk).

Curia Corner — Match Game Edition

When it was announced that Bishop Robert Gruss was being moved to the Diocese of Saginaw, the Diocesan Archives received many questions regarding the history of the bishop’s office. The diocese has had eight bishops, an Vicar Apostolic of the Dakotas and a Coadjutor Bishop. Each of them developed their own crest and motto. Can you name which bishop goes with which crest? Need help? Here’s a list of bishops:

Bishop Martin Marty
Bishop John Stariha
Bishop Joseph Busch
Bishop William McCarty
Bishop Leo Dworschak
Bishop John Lawler
Bishop Harold Dimmerling
Bishop Charles Chaput
Bishop Blase Cupich
Bishop Robert Gruss

Notice there are eight crests and 10 bishops on this list. We don’t have a record the crests for two bishops. Answers are below. Good luck.

Answers: 1) Bishop Harold Dimmerling, fifth bishop, 1969-1987; 2) Bishop Robert Gruss, eighth bishop, 2011-2019; 3) Bishop John Lawler, third bishop, 1916-1948; 4) Bishop Blase Cupich, seventh bishop, 1998-2010; 5) Bishop Charles Chaput, sixth bishop, 1988-1997; 6) Coadjutor Bishop Leo Dworschak, 1946-1947; 7) Vicar Apostolic of the Dakotas Bishop Martin Marty, 1879-1895; 8) Bishop William McCarty, sixth bishop.

Curia Corner — Chancery staff says goodbye

A memory book has become the chancery tradition to say farewell to bishops — then and now:

from a homemade scrapbook … to a digital photo book,

The medium may change over the years, but the sentiment does not.

Farewell Bishop Gruss. Be assured of our prayers as you lead the Diocese of Saginaw.

Curia Corner — ‘Up the Downhill Side’ with Ruby Lee

Note: Ruby M. Lee was a resident of Rapid City since 1941, a member of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and court St. Rita of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas. She appeared as a columnist for the West River Catholic from 1975-1982. A smattering of her writings from “Up the Downhill Side,” follows, and once again, she appears as a guest columnist, posthumously, for the Curia Corner. I can hear my own grandmother’s voice in Ruby Lee!

I believe in it, don’t you? What can I find to sacrifice? I would gain no glory by giving away those things I’ve grown tired of, even if it helps the church. We can give the church money. That dirty old money everyone says is laden with germs of all kinds.
Don’t wash it first before putting it in your billfold. Let another person risk infection by handling it. They won’t’ mind. We can get rid of the dirty old stuff by dropping it in the collection plate, saving enough to pay our bills, naturally. With that germy money we can send along a prayer that those who benefit will be blessed by our Lord. (August 1976)

Ruby Lee’s headshot from her
column “Up the Downhill Side”
(File photo

Where did May go?
The month of May didn’t register on my consciousness nor did any of the summer months and I may have missed them all. Now, I shall try and make them up to myself. I was taught about the virgin birth and Mary, the mother and I believed. But it didn’t make much of an impression until the month of May for that is when my first-born son appeared. I was also a mother! Mary was a mother! We had something in common and I could tell her of my joy! She listened and told me of her joy at the birth of her son. Fanciful! Somewhat. I came to love the mother of my Lord in a way as she ought to be loved by all peoples. Once, now with two sons, they both caught whooping cough. I was in agony at their suffering. I ran to our Blessed Mother. “Dear Mother of God,” I cried, “let me offer you my son in every way but please give me his life.” They have many years of credit now; they grew well and strong. In these later years the thought of my blessing has closed around me, thrusting out all thoughts of anger, selfishness, pride and envy.

Our Lady of Joy taught me this: from a short lifetime of many sad happenings, she saw the ultimate the awful death of her son. At the end she regained the presence of her Son again.

What a life after which to pattern our own lives! Without saying a word aloud, we will make the presence of a prayerful heart felt to others. (July 1978)

Love one another — touch hands
I was introduced to the pious custom of wearing a badge of the Sacred Heart early in my Catholic life. I wore the badge but couldn’t bear to look at it. I asked a good priest the cause of my turning away. He said, “Say your prayers to the Sacred Heart. Prayer is always helpful,” he added. “The picture and badge you wear calls to mind that the Sacred Heart of Jesus is burning with the love for all of us.”
A heart burning forever for me and all creation! What a beautiful thought. Love. That was the key word I had wanted to hear but didn’t know how to ask! … I loved my family, but it was all so different from the love emanating from the burning heart of Christ. I began to love in a greater way. I must call it supernatural love for this kind of love demands no love in return.

Touch hands — this is one of the most beautiful customs coming from Vatican II. Touch hands with a gentle clasp, a gentle touching, a smile, the showing of love is essential. We greet our own family and our friends with a happy shout. Most of us Catholic have put away the Catholic things in our homes which were visual thoughts of love. We no longer greet friends as the last generation did with “May God care for you and HIS love be with you.” Our actions must portray our love. Love is necessary in everything we do. Show it. TOUCH HANDS! (May 1978)

Curia Corner — Archives awareness and beyond, a year of #tbt

Staying focused while working on an archival project? Not one of my strong suits. Most of the time, that is how “Throwback Thursday” (#tbt) on social media comes into fruition — a photo here, a random photo there.

For those of you who don’t have Facebook or aren’t on social media, the diocesan archives have published a “Throwback Thursday” photo every week for the past year. Here are some highlights:

Your favorites (or most likes on Facebook) — the pics of Fr. Gerald Scherer and his mining photos with his father looking at ‘Jerry’ from the foot of the Scherer Coal Mine in Firesteel; Fr. Scherer’s column; building pics of cathedral in the 1960s; the picture of nativity scene with an added shepherd and a young Fr. Bryan Sorenson. Lisa going through her mother’s attic and donating the First Holy Communion class photos; St. Bart Church in Glad Valley sparked interest …

(Right) A #tbt post from July 2018. Watch for a new post every Thursday on social media. Find the diocese at:
@rapidcitydiorc (Instagram and Twitter)

There was also interest in the relics, published in March West River Catholic, ranging from 1st class to 3rd class of the archives, amidst the celebration of the heart of St. John Vianney. A small prayer group from one of the Rapid City parishes would like to venerate these relics. Project challenge accepted. Stay tuned for the details!

Any historical stories and photos are also well liked — like the priceless Timber Lake photo trading the plow for the bow and arrow (circa unknown).

Unidentified photos — I have posted and asked for your help in identifying pictures, and an original aerial shot of St. Martins Monastery and the ‘circle track’ that was in question was indeed a track used by the schools for sporting events of St. Martin school in the early 1970s.

My favorites — The Advent, Christmas photo of the adorable girl in her native regalia, yet to be identified; ‘running’ into Archbishop Cupich in Chicago at a conference; construction pics of cathedral; a picture of nativity scene with an added shepherd; artifacts such as St. Brigid’s cross, the surprise donation of the stained glass work of art prairie church and other artifacts that find their way to the diocesan archives. How cute was the photo of a 1920s married couple published in February? Who could forget the memory of driving by the bishop’s house on West Blvd and seeing his gigantic (in the eyes of a 7-year-old) nativity scene!

We Remember — Photos of Fr. Gerald Sherer and his 100th heavenly birthday, Msgr. W. O’Connell, Fr. Cower; Msgr. Walsh; those who perished in the 1972 Rapid City flood including Fr. Francis Collins, SJ; Fr. Bob Baden and our clergy and staff whom we thanked for service in our military; Fr. John Francis McKearney and his great-nephew’s visit to our archives for genealogical research.
But what about upcoming posts, you ask? I’ve got them ready. They will be featuring Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, the Wall parish window that has traveled the world, oldest recordist voice on YouTube, a curly haired priest birthday photo and much more.

I am on to new discoveries, unexpected archival finds, mystery photos, more pics of our clergy in their younger days, more accounts of original church photos. Want more preservation tips? What is your favorite part of our diocesan history? What would you like to see published? Email your thoughts, ideas, and comments to

Curia Corner — A glimpse into the archives of the Diocese of Rapid City

Why do we have a diocesan archives?
Stariha, Busch, Dimmerling, Chaput, Cupich, Marty, McCarty, Lawler — Do you recognize these names? Do you remember? Do you know who they are and what years they serviced our diocese? Do you know when Bishop Gruss’ ordinations was? All of these examples remind us of the valuable place archives have and what we do every day to safeguard the records that tell the stories of our history.

Canon Law of the Catholic Church requires each diocese to maintain an archive. “The instruments and writings which refer to both the spiritual and temporal affairs of the diocese” are properly arranged, secured and safeguarded (Canon 486). These must be inventoried and catalogued, and content must be created. Canon 491 states that documents of historical value are to be preserved and systematically arranged and inventories are to be made, in duplicate, of each parish, one to be preserved in the archive of the church and the other in the diocesan archives.

While the bishop and chancellor have the responsibility and/or supervisory task to see that records are properly maintained, the actual task and preservation is often assumed by a trained archivist, especially for the maintenance and preservation of historical records (Canon 482 §3).

Each parish is required to record the important part of parish history. In 1932 the chancery began a collection of each parish and missions annual report of their activities. This practice still continues. From 1948 to 1969, during the years of Bishop McCarty, the parishes were required to submit a record of all baptisms, marriages and funerals conducted. Today, while the reporting of statistics is done slightly different than in years past, annual reports are still organized.

What does an archivist do?
The diocesan archives contain records from each parish along with their respective parish priests. Photos, publications, pictures, artifacts and mementos are safeguarded and preserved according to historical and archival practices. They are accessioned, catalogued with content description and then processed. Negatives, both tin-type and plastic film, 38mm, and larger projector and slide projector film are stored. Tintype negatives and painted negatives, to name a few, are stored according to environmental and humidity regulations according to archival practices. The mediums we use today, such as the DVDs or CDs, are problematic for a long term storage solution, as the computers and machines to read these or transpose them to a readable medium are soon becoming obsolete.

Sacramental records are safeguarded for parishes that are not able to store records for reasons of preservation — such as the “flood books” of 1972. These registers still contain dirt and debris that is preserved in these books along with water damage. Sacramental record books from the early 1800s are kept because old onion skin paper is so brittle it falls apart with minimal handling, not to mention that they are in Latin! We have, since then, scanned these records, creating a working copy for the parish, and the books are thus preserved in their original, scant form, and remain with their respective parishes.

So far, all parishes within our diocese of Rapid City’s sacramental record books have been scanned, cumulating a 5+ year diocesan wide project. This backup of sacramental records is paramount for security in case of a disaster such as flood or fire, in which some of our parishes have found a total loss to their records.

Our archives space is very limited, yet we do our very best to accommodate all research requests for those seeking their sacramental records or genealogical research. All records fall within state and diocesan record retention policies and all other applicable laws such as copyright and management of digital records. Archives are essential to the continued existence of the church, its history, its identity and its legacy, community and sacraments. We are instrumental in contributing to the continuing vitality of the church and its ministry, and an integral tool of keeping the Catholic Church’s history organized and alive for the future.