Instruction via the Two Roads by Nicholas Black Elk

Promoting the cause of Sainthood of Nicholas Black Elk   


By Kathy Cordes, Diocesan Archivist

Dating back to late 1800s, the Two Roads pictorial catechism, used by Nicholas Black Elk and other Native Catechists and Jesuits, depicted salvation history. A new acquisition to the archives, on loan from Deacon Bill White and his wife Terri, is the pictorial catechism of the Two Roads, “Instruction/on by means of the Two Roads.”

Included in the display are references for further reading. The couple spent many months dissecting the section of the Two Roads as part of their Veritatis Splendor Master’s project. (The VSI program is sponsored by the Diocese of Rapid City to train catechists.) The couple’s purpose was to provide current biblical quotes or parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) for references.

“We had originally wanted to take his narrative and update it for current times, but after visiting with some of the members of the Black Elk board, we decided to stick with the authenticity of Black Elk’s writing,” White said.

The Instruction/on by means of the Two Roads” explains that the image features two roads: the good road leading to heaven and the bad road leading to the home of the devil.

“If we desire to go to heaven, and three things we must  observe: 
We must believe all that God has revealed. 
We must observe the commandments of  God.
We must receive the seven sacraments.

“There is only one God, but there are three persons in God whom we must adore, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (CCC.234). These three persons are one God. They possess all things: all alike. One Wisdom, one kind. God is a living spirit (Jn 4:24) (Rm 5:5). He has no body, and don’t need to have any. God is very great: can do all things, He knows everything, and is in heaven and on earth. God made everything according to his will (Rom 8:28) (Eph 4:20) (Ps 148:2-5).

“First, he made angels and they were good, but a part of them failed to adore God, so he cast them away and made them to suffer. They will suffer for all eternity in the home of the devil (CCC 391). Those who were obedient to God are now in heaven” (CCC.331).

“I appreciate the work of Deacon Bill and Terri to help capture the apostolic zeal and creativity of Nicholas Black Elk,” said Bishop Peter Muhich.  “We can all appreciate his (Black Elk’s) example of holiness.”

Starting July 27, watch the Nicholas Black Elk website ( and the Facebook page (@nicholasblackelkservantofgod) for detailed photos from Two Roads image. We welcome pictures and narratives for both in order to keep the image of Black Elk alive and well. His catechesis and his work to unite peoples together lives on today. Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, pray for us!

His will, His way, My Faith

Update on diocesan Nicholas Black Elk Canonization process 
By Kathy Cordes, Diocesan Archivist and member of the Black Elk Working Group

Currently, the Black Elk local working group is looking at the events surrounding a rambunctious 2-year-old little girl who was born prematurely, weighing 2.5 pounds. She had a heart valve issue and three holes in her heart. At the time, doctors did not think surgery was an option and she was only expected to live two weeks.

A prayer group in the eastern part of the United States which is devoted to Black Elk immediately began praying for Baby Faith when they heard her case.

“We prayed to Black Elk for his intercession for this baby’s healing,” said Bill McMahon, head of the Shalom prayer group.

In addition to prayers, the group embarked on a pilgrimage to the Black Hills in 2018. While at Black Elk Peak, the group collected water from a stream running through Black Elk Peak. Along with a parish priest, the prayer group blessed Baby Faith with this holy water and, to this day, continues to pray over Baby Faith through the intercession of Black Elk.

Today, two of the holes in her heart and the open PDA (the vessel connecting the pulmonary artery to the descending aorta) have closed without the need for surgery. The third hole has healed enough that surgical intervention would not be needed.

Baby Faith’s mom believes these healing prayers worked for her daughter and the prayers through the intercession of Black Elk are working.  “Baby Faith defies the odds and proves that there is power in prayer,” she said.

“We did not pray for the healing of her chromosome problem at the time because we were only made aware of the heart problem which the Lord healed through the intercession of Black Elk,” said McMahon.

In addition to her heart condition, Baby Faith was to have surgery to correct her crossed eyes, but her ophthalmologist said the condition was slowly correcting itself. She also underwent chemotherapy for cancer, which she has since beaten. This past January, celebrating the feast of the Birth of our Lord, she ended chemo on her 2nd birthday!
“Faith can move mountains” (Mt 17:20).

A ‘Common Ground’ diocesan Archive’s favorite



The late Msgr. William O’Connell was a fan favorite and founding editor of the West River Catholic. (Archive photo)


By Kathy Cordes, Diocesan Archivist


One of my projects, is digitizing and preserving columns, articles, sermons, and other great works of our clergy. This helps to build a foundation of our archival history. Listen with your heart for an exciting message.  These words from  Msgr. William O’Connell still ring true today:

“For a moment, imagine … Every day when we get up there is a printed text beside our bed or we are only allowed to say  “It will be okay.”  These are the only words we can speak that day.  What a boring day that would be!  Why?  Because words are meant to be heard. Spoken in love, in anger or confidence all are meant to be heard.

Msgr. Romano Guardini, a noted theologian, wrote in 1953 how important it was for us to hear the holy words of Scripture when we are in Mass.  What Guardini wrote then still applies to this day. During Mass, the Liturgy of the Word is not merely read, it is proclaimed!  That is, the priest, deacon or lector is giving us an important message from God, Our Father.  An exciting message!

We are called upon to make our hearts and souls receptive to what we hear.  Jesus is the sower and the Sunday readings are the good seed that he sows.  We need to work so this seed does not fall on the hard soil of our heart. When listening to the reading, it stirs us while in church and hopefully we take it to the outside world.  Our Lord hopes that our hearts and souls will be the good soil that produces a very virtuous life in each of us.

If we listen with our hearts, we will have a kernel of God’s truth, which allows it to become the living word in our lives.

As we move quickly towards Holy Week and Easter, let us pray that we indeed have ears to hear the message Our Lord has for us when we listen to the proclamation of Scripture at Mass.” Condensed article “Will God’s Word Land on Good Soil?” by Msgr. William O’Connell, West River Catholic, March 2012.

Update on diocesan Nicholas Black Elk Canonization process

I also serve with the Black Elk Working Group. We are responsible for the groundwork for the diocesan portion of the canonization process. Here are some updates from the group while we wait to hear from Rome on the next step to canonization:

Recently we have been investigating reports of alleged miracles from all over the globe to further the canonization of Nicholas Black Elk. Two miracles are required to be submitted to Rome for the cause of a saint awaiting veneration. Deacon Bill White leads the  investigations of alleged miracles. For a miracle to be considered, each one is to be completely faith based — no surgical or human intervention can be attributed to the healing.  Currently, the working group is looking at the events surrounding two separate alleged miracles — each one  attributed to the intercession of Nicholas Black Elk by those who witnessed the alleged miracle. Deacon White reviews each alleged miracle as a potential addition to the cause.

“Walking the Good Red Road” by NewGroup Media has been widely received and is now showing in Canada.

We would like to welcome Germaine Little Bear to the working group. As the new diocesan Director of Native Concerns, she is a welcome addition.

‘We are not merely a museum, but a vault of safe-keeping’

By Father Jacob Boddicker, SJ

(Editors note: This is the second part of the column which ran in the September 2020 issue of the West River Catholic, highlighting The Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum, St. Francis Mission. For more information on the St. Francis Mission and our museum visit

The Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum is a small treasure-trove of artifacts from the Rosebud Reservation and St. Francis Mission. A recent Jesuit volunteer who once interned at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC remarked that we have items in our collection that even they do not have. What is absolutely unique about our collection is that our native artifacts have never left their place of origin: the things we have were entrusted to us by the people who made them and used them, and have never left. We are not merely a museum, but a vault of safe-keeping for items that would otherwise have perished, been sold, or otherwise have found their way miles apart from those who would appreciate them most.

Due to the small size of our facility, we are only able to display a small number of our available inventory, but even still visitors are surprised at what they are able to see. When entering the museum the first things you notice are the central display cases which contain example of Sicangu Lakota dress for men. One item of dress has strands of human hair on them, the meaning of which varies. Some say they are trophies of enemies defeated in battle, but more likely they are strands of hair of the people the man was responsible for protecting and nourishing by his hunting. In a sense, it could be that wearing such a shirt was a way of reminding a warrior and hunter of the people he had a duty to serve, and that their love and prayers went with him into battle, and into the wild. The garment also has examples of beautiful bead and quill work; the other garments on display show the same.

Our museum also displays a collection of pipes, moccasins, bows and arrows, and other artifacts (including a Martin guitar gifted to the mission by Johnny Cash after a concert here in 1983), along with a large number of photographs on display which represent only some of the tens of thousands of photographs available in our archives. Perhaps among the most fascinating are the Winter Counts. They are large pieces of hide, paper, or canvas on which are drawn pictographs that represent a historic event from a particular year. Each winter the men of the tribe would gather and discuss the events of the previous year, eventually settling on what they believed was the most important thing that happened. Whomever was the keeper of the winter count would then draw a small image as a memory aid so that the general history of the tribe could be recorded over a number of years. We have several winter counts on display in a gallery dedicated to these works of art.

We hope that one day you can visit our  museum and appreciate the beauty of these items that have their origin right here among your Sicangu brothers and sisters.

Preserving artifacts that were made here, used here, and remain here

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.