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 We were to search out and gather all published writings, those not yet published as well as historical documents.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.

Curia Corner — What is a relic?

“Wait, What?” Noah said. “What? “Whose heart and it’s what, incurrrrr … what??”

My family laughs as I humbly try to explain to Noah, my second grade grandson, what an incredible gift we have coming to our diocese — the relic pilgrimage of Saint John Vianney’s incorrupt heart.

Relics are also the subject of the most often asked questions in my diocesan archives office.

I am frequently asked, “Whose relic is in the altar of my parish?” and “Don’t all altars in Catholic Churches bear a relic?”

The word relic generally means a part, sometimes of considerable size, of the remains of a martyr or a saint. A part of a human body, either a minute fragment or one entire limb, with the approval of ecclesiastical authority, can be the object of solemn veneration.

A 1st class relic, we believe, of St. John Vianney is housed in our diocese at Terra Sancta. It was discovered in our archives and Fr. Mark McCormick immediately sought out a reliquary to use this relic for veneration. St John Vianney is the patron saint of all diocesan priests. A first class relic consists of a part of the Saint, such as bone, hair, etc … the instruments of Christ’s passion. Underneath the back cover of the relic locket is a red wax seal. It is sealed shut and bears the insignia of issuing religious authority and their initials.

Then-Bishop Blase Cupich blesses the altar at St. Joseph Church, Spearfish. A relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was deposited underneath the altar in the tradition of building altars over the resting place of saints. (File photo)

St. Joseph’s parish in Spearfish received a relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton as a gift from Msgr. William O’Connell. It was deposited beneath the altar of St. Joseph church on March 20, 2007.

The proper place for relics in our Catholic practice states, “The ancient tradition of keeping the relics of martyrs and other saints under a fixed altar is to be preserved according to the norms given in the liturgical books” (Canon 1237 — a practice widespread since the fourth century. “Book IV, Sanctifying Office of the Church” Cann. 834 – 12378).

Amy Julian, parishioner of St. Joseph’s who was instrumental in bringing that dedication to fruition says, “It was incredibly special to be a part of that process, and even the West River Catholic was there to take pictures and write a story. By celebrating the deposition in such a public way, we drew a lot of attention to this time honored tradition of building altars over the resting places of saints.”

Julian goes on to say, “Because relics are not easily identifiable through examination, it is important to have a chain of custody that authenticates and identifies the relic so that we know for certain which saint we are honoring and depositing into the altar. “

Our diocesan archives house relics specifically for this chain of custody, to inventory, for safekeeping, and to maintain and preserve the artifacts for all parishes to use, display, and keep this tradition alive in our parishes. They are not to be put away in a drawer, but respectfully and safely kept for historical relevance, in a safe environment controlled haven, church or archives.

A 2nd class relic consists of something that was owned by the Saint or instruments of torture that were used against the martyr. We do not believe we house any second class relics.

The archive does have many 3rd class relics of saints, such as Saint Padre Pio, St. Maria Goretti and Servant of God Francis X. Seelos. A 3rd Class relic consists of something that has been touched to a 1st or 2nd class relic.

Also present is a St. Rose of Lima relic. The stone encased in this gold case, surrounded by beautiful crystal like stones, is perhaps of the little grotto which she built, her small garden, or the bed she constructed herself, made of broken glass, stone and thorns.

The St. Rose Of Lima relic, perhaps our only 2nd class relic, remains undocumented, much like the relics in our parish altars, as of yet …

Curia Corner — Homilies from the past

A great sense of humor. A guitar playing cowboy. Do you need a few more hints to who delivered this homily in the 1970s? \

When I discovered this gem among his writings, growing up as a cradle Catholic, not only did it warm my heart, but I remember how instrumental he was in our young adults Catholic formation. It is a great tribute and very humbling to share with you the following homily on the Feast of Cana …..

When I was a little boy growing up on our farm 8½ miles west of Timer Lake, along with my older brother and sister … this serial movie was playing in the local movie theater, “The Green Archer!” On a Wednesday night. During the week! It was the last, the final movie of this series. We HAD to see it.

The heroine had been captured by the bad guy and was imprisoned in this sort of dungeon. Now, it was up to the Green Archer (he was all dressed in green, ya know) to rescue her.

A young Father Gerald Scherer with his siblings Louise and Wallace.
(Diocesan archives)

So, we really wanted to go. Dad was late coming in from the field and we knew he would be tired and hungry and thirsty. So, before he came into the house we went to mother.

‘Mom, please, please, when Dad comes in ask him to take us to “The Green Archer.’” She reluctantly asked him. He looked pretty tired but he washed up and changed clothes and we drove to the movie. I don’t think he even had time to stop and eat.

‘The children really want to see the last episode of “The Green Archer.”’

That’s all it took. ASK. That’s all it took. They have no wine.

P.S. The Green Archer saved the beautiful maiden! He stood at the top of a winding staircase and far below, in the dungeon, he saw the maiden lying on the floor, bound, hand and feet. Beside her a stick of dynamite with a burning and sizzling fuse attached.

He fit an arrow to his bow, took aim, and the arrow zipped down the winding staircase and cut off the fuse just a couple of inches from the stick of dynamite. She was saved! And we children saw it because our mother said to our father:

‘The children really want to see the last episode of “The Green Archer.”’

That’s all it took.

They have no wine. That’s all it took.

Rev. Gerald Scherer, a great discovery in our archives. An important document that will live on due to the preservation efforts of our diocesan archives.