GREENVILLE—Native American Catholics had an extra reason to celebrate when they gathered for a heritage fest and learned more about a second historical figure on the path to sainthood.
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Kateri Tekakwitha, the patroness of the environment, as the Church’s first Native American saint. St. Pope John Paul II had beatified Tekakwitha in 1980. Now, Nicholas Black Elk could be next.
A stained glass honoring St. Kateri adorns the side of the new sanctuary at Our Lady of the Rosary, and it was there that Father Michael Carson and others spoke of the ongoing effort to beatify Black Elk.
This month, Black Elk’s name will be forwarded to the Vatican for consideration on whether he will be recommended for beatification, Father Carson said.
The priest is assistant director for the subcommittee on Native American Affairs with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was homilist for the celebratory Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary and a guest speaker at the luncheon that followed.
Black Elk, a Lakota Sioux, was a mystic and lay convert in the Dakota Territory during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the most tumultuous periods in Native American/European American relations. He was present at the major confrontations during that time, including Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee. He would later turn to Native American mysticism.
He had a number of visions, but no one could tell him what they meant, so he turned to the Jesuits, who interpreted Black Elk’s visions as pertaining to the life and death of Jesus Christ, Father Carson said.
Black Elk was then baptized, leading to years of evangelization with the Lakota Souix. He is buried near the Wounded Knee battlefield in South Dakota, a place people can visit for veneration and to pray for Black Elk’s intercession, Father Carson said.
Chief Mary Louise “Wolf Woman” Worthy of the PAIA Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation of South Carolina, said Black Elk is a strong candidate for sainthood, needing one more documented miracle to be considered for canonization.
“It would be great if we could all just follow in the footsteps of Nicholas Black Elk,” she said.
The Native American Catholic Heritage celebration has been held annually since 2011 at churches across the diocese and is sponsored by the Office of Ethnic Ministries. Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, celebrant at this year’s Mass, said Native Americans play a vital role in the diocese.
“It’s important not only to reach out to the Cherokee, that are predominant in the diocese, but also to recognize the people from throughout the state who are of Native American heritage,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “There is a Native American Catholic community within the diocese that’s vibrant, that’s caring and loving.”
Chief Worthy concluded the luncheon by unveiling a painting depicting the life of Black Elk, rendered by Worthy’s daughter, Melanie “Creeping Fox” Riddle. The artwork, titled “A Beautiful Dream”, was presented to Bishop Guglielmone.
Top photo: The Keepers of the Word Drum Team perform during a luncheon Oct. 24 at Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville. The drum team includes Pat Matteson (from left), Marcia Campbell, Winnie Mraz and Cathy Nelson.