Anyone who has traveled to the Black Hills always remarks how beautiful it is. When you take them to the Badlands there is a stark magnificence that moves the soul. Watching the sun set over the prairie of Western South Dakota seems bring everyone to a reverent silence. There is no doubt, West River Sodak is one of God’s gems in this world. But far more beautiful is the Church that exists here, and it’s a Church that forms those who become part of it.
It’s people in many ways reflect the characteristics of the natural world that surrounds them. They are hardy and weather worn. The dull roar of constant wind, the summer heat that veritably cooks the ground under their feet, and the harsh winters have steeled the Catholics of this Church. They live by the sweat of their brow and by the work of their hands as they labor with and against nature. Western South Dakotans are a courageous and perseverant people. Their presence declares an inspiring stubbornness to face down the odds.
And yet, I have never encountered a more generous people. As an economy centered on agriculture, livestock, and tourism rises and falls erratically, they bond together. While individually they strive to make ends meet, not looking for handouts, they are quick to help a fellow up who has been driven to their knees by circumstance. They give until it hurts, because they know that in this harsh paradise we rise and fall together.
Just as the physical realm has molded them, it is the Catholic Faith that provides a solid foundation for who we are as a Church in Western South Dakota. Not a faith of comfortable, saccharine platitudes that bends to the will of masses, but the wild goodness and truth of Catholicism that refuses to be tamed or shackled. In this way the landscape, the Faith, and people go hand in hand.
This is true of it’s priests and bishops. A young mission diocese that is just over a hundred years old has proved to be a boon for the universal Church. The Diocese of Rapid City has sent it’s bishops to serve and rally others, produced two archbishops, a cardinal, sent it’s priests to serve our men and women in the military, and form future priests in the eternal city of Rome. Out of it’s presbyterate, the Holy Father has called priests to the College of Bishops, the most recent having become public today. Fr. Steve Biegler, the Vicar General for our Diocese and the Rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (for whom I have had the delight to serve as his parochial vicar), has been appointed by Pope Francis to become bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming. He comes from a local Church that has prepared him to face the challenges of being named a Successor to the Apostles.
As I reflect on Fr. Biegler’s appointment, I look at the history of our intrepid diocese. I see the photos of those fearless priests who braved the wilderness to keep the flame of faith alive in this part of the Lord’s vineyard. I think of the families who have overcome adversity and struggle, all the while singing the Lord’s praises, as they sunk their roots into the land.
In short, I love my diocese, my people, and my brother priests. May I always follow Christ here, may He grant me the grace to live and die in God’s Country.