The American Monastic Newsletter

Nr. 2, June 1999



Dear Sister Judith,

Lenten greetings!

The February, 1999, issue of The American Monastic Newsletter arrived here a day or so ago, and I write to congratulate you for both its attractiveness and newsiness.

For those not "in the trenches," so to speak, the Newsletter is a fine medium for conveying Benedictine news. Both you and Sister Renée (and any others who may be involved) are to be thanked for a truly fine job. This note is essentially written to offer such thanks.

All good wishes, Sister.

Martin J. Burne, OSB

St Mary's Abbey

Morristown, NJ


Dear Judith,

The latest issue arrived today -- most welcome. You invite comments so I am replying.

The content is always interesting and informative, and sometimes provocative, which is what is needed.

I like the grey colour as it is distinctive and easy to spot. The new front design is good -- clearer and cleaner than the former design.

One negative -- I find "continued on page xx" annoying. Would it not be better to continue articles on the following page?

Many thanks for a useful publication.

Gervase Holdaway, OSB

Douai Abbey

Berks, England



(Editor's note: This is the second part of the article begun in the February 1999 AMN.)

In 1967 the American Indian Culture Research Center was founded at Blue Cloud Abbey. The Center was established as a place into which the common wisdom of the missionaries might be gathered and from which their wisdom might be dispensed.

One purpose of the Center is to assist elected Indian leaders to gain control over the agencies and influences that are shaping their lives. This goal was easily attained; the leaders needed only a forum for self-expression. The Indian Mystique Conference in 1968, hosted by the University of South Dakota and arranged by the American Indian Culture Research Center and the South Dakota Association of Christian Churches, gave the leaders a prominence never before matched.

The second goal of the AICRC is to teach the non-Indian public to respect the worldview, the philosophy of life and the spirituality of native peoples. This goal has not been reached. The work is quietly going on through print publishing, color slide photography and slide shows, radio, video and Internet.

In 1968 the conference was hosted at St. Joseph in Chamberlain. Father George Pinger, SCJ, paid careful attention to assure the presence of the two South Dakota Catholic bishops and local Indian lay men and women. The face of the conference was changing. It was becoming more professional, and the need was seen for a permanent director and a permanent office with staff. A three-member advisory board was formed. With the cooperation of the new director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Monsignor Paul Lenz, the conference was integrated with the bureau. The main office of the conference was at the bureau and it was funded almost totally by the bureau.

In 1979 the Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery in Yankton, SD, hosted the annual meeting. The monastery and the conference were joined in dramatically shaping the emergence of Native prominence in the Catholic Church. Sacred Heart Monastery was the first home of the first Benedictine monk in Dakota Territory, Abbot Martin Marty. At this place Native people first spoke up, with dignity, to their priests.

At all meetings bishops had been invited, but in the early days bishops did not find room on their calendars. The Tekakwitha Conference was a small gathering, not very influential. At Sacred Heart Monastery, however, four bishops were present. For the first time, at the invitation of the board of directors, a large crowd of men and women from the reservations was present.

The next paragraphs are my personal and vivid recollections.

At the back of the auditorium of Mount Marty College I stood with a lady from the White Earth Reservation, Bea Swanson. Let her always be remembered. Bea spoke quietly to me, "Is it possible for me to say something?"

I said, "Of course. I'll get Bishop Dudley to call on you."

A momentous change in the Tekakwitha Conference was about to come. The Church from the reservation was about to give direction to the clergy who serve them.

Bea walked slowly to the front. She stood shy and trembling, but resolute. "Bishops, you are so nice." They smiled. "You always say such nice things." They beamed. "But you always say the same things." There was a stillness. Humble men, the bishops listened. "Can we Indians talk to you ourselves? You say you are our pastors. Can we just be alone with you? Can the priests and sisters go out? We have something to say to you by ourselves."

To understand what has followed in the near twenty years since 1979, it is best to hear the report that came from the Circle of 66, as they were called. It is to be noted that their report is called "Expressed Concerns." The concerns are not couched in the words of demand. How prescient were the people who spoke and who wrote out their concerns!

While many expressed regret that so few bishops were present, considering the fact that all those with Indian populations in their dioceses had been invited, all expressed gratitude for those who were present. The Indian people invite, need and will welcome their bishops to be present and to share in their lives, celebrations and activities, and most especially they need them to be their shepherds.

Many felt that a number of the priests are not available for wakes, funerals and important Indian gatherings, both urban and reservation. They would appreciate support and encouragement of Native American missionary personnel.

After many centuries the greatest need still exists, that of a Native clergy. The people are concerned that priests, deacons, deaconesses, brothers, lay men and women come into fuller prominence among their own people. They feel that the bishops must consider:

1. New ways of training missionaries that are more appropriate for Indian people.

2. Not allowing priests to come to the Indians who do not really want to serve the Indian people -- the vow of obedience seems to work against the Indian people.

3. Encouraging sisters' communities to send Native sisters back to their own people.

4. That strong ministers (not the weakest or those with problems) are needed among the Indians.

5. Stronger roles for Indian women.

6. The possibility of a new religious order for Indian women.

7. The possibility of married clergy if there are to be enough priests among the Indians.

8. Less push or ambitious ways in working with Indians; allow them to grow at their own pace.

The people also felt that evangelization is mutual -- not only does the universal church give to Indian people, but Indians have much to give to the universal Church. Indian views and wisdom should be solicited.

Much healing is needed among the Indian people. Indians must open their hearts and not allow prejudice and bitterness to stop them from responding to the Holy Spirit.

Urban Indians often feel lost with no Church that especially includes Indians. Coming together with other Indians is very important in the city.

Meetings like the Tekakwitha Conference reveal a great strength and unity among the people. They want to foster this.

Indians tend to dwell in the past. Together we want to go forward.

Special problems or concerns are alcohol, family, youth, the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha and dealing with red tape in the Church.

The people want to support each other, and these meetings promote inter-tribal communication.






ABA. Newsletter 29:2 (June 1999) / © Copyright 1999-2009 by American Benedictine Academy / Richard Oliver OSB /