South Dakota, Catholic Church in
SOUTH DAKOTA, CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Bordered by North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska, South Dakota comprises over 77,047 square miles with two dioceses, that of Sioux Falls east of the Missouri River and Rapid City which includes the Black Hills and the area west of the river. Major cities are Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Aberdeen. Pierre is the capital. Agriculture and tourism contribute most to the economy although more industrial and service enterprises are locating in the state. The poorest areas are on the reservations although the upsurge in gambling casinos on most of them has provided funds for more educational and social services. The population of this state (which derives its name from the Dakota Sioux) is over 725,000, of whom about 125,000 of these are Catholic. The two Catholic dioceses in South Dakota, rapid city and sioux falls, are suffragan sees of the Archdiocese of st. paul–minneapolis.
Catholicism arrived with French-Canadian fur traders in the 18th century, but it was not until the Belgian Jesuit missionary, Pierre Jean De Smet journeyed through the area in the mid-19th century that a baptism was recorded. Although the missionary catechized and was beloved by the Native Americans who, at that time, still populated almost half of the state's area, it was not until the arrival of Martin Marty, a Swiss Benedictine abbot who came to Dakota Territory from Indiana in 1876 to minister to the Native Americans that the church was organized on and off the reservations. Small rural and town parishes had been under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Omaha, Neb. which also governed the parishes just across the Missouri from Yankton.
Within two years of his arrival, Marty was appointed Vicar Apostolic to the area which then included what is now North and South Dakota and small sections of the present Montana and Wyoming borders. Marty came to Yankton and the Standing Rock Reservation shortly after Custer's defeat by the Sioux at Little Big Horn on the Wyoming-Territory border. Prominent in that battle were two Native American leaders from the Dakota Territory: Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. Marty eventually journeyed to Canada to encourage the refugees, Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Teton Sioux, and his followers, to return to the territory's reservations in order to avoid starvation. Although they refused at the time, the crops were still good and buffalo and deer plentiful, ultimately drought, depletion of the wildlife, and famine as well as Canadian policy that they be self-sufficient, forced them to return. Sitting Bull was later accidentally killed by Native American police commissioned by reservation agents to transfer him from one reservation to another.
The Dakota Vicariate had been assigned to the Benedictine missionary in 1879 making him Dakota Territory's first bishop. After division into North and South Dakota and admission to the Union in 1889, Bishop Marty decided that Sioux Falls, the fastest growing town, should be the new diocesan See. He left his Yankton residence (which still stands) where he had based his ministry. Yankton had formerly served as the territorial capital when he had arrived to minister to the Native Americans.
It was Marty who, as a circuit rider, on horseback or wagon, in inclement weather of all kinds, had had churches built on most of the reservations, regularly visited the small rural parishes, and established dozens of new ones. He baptized numerous children and adults, opened parish schools and mission schools for the Native American children who spoke Dakota, Lakota or Nakota. However, government policy mandated English only be used by the Sioux and their teachers in the reservation schools. To date about 50% of the more than 25,000 Native Americans on eight reservations are Catholic. One of them, Marty Mission near Wagner, founded after his death, is named for the first bishop. It also supports a school for Native American children, funded originally by Mother (now St.) Katharine Drexel, who responded to Bishop Marty's pleas for financial assistance and sisters to staff the school.
It was this first bishop who brought the Benedictine Sisters to Yankton and Sturgis (now at Rapid City) primarily to educate Native American children, as well as the Presentation Sisters to Aberdeen where they operated a parish school and, when an epidemic prompted them to care for the sick, a hospital which has become one of the largest in the state. Transferred to St. Cloud, Minn., because of declining health, Marty died in 1896 at age 62 shortly after attending the South Dakota Indian Congress which he had organized years earlier. (A later Tekakwitha Conference has somewhat replaced that although gatherings of Native Americans in the Dakotas are still frequent). In 1891, he had agonized over the infamous Massacre of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation. That reservation, Rosebud, Crow Creek, Lower Brule and the southern area of Standing Rock all later became part of the new diocese of Lead, founded in 1902, (which transferred to Rapid City in 1930). State-wide and diocesan apologies and reconciliation efforts concerning the Native Americans have served to heighten an awareness among the Catholics of the need for justice and more spiritual as well as material assistance for native tribespeople.
Catholic Institutions. South Dakota has five motherhouses of religious nuns and sisters. Benedictines are in Yankton and Rapid City; Presentations in Aberdeen; Oblates of the Blessed Sacrament in Marty; Franciscans in Mitchell, formerly Gettysburg; and contemplative Carmelites in Alexandria. The only Benedictine abbey near Marvin, S.D., was founded in the 1950s by monks from st. meinrad archabbey in Indiana, to enable them, working as missionaries to the Native Americans, to have a motherhouse nearer their ministries. The Sioux Falls diocese has assumed the obligation of serving the parishes formerly filled by the monks whose paucity of numbers has obliged them to withdraw from Native American ministry except at the abbey itself, and in a nearby parish. Another fast growing minority, the Hispanics, are also being served with the opening of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Sioux Falls. It is staffed by a recently ordained native Spanish-speaking priest from South America. South Dakota, although not populous, has a vibrant Catholic presence that is apparent wherever one travels across the state.
The state has two Catholic colleges, Mount Marty in Yankton and Presentation in Aberdeen; nine Catholic hospitals; four diocesan and parish high schools and 23 Catholic elementary schools. Schools primarily for the Native American population are on the reservations, at Marty Mission, and Chamberlain.
Bibliography: r. karolevetz, With Faith, Hope and Tenacity (Sioux Falls, 1989); Bishop Martin Marty: Black Robe Lean Chief (Yankton, 1980). a. kessler, "First Catholic Bishop of Dakota" in South Dakota Leaders, eds h. hoover et al. (Vermillion 1989); "Mount Marty College," in From Idea to Institution, eds. h. hoover et al. (Vermillion 1989); c. duratschek, Beginnings of Catholicism in South Dakota, (Washington, D.C. 1943); Crusading along Sioux Trails (St. Meinrad, Ind. 1947).