The practice in the Diocese of Rapid City was for Jesuit priests to select Lakota Catholic men to teach the faith as catechists. They taught the faith, prayed and prepared converts in the Lakota language, traveling by foot or by horseback until automobiles became available.
Black Elk became a catechist in 1907, chosen for his enthusiasm and his excellent memory for learning Scripture and Church teaching. His work brought more than 400 people into the Catholic Church.
The medicine man became prominent through "Black Elk Speaks," John G. Neihart's biographical work. The work covers his Lakota upbringing, though not his adulthood as a Christian.
Black Elk passed away Aug. 19, 1950 at Pine Ridge.
Bishop Gruss reflected on the possible saint's life.
"He embraced the mission to which he had been called – to help others live in the balance of the Lakota and Catholic culture leading to a deeper life in Jesus," the bishop continued. "He melded whatever he could from his Lakota culture into his Christian life. This enculturation can always reveal something of the true nature and holiness of God."
"He challenged people to renew themselves, to seek this life that Christ offers them," he said.
"Of course, Christ's work is never done," said the bishop, adding that all Christians have been called into the missionary field.
"Our baptism leads us there. Like Black Elk, if we are docile to the Lord's will, devoting our lives to Him, we will be out working for His Kingdom of mercy, love, and peace."
Bishop Gruss stressed the need to continue to gather more information and testimony about the life of Black Elk and to pray that his cause merits advancement.
Bill White of Porcupine, S.D., is the diocesan postulator for the cause. He is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation. White is being assisted by Fr. Joe Daoust, S.J., of Pine Ridge.
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Deacon Ben Black Bear from St. Francis Mission is translating some of Black Elk's writings from the Lakota language to English, the diocese said.