Just recently, the Diocese of Rapid City concluded its investigation on the life of Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk (December 1, 1863 – August 19, 1950). Their report has been sent to Rome for review for the possible beatification of Black Elk.
Today, Black Elk is known mostly because of a book called Black Elk Speaks. The author of this book left out key parts of Black Elk’s life. It only covers his life up, until he was twenty-four, which was a whole sixteen years before he was even baptized! Black Elk was disappointed in the fact that the authored had not written about his ongoing spiritual journey and left out basically the entirety of his Catholic Faith.
1. He was a popular chatechist
After his conversion to Catholicism, he became well known as a catechist. He traveled to other tribes in several states to spread the Gospel. He taught the Faith to those who could not read by using The Two Roads, a colorful teaching tool that had been used by the Native Americans for generations.
2. Converter of many souls
The shortage of priests in the missionary territory of western South Dakota and the surrounding area necessitated the heavy utilization of catechists. In his role as a catechist, Black Elk was responsible for leading prayer services, preaching, and in some cases, baptisms. Due to his preaching, he brought many people into the Catholic faith. He baptized over 400 people and was godfather to 113 people.
3. Rejection of healing practices
Due to a vision he had when he was young, Black Elk became a medicine man. However, once he converted to Catholicism, he began to question its compatibility with Catholicism. Eventually, he could not deny that it is contrary to the teaching of Christ and His church. Therefore, he abandoned his healing practice.
4. Lakota tradition in the light of Christ
Despite his rejection of his healing practice, he still wanted to preserve the Lakota traditions that didn’t conflict, but perhaps might harmonize with the Catholic Faith. Like St. Thomas Aquinas did with Aristotle, he went back and studied the Lakota traditions in the light of Christ. Some of his thoughts on how the two spiritual traditions can be reconciled are collected in the book, The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (as told to Joseph Epes Brown). Black Elk saw the seven rites as comparable to the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.
What’s next for the cause?
If Nicholas Black Elk’s cause is approved by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, he can be declared Venerable by the Pope. After that declaration, a miracle attributed to Black Elk’s intercession is needed for him to be beatified. Then, another miracle would be required for him to be canonized. However, the pope could waive the requirement for a second miracle and just canonize him, as Pope Francis has done with several other saints. Due to the lengthy nature of the canonization process, it may not be Francis (currently 88 years old) who is pope at the time. Furthermore, the rules for canonization are subject to change. The last time this occurred was during St. John Paul II’s papacy.