Obituary — Father D. Craig Cower

Father D. Craig Cower, 90, of Rapid City, died Sunday, April 2, 2017 at Westhills Village Health Care.

Father D. Craig Cower

He was born March 2, 1927 in Roxbury, New York to Robert H. and Blanche (Hebert) Cower. During his senior year of high school, he went to St. Andrew’s Preparatory Seminary in Rochester, NY. Later he spent a year in what had been a Lutheran Seminary at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY where his father was Superintendent of Campus Housing and Grounds. He then went on to St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, PA. He graduated from there and finished Theology at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN.

He was ordained for the Diocese of Rapid City, in Albany, NY, with 29 other young men in 1954. His first assignment was the old Cathedral and then was assigned to Ardmore-Edgemont-Oelrichs, Buffalo-Camp Crook-Cox-Vessey-Ralph-Redig-Drew, Faith-Opal-Plainview-Pedro, Wall & Scenic and retired in 1987 serving the parishes of Hot Springs and Oelrichs.

In 1991, he was appointed to be Executive Secretary of the Priest Retirement and Aid Association and in 1993 Vicar for Retired Priests. He served on numerous boards, including Black Hills Chamber Music Society.

He was preceded in death by his parents and brother, Rod.

Christian Wake Service will be at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, April 4, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Christian Funeral Mass will be offered at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 5, at the Cathedral with The Most Rev. Robert D. Gruss presiding. Burial will be in St. Patrick’s Cemetery (near Sioux Spiritual Center) near Plainview at 3:00 p.m.

(Fr. Cower’s Original Words….)

IT HAPPENED OVER THE MOUNTAIN FROM WHERE RIP VAN WINKLE SLEPT FOR 20 YEARS. IT HAPPENED IN ROXBURY-IN-THE-CATSKILLS OF NEW YORK STATE WHERE D. CRAIG COWER WAS BORN. Sunday Mass regularly lasted fifteen minutes, including the sermon—which was usually a tirade against Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) then President of the United States. And the priest bragged to the Protestants that he got his people out of church in fifteen minutes. Little seven-year-old Craig was hear to remark: “If I ever become a priest, Sunday Mass is not going to be like that!”

Rather a strange way for a vocation to begin. However, the idea continued through Public Grade School and High School. It wasn’t until his senior year that he went to St. Andrew’s Preparatory Seminary in Rochester, NY. Later he spent a year in what had been a Lutheran Seminary at Hartwick College in Onsonta, NY where his father was Superintendent of Campus Housing and Grounds- – a very interesting year. Next he went to St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, PA. The last five years saw him graduate from college and finish Theology at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN.

He had been studying for the Vicariate Apostolic of the Bahamas, West Indies, and would have been the first diocesan priest of what is now the diocese of Nassau, Bahamas. After much prayer and discernment, as ordination approached, his concern at being alone and the first to set the precedent for the diocesan clergy led him to ask to be released by his bishop.

When asked how he came to the Diocese of Rapid City, Father Craig answers: “It was very much God’s will inasmuch as I knew nothing about the diocese or Western South Dakota.” The maps he looked at then noted that Western, SD was “semi-desert”. He had also heard of Wall Drug because they had advertised for college summer employees. When Cower had graduated from college, it was Joseph Busch, former Bishop of Lead, SD and the Bishop of St. Cloud, MN, who gave him his diploma. When Busch died, at his graveside, McCarty told the rector of the seminary that if he had any unattached men to send them out to him. The rector told Cower about this and he wrote to Bishop McCarty. McCarty answered promptly and told Cower to call for an appointment. Cower reached him by phone at Oelrichs, SD where he had presided at the funeral of the last resident pastor there. Cower came out and was adopted by the diocese. Bishop McCarty, when he heard where Cower had been born said: You certainly came from a God-forsaken place!” McCarty has been in that area during the disastrous flu epidemic of 1918.

Cower spent that summer of 1953 at Camp Columbus in the Black Hills and was ordained for the Diocese of Rapid City in Albany, NY, with 29 other young men in 1954. His first assignment was the old Cathedral, where he lived in the upstairs back porch of the rectory. Fr. Muldoon could look in one window, Fr. Plante another, Fr. Cowley through the window of the door and all the parishioners through the other windows. There were no shades or curtains.

Next he was assigned to Ardmore-Edgemont-Oelrichs (54’ to 56’), then to Buffalo-Camp Crook-Cox-Vessey-Ralph-Redig-Drew Missions (56’ to 58’), Faith-Opal-Plainview-Pedro Missions (58’ to 70’), Wall & Scenic (70’ to 80’) and finally Hot Springs-Oelrichs (80’-87’), from which he retired for health reasons in 1987.

During his ministry in the Buffalo Missions, he was very much involved in consolidating some of the missions, moving the Vessey church & hall to a more central location and the Ralph and Strool churches to a Reva location. On the trip to Ralph to Reva, he straddled the roof-ridge across the prairies, using a stick to hold up the electric and telephone lines, not informed the men working to block the Strool Church before moving it onto the foundation. As a result Cower and a parishioner, Stan Lesselyoung, were almost crushed to death as the church fell and slid down the hill.

At Faith in 1962, Father Craig’s parents: Robert and Blanche Cower joined him to: “help him out for a year.” They stayed with him for twenty five years until he retired. The rule in the rectory was based on St. Paul: “He who does not work, does not eat!” He told them it was the Catholic teaching that martyrs went straight to Heaven when they died and that if they stayed with him for 25 years that would be the same as martyrdom. His mother took care of the rectory and his father did a tremendous amount of work at Faith and its missions and at Wall and Scenic. On their 50th wedding anniversary they were the first in the diocese to receive the Papal award: “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (For Church & Pope) from Pope Paul VI.

During Cower’s tenure at Wall, a new church was built and it was there that he gave his art collection spanning eleven centuries to the Diocese of Rapid City in the custody of St. Patrick’s Church. There are 121 pieces in the collection. He left his two thousand volume library in the church and Public libraries at Wall. The church library was later moved to the St. Thomas More Library in 1996.

Twice he almost died in blizzards: Once on route 20 between Prairie City and Bison and once on I-90 near Wicksville. At the latter time he sprained his ankle and was reduced to crawling in the snow and froze his fingers. He said: “I wasn’t afraid to die, but I could imagine people going past my coffin and saying: “How stupid he was to leave his car!” “I just couldn’t die stupid!”

In his early days, assistants, as they were called, received $50 a month — sometimes! When he was transferred from the Cathedral to Ardmore it was October 15th. Msgr. Roach told him that Msgr. Biever should pay him for the month and Biever told him Roach should pay—he never/did get his salary for that month. When he was transferred from Ardmore to Buffalo it was the 15th of January; Msgr. Biever told him Fr. Murray should pay him and Murray said Biever should pay. And you guessed it, neither never did. It was the beginning of many months of the year that he did not receive any salary. Mass offerings kept him going. They were long distances in the Buffalo missions and most of the roads hardly more than trails. A pair of fence plyers were an absolute necessity to let down fences and go across the prairie to get through. The worst road was South of route 20 on the way to Drew—it had crushed flintrock on it and ate up the rubber tires of that day and spit them out. One Sunday he went through three spares.

In 1987, he retired while in the Hot Springs parish and he and his parents moved to different abodes in Rapid City. His father, Robert, died in 1998 and his mother, Blanche, came to live with him. His retirement years have been busy ones. In the early years he substituted in parishes all over the diocese from one-half to three-quarters of the weekends of the year, driving further than active priests. He still does spiritual direction and counseling from his apartment. Because there are people who are unable to participate in regular R.C.I.A. classes because of jobs, sickness, age, etc., he instructs them on an individual basis. In 1991, he was appointed to be Executive Secretary of the Priest Retirement and on numerous boards including the Black Hills Chamber Music Society. As his mother’s health continued to worsen, he curtailed and finally eliminated all weekend and weekday substitution. Since December of 1996 he has been the primary caregiver of his bedridden mother. His brother, Rod, who lives in Rapid City has had a whole series of major operations and Cower tries to help him as much as possible.

Commenting on his present lifestyle, Cower says: “How does one respond to fifty years that Mom and Dad gave to the diocese and to me.” What I do is a small token for all that they did. Besides, Scriptures have some great things to say about children who care for their fathers and mothers!

In regard to South Dakota and the diocese, he has to break into song with music from “My Fair Lady” “There is no place else on earth that I would rather live.”

Asked about fifteen minute Masses, Fr. Craig says “… at least a half-hour for weekday Masses and an hour for Sunday Mass… and if I have the opportunity EVERY MASS with song.”

Employment Opportunity: Director of Sioux Spiritual Center

The Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, is seeking a Director for the Sioux Spiritual Center, a diocesan retreat facility that is located in a very rural setting, 13 miles of gravel road off the state highway and approximately 100 miles from a major city. The facility accommodates up to thirty retreatants and predominately serves the Native American population of the diocese.

The successful candidate will be required to live at the SSC and serve as “care taker” for the buildings and grounds. Other duties will include marketing and promoting the retreat facility and setting up programs and retreats that serve the needs of the Native population or the diocese. He/she will be responsible for all aspects of the administration of the facility. The SSC models inculturation of Native spirituality and Catholic religious practices in the diocese. One of its programs, Basic Directions in Native Ministry, is a national program that prepares those who are serving or will serve in ministry to Native People.

The successful candidate must be a practicing Catholic with strong knowledge and experience of working with Native Americans and management of a retreat facility. He/she must have excellent people skills with the ability to relate to people in extreme economic conditions and from diverse backgrounds.

The SSC is governed by a board of directors comprised mostly of Native Americans from the five reservations located throughout the diocese and from Rapid City. The Diocesan Bishop is President of the BOD which usually meets twice during the year or as needed. The Director will work under the supervision and direction of the BOD.

Those who are interested in applying for the position need to submit a diocesan employment application, resume and three letters of reference that indicates experience in retreat work and ministry with Native Americans. Click here for a full job description.

APPLICATION PROCESS:
Interested individuals should send a resumé and letter by e-mail or postal mail listing three professional references along with a completed application to:

Office of the Chancellor
Diocese of Rapid City
606 Cathedral Drive
Rapid City SD 57701
msimonson@diorc.org

The Diocese of Rapid City offers a competitive salary and benefits package. Position is open until filled.

Introducing the South Dakota Catholic Conference

Statement from the Roman Catholic Bishops of South Dakota

Click here to see the full statement

The Most Reverend Robert D. Gruss, Bishop of Rapid City, and the Most Reverend Paul J. Swain, Bishop of Sioux Falls, announce their intention to establish the South Dakota Catholic Conference (SDCC). The Conference will serve as the official voice of the bishops of South Dakota on issues of public policy, providing explanations of Church teaching and their practical application.

A state Catholic conference, which most states have established including those in our neighboring states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Montana, monitors, responds to and educates Catholics about proposed public policies that impact life and the dignity of the human persons, religious liberty and other issues which affect the rights of Catholics to practice their faith both personally and in the public square.

The South Dakota Catholic Conference will follow the development of public policies and communicate with public officials in all branches and at all levels of governments not only during a legislative session but throughout the year. Among the tasks of the Conference will be to focus on issues that are of common concern among Catholic organizations, other faith-based communities, and secular agencies to promote the common good.

“Through advocacy and education based on Catholic moral and social teachings, the Conference will allow Catholics to become better informed about and comment on the public policy issues of the day not only before the legislature but in all of government”, said Bishop Paul Swain.

“It is our hope that the South Dakota Catholic Conference will help all Catholics in our state to become better informed on public policy matters and thereby be able to respond as faithful Catholics and faithful citizens,” said Bishop Robert Gruss.

Those interested in the position for the Executive Director are encouraged to contact the Office of Human Resources of the Diocese of Sioux Falls.

Employment Opportunity: Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry

Position Summary
To develop ministry opportunities, provide training, support and resources in the diocese for youth and young adult ministry. Click here for a full job description. 

Applicant Qualification
Practicing Catholic; Bachelor’s degree, preferably in theology, catechetics, or related field with a sound Catholic theology. Past experience in parish youth ministry helpful. Understands, supports and articulates the Catholic faith as taught by the Church. Love of youth and understanding of the developmental stages of middle and high school youth. Must have excellent organizational, communication, and leadership skills, and ability to relate to pastors, adult youth ministers, youth, and young adults. Requires energy and willingness to travel throughout the diocese, including some weekend and evening work.

Click here for an application.

Interested individuals should send a resumé and letter by e-mail or postal mail listing three professional references along with a completed application to”
Office of the Chancellor
Diocese of Rapid City
606 Cathedral Drive Rapid City SD 57701
msimonson@diorc.org 

 

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