Enjoy the March edition of the West River Catholic
May the Lord be at your side as you shepherd the faithful in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming
Bishop Robert D. Gruss, the Clergy and People of the Diocese of Rapid City
Click here to see the special section from the West River Catholic.
It’s such a great life of journeying with people in their faith
By Laurie Hallstrom
When a diocese becomes vacant because the bishop has been moved, retired or deceased, the Holy See looks for a man whose gifts and experiences are best suited to serve the particular needs of that local church. In the case of the neighboring state of Wyoming, the priest selected grew up on a farm-ranch, has driven many rural highways, lived in a very similar climate, served on a Native American reservation, and worked in a post energy boom town where the mines were closed.
March 16, news spread quickly — Pope Francis named Fr. Steve Biegler, 58, Rapid City, as the ninth Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The diocese encompasses the entire state.
Fr. Steve Biegler was born on March 22, 1959, in Mobridge. His family owns a farm-ranch operation near Timber Lake. His parents are Alfred (deceased) and Mary Biegler. He has six brothers and six sisters, including Rhonda Nickerson, who passed away July 9, 2010.
Growing up in Timber Lake, he attended Holy Cross Catholic School. He recalls that vocations were discussed at home. “My parents were always supportive if one of us were to have a religious vocation. I had a good family of prayer and faith and I see that as central to my vocation,” he said. “Fr. Jerry Scherer is my mother’s first cousin and he was close to our family. He stopped by a lot. With the school we had the Presentation Sisters out all the time and we would invite the parish priest, too.”
He graduated from Timber Lake High School in 1977. He attended the S.D. School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City for one year, 1977-78. “I took a day to think about life and seminary came to mind. I said, ‘Not right now, I’ll have to think about that.’ I was also considering ranching and having a family and those thoughts were part of considering the priesthood and celibacy,” said Bishop-elect Biegler.
Most of the next eight years, he worked on the family farm. “We had radios in the tractor, but I would often just turn the radio off. That was a really powerful place of meeting God in the beauty and quiet of nature,” he said, adding, “It was wonderful time for prayer and discernment.”
When he felt he needed a change, “I left for a little bit and went to Wyoming and worked with a construction crew filling in old underground coal mines around Glenrock near Casper. They had slurry of gravel and a compound similar to concrete. They were trying to stabilize those mines because they were caving in under the town.
“The priest in the town was the vocation director for the diocese, so I did end up talking to him a little bit,” said Bishop-elect Biegler.
He attended Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary and St. Mary College in Winona, Minn., from 1986-89 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. From 1989-1993, he attended the North American College in Rome where he received an STB or Bachelor of Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Rapid City at Holy Cross Church in Timber Lake on July 9, 1993.
“I went back to NAC as a faculty member from 2003 to 2006, and stayed another year, 2007, and finished a biblical theology degree,” he said. From the University of St. Thomas in Rome he received an STL (License in Biblical Theology).
In 2010-11, he served as Diocesan Administrator following the departure of then-Bishop Blase Cupich for his appointment as Bishop of Spokane, Wash., until the ordination of the current ordinary, Bishop Robert Gruss. “I had some experience of overseeing the diocese during that year, going out and doing confirmations — which a DA does, and I learned about the workings of the diocesan staff,” he said.
Bishop-elect Biegler said he will miss this diocese, family members, friends he has made at parishes where he served, and what he describes as “a great fraternity of priests.”
“For me, I’ve come to know that priesthood is where I belong and obviously it’s demanding but it’s so fulfilling, such a great life of journeying with people in their faith. So I’m excited to continue that journey. I’ll continue it there. I am looking forward to getting to know the people and priests as a bishop,” he said.
He already knows a few people in the diocese; his brother Royce Biegler and his wife, Kim, live in Gillette, and several nieces and nephews are in Wyoming. Fr. Steve Titus, the vocation director for the Diocese of Cheyenne was in Rome as a seminarian when Bishop-elect Biegler was a faculty member. Also, Fr. Andrew Kinstetter was a student at the School of Mines when Bishop-elect Biegler was the Newman Center Chaplain.
His episcopal ordination will be June 5. The West River Catholic will carry more details in the April issue.
(Editor’s note: Fr. Biegler is the second diocesan priest to be named a bishop. In 1978, Fr. Lawrence Welsh was named Bishop of Spokane. He later served as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.)
By Bishop Robert D. Gruss
Diocese of Rapid City
Bishop Robert Gruss was a seminarian at North American College in Rome with Fr. Steve Biegler. As diocesan administrator he was the first from the Diocese of Rapid City to greet Bishop-elect Gruss when he arrived in Rapid City.
Fr. Steve was the only person I knew in the diocese when I came here. He was very helpful in being the history of the diocese for me. Being the administrator, Fr. Steve could fill in the missing links in my very limited understanding of the history of the diocese as well as the current challenges that I would be facing as I began my new ministry.
Fr. Steve is a very competent and gifted pastor. He has the many gifts necessary to shepherd the people entrusted to his care. I have always found him to be very wise and discerning. He has a good mind which allows him to look at a situation, dissect what needs to happen, and provide great insight into the solutions. He may not enjoy administration (many of us don’t, myself included), but I think he is good at it. He has many gifts which will be an asset as he begins this new assignment in his life.
The people of the Diocese of Cheyenne are getting an exceptional priest and pastor. Bishop-elect Biegler is grounded in a relationship with Christ which guides and directs his life and ministry as a shepherd. The folks in the Diocese of Cheyenne are getting one of the best! He will be a great blessing to his new diocese.
While I hate to see him leave the Diocese of Rapid City, I am honored and grateful to have Bishop-elect Biegler as a fellow bishop and a part of the Episcopacy. The church is enriched as a result of this assignment for him. I look forward to sharing this ministry of the wider church with him.
Anytime you lose a priest of his caliber, it is a great loss. He will be deeply missed in the Diocese of Rapid City, both as my vicar general and as a great pastor. And given the shortage of priests that we are currently facing, it makes this loss even greater. But just as the Holy Spirit led him to this new ministry in the Church, the Spirit will continue to provide for the Diocese of Rapid City. Of this I am certain.
I wish Bishop-elect Biegler only the very best in his new assignment and ministry. He will touch the lives of many people in the Diocese of Cheyenne just as he has touched the lives of many people here in the Diocese of Rapid City. He is such a gifted man and his deep love for the Lord and for the poor and less fortunate will envelop his life and ministry there as well. He can be assured of my prayers as he transitions to this new phase of his life and priesthood.
By the time you will read this, the South Dakota Legislative Session has drawn to an end. One of the bills which has drawn most of my attention from an input level has been Senate Bill 149 — the Faith-Based Adoption Agency Protection Bill. This was a very important piece of legislation because it ensures faith-based adoption agencies in South Dakota the freedom to continue placing children and making decisions within their agencies that are consistent with their deeply held religious beliefs and moral convictions, which should be protected by our First Amendment rights.
The bill has passed in both the House and Senate and was signed by the governor. There has been great pushback from opponents citing it as a “hate” bill or misrepresenting it as “state funded discrimination.” Our opponents either fail to understand or do not want to understand how important a role religious beliefs and values play in the lives of Americans across this country. It seems to matter little to them that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values and appears that they will go to great lengths to rid the culture of our First Amendment Right to Freedom of Religion.
With this particular situation, opponents allege that because there are religious criteria in the policy of Catholic Social Services for making placements of children into homes of loving parents, CSS is discriminating against the LGBTQ community. This is far from the truth. The opposition is agenda driven, partisan and assisted by news media who unfortunately do not seek all the facts.
CSS has been providing adoption services in western South Dakota for over forty years and has always served the best interests of the children in accord with our Catholic faith and traditions. It and other faith-based organizations receive no government funding for their adoption programs — one reason why this bill is important for the sake of our Catholic ministry.
The very mission of CSS is “To share in Christ’s ministry of offering hope, promoting individual human dignity and strengthening families and communities, by providing professional social services to people of all faiths in western South Dakota.” Encouraging families to consider becoming foster or adoptive families is part of their mission. Contrary to the false statement from the ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director, that “this law directly affects the hundreds of children in South Dakota awaiting their forever families,” when a potential adoptive family cannot be served because they fall outside of CSS’s policy, they are referred to other organizations who can provide for their needs. The State of South Dakota has more than enough agencies and attorneys available to provide adoption and foster care services. Every family who wants to adopt a child can find an organization to assist them if CSS is unable to do so.
In fact, the opposite is true. In the case of CSS, if they are forced to make decisions which force them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, they will close down their adoption services before violating those beliefs. Closures of adoption agencies would affect the number of families and birth parents being served. The bottom line is that the government should not be dictating how religious organizations carry out the mission of Jesus Christ in service of the Gospel. Faith-based organizations do far more than any other agencies in serving the poor and vulnerable. If those opposed to Judeo-Christian religious values and traditions are determined that the government should control the ministry of faith-based organizations, the less fortunate and vulnerable will have many fewer places to turn for services and care.
I would like to personally and publicly thank the sponsors of SB 149, Senator Alan Solano and Representative Steven G.
Haugaard, for their work in getting this bill passed. They and those who voted for it have my admiration and gratitude for speaking out for religious freedom in the State of South Dakota. In today’s culture it takes courage to risk stepping out publicly on faith-based issues. Doing so, as Jesus warned us, has made these brave legislators the subject of persecution (Jn 15:20). Thank you for being courageous in spite of the persecution and derision you received from the opposition. It shows your true character.
I am also deeply grateful that Governor Dennis Daugaard had the same courage and signed this bill into law for the sake of religious freedom and religious beliefs held by the
individuals who serve others through CSS and all faith-based organizations across our state. Thank you so much!
The statement on religious liberty from United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, begins, “We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.”
Religious freedom is not only about Catholics being able to attend Mass on Sundays or enter into private prayer, but it involves whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. It is about the ability to continue to do the good works the Gospel of Jesus calls us to do without having to compromise our Catholic faith.
State funded adoption agencies and faith-based adoptive agencies have worked together for many years helping thousands of children find loving homes in South Dakota with an admirable tolerance of each other’s beliefs. Little by little, those opposed to Christianity have become intolerant and are trying to impose their beliefs on society. They believe that, because our ministry is guided by Gospel and traditional family values, there should be no place for it because they don’t like it.
We will continue to fight for our First Amendment rights.
Senate Bill 149 is an important way in which we can carry out the mission of Jesus without others telling us how we must do it. This fact remains, even with the passage of this legislation: no one will be denied the opportunity to share their love for a child through adoption.
Enjoy the February edition of the West River Catholic
In 1994 Oregon passed a law allowing physicians to prescribe deadly drugs for some patients in order for them to take their own lives. Since then, Montana (1995), Washington (2008), Vermont (2013), California (2015), Colorado (2016) and Washington, DC (2016) have all passed laws or court rulings allowing doctor-prescribed suicide.
This movement continues across our land. Much of the momentum began from the story of a 29-year-old cancer patient from California named Brittany Maynard. She announced in the fall of 2014 that she did not want to face the expected suffering associated with her brain cancer and therefore would move to Oregon so she could take her life using its assisted suicide law. Her story became a media sensation and she then became a spokesperson for the group called Compassion & Choices. Compassion & Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, is the primary organization leading the drive for cultural acceptance and legalization of assisted suicide. This organization is well funded through the efforts of a large fundraising staff, raising money and awareness through wealthy and committed donors like George Soros.
Are we headed there too? Last December an article in the Rapid City Journal revealed that in November 2018 the people of the State of South Dakota could find a ballot measure on doctor-prescribed suicide under the misleading title, “Death with Dignity.” This ballot measure will give voters the opportunity to vote into law doctor-assisted suicide.
Though this campaign to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide has been rejected by most policymakers in our society, there is still great cause for concern as the throwaway attitude in our culture deepens. Most people, regardless of religious affiliation, know that suicide is a terrible tragedy, one that a compassionate society should work to prevent. They realize that allowing doctors to prescribe the means for their patients to kill themselves is a corruption of the doctor’s call to assist in healing.
Proponents know these facts and thus avoid terms such as “assisting suicide” and instead use code words such as “aid in dying.” These proponents cite that it should be a person’s right to choose to end his or her life so as to alleviate their suffering on his or her own terms, enabling them to die with “dignity.” They see this as a form of compassion and choice.
“The idea that assisting a suicide shows compassion and eliminates suffering is equally misguided. It eliminates the person, and results in suffering for those left behind — grieving families and friends, and other vulnerable people who may be influenced by this event to see death as an escape. The sufferings caused by chronic or terminal illness are often severe. They cry out for our compassion, a word whose root meaning is to “suffer with” another person. True compassion alleviates suffering while maintaining solidarity with those who suffer. It does not put lethal drugs in their hands and abandon them to their suicidal impulses, or to the self-serving motives of others who may want them dead. It helps vulnerable people with their problems instead of treating them as the problem. Taking life in the name of compassion also invites a slippery slope toward ending the lives of people with non-terminal conditions” (USCCB, To Live Each Day with Dignity: A Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide).
In the case of doctor-assisted suicide, the “dignity” of the terminally ill is ultimately stripped away because the dignity of the sick person is placed purely on a subjective level. This can easily lead down a slippery slope when subjectivity determines the value of a human life.
Doctor-assisted suicide is not free choice because it’s often driven by depression and hopelessness. The assisted suicide agenda can actually increase the suffering of isolation and hopelessness often experienced by seriously ill people. Seeing their death as an acceptable or even desirable solution to their problems only magnifies this kind of suffering. For example, people dying under Oregon’s law more often cite as a reason for their choice the feeling of being a burden rather than any concern about pain. There is also proof that in Oregon general suicides have risen dramatically since assisted suicide is promoted as a “good.”
Documentation suggests where there is legalized assisted suicide there is less commitment to palliative care. Government programs and private insurers have even limited support for care that could extend life, while emphasizing the “cost-effective” solution of a doctor-prescribed death. This was reality for Stephanie Packer, a California wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with a terminal form of scleroderma. Her insurance company refused to cover the cost of her medical treatment. When asked if her insurance company would cover the doctor-prescribed suicide drugs, the company told her, “Yes, we do provide that to our patients, and you would only have to pay $1.20 for the medication.”
A society that devalues some people’s lives, by hastening and facilitating their deaths, will ultimately lose respect for their other rights and freedoms. The government, by rescinding legal protection for the lives of one group of people, implicitly communicates the message that some may be better off dead. Assisted suicide is also a recipe for abuse of elderly and disabled persons because it can put lethal drugs within reach of abusers. No oversight and no witnesses are required once the lethal drugs leave the pharmacy. There is also no requirement to notify a family member or emergency contact for a person taking their own life. Imagine the trauma the family would face in such a situation.
There are many other reasons why doctor-prescribed suicide is not good for this country, the State of South Dakota and for families — too many to lay out in this article. But it is important that in supporting a culture of life, we begin to speak out against this serious challenge and deadly issue now, in our parishes, in our families and in our communities. We do not want our state to be the next one to support a culture of death in allowing suicide for its citizens. Resources can be found at www.usccb.org/ToLiveEachDay.
In conclusion, from an article which appeared in Crisis Magazine by Maria Cintorino:
“Genuine death with dignity, dying naturally, is courageous for it dares to live despite suffering. It affirms the dignity of the human person as grounded in the image and likeness of God and recognizes that the beauty of life entails both the moments of joy and health as well as the sorrows and sufferings which are part of life. Dying with true dignity means accepting and embracing the suffering of a terminal illness and the death which ensues, no matter how prolonged the process may be. True death with dignity does not “opt” out of life — it fearlessly charges on as it recognizes the immense power of redemptive suffering and affirms the value of each human being who suffers.”
Enjoy the January edition of the West River Catholic
In the Diocesan Priority Plan, Vocations is one of our foundational ministries and remains an important focus. An emphasis will be in promoting a culture of vocations, not only in the diocese as a whole, but in every parish and in every family. One of the core values in the Priority Plan is the family. Some of the behaviors under this value specifically address the truth that the seeds of a vocation to priesthood or consecrated life are grounded in family where couples are intentionally living their vocation to marriage. There has been much discussion regarding the need to increase the number of seminarians in order to maintain or even increase our current level of diocese.
To that end, it was felt that a new vocation prayer could assist in this endeavor. The new Prayer for Vocations reflects this focus in the Priority Plan and makes a connection to the mission statement of the diocese as well. Praying a new prayer gives us all the opportunity to pray these new words with a lively faith.
In time, they will be printed as prayer cards and made available in all parishes.
New Diocesan Prayer for Vocations
Invitation: We ask for God’s blessing on those discerning a vocation to priesthood, diaconate, marriage or consecrated life as we pray our Vocations Prayer:
Heavenly Father, Inflame our hearts with the fire of your love.
Inspire our families to eagerly say “yes” to the Holy Spirit,
as did Mary and Joseph.
Help our parishes become schools of prayer,
forming intentional disciples of Jesus who desire to live for him.
Assist us in building a culture of vocations,
creating an environment where all disciples
will seek your will for their lives.
Teach married couples to live their vocation
in the Spirit of Christ
so that their families may become a “domestic Church,”
reflecting the life of the Trinity.
Inspire young men and women to seek
a living encounter with your Son
so that they will courageously respond
to your call to priesthood or consecrated life,
giving themselves generously to the Church
in service of the Gospel.
We ask Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother,
to intercede for us.
Pour out anew upon our diocese your Holy Spirit
and make us courageous witnesses of Christ’s love.
May our lives “attract and form intentional disciples
who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live
the mission of Jesus Christ, leading to eternal life.”
We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I am writing to share with you some important information and to seek your assistance. God has blessed this diocese with many wonderful and dedicated priests. I am proud of and deeply grateful for the priests who serve the people of God across the Diocese of Rapid City. They live as true witnesses of the love and mercy of the Lord, day in and day out. This is good news. Please be grateful for all they do for you and continue to pray for them daily.
But I also want to share with you some not-so-good news about the priests’ situation in the diocese, seeking your daily prayers for this situation as well.
The Diocese of Rapid City currently has seven men in seminary formation for the priesthood. This is good news. However, we had no ordinations this past year and the next ordination to the priesthood for our diocese is not scheduled until the summer of 2019, if the man currently in Theology II discerns this through to completion.
We also have priests who are moving into retirement. Fr. Bill Zandri retired last July, although he is still active in hospital and nursing home ministry. Another priest is due to retire in July 2017. Due to health issues of two of our active priests, we are already short on clergy personnel for this current year. Fr. Ed Vanorny has come out of retirement to cover a cluster of parishes in Harding and Perkins Counties.
In addition, Fr. Godfrey Muwanga and Fr. John Lule, who are on loan from Uganda, have been serving for almost ten years and their status in our diocese is year-to-year. Fr. Andrea Benso, who has been here on loan from Italy, will be returning home to his diocese next June. In addition, the two Jesuit priests serving at the Sioux Spiritual Center will also be taking new assignments, thus leaving a void in the ministry which they have been providing.
Also, Fr. Brian Christensen will complete his assignment in Rome and return to the diocese in July 2017. Taking all of this into consideration, there will be a shortage of at least one priest, and maybe more, if the Ugandan priests are called home.
So as you can see, the priest personnel situation leaves a challenging reality in covering our current places for ministry into the coming years. People may inquire, “Why don’t you get more priests from outside the diocese to come here?” This is much more difficult than one thinks. Obviously, in doing so, it would have to be the right person — one who would fit well into the culture of our local church.
St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Corinthians, “But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.”
Yes, we are one body of Christ in the Diocese of Rapid City. If one parish is affected, all parishes are affected. A shortage of two priests or even one priest has an impact across the whole diocese. Any adjustment to the number of parishes we can serve will impact more than just one parish. “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” We all must become concerned about these challenges in our diocese.
Therefore, while I wanted you to be aware of this situation, I am also asking each of you to take seriously the call to pray daily for vocations to the priesthood in our diocese. But I am also asking that each of you pray daily for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our diocese and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor to find more priests to serve here, so that there will not be a shortage in this coming year and the years to follow.
Be assured of my prayers for all of you and your families. May Christ’s peace and love be the source and meaning of your lives.
Enjoy the December edition of the West River Catholic.
Enjoy the November edition of the West River Catholic
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Rapid City, SD 57701
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Victim Assistance Coordinator