The History of the Diocese and Catholic Education in Western South Dakota

Fr. Pierre Jean DeSmet

1839:  Fr. Pierre Jean DeSmet, a Jesuit from Belgium, came to America without even saying goodbye to his parents after being called to serve in the New World.  Fr. DeSmet had a particular interest in working with the American Indians and worked his way across the United States, setting up missions along the way.

1876:  Martin Marty, OSB, came to America from Switzerland, coming to the Standing Rock Mission. 

1877:  St. Ambrose Church is built in Deadwood – probably the first church in what would become the Diocese of Rapid City.

As part of the Vicariate of Nebraska, Bishop James O’Connel sends Fr. John Lonergan to minister to prospectors in Deadwood.  His first Mass in the Territory is celebrated in a carpenter’s shop on May 22, 1877.  Soon afterward, six sites are selected for churches and a fund drive for a hospital begins.

Holy Cross Sisters

1878:  Fr. Bernard Mackin of Nebraska City, Nebraska comes to Deadwood.  The community is plagued with many sick fighting typhoid, mountain fever and diphtheria.  Many more suffer injuries from prospecting.  Sisters of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame, Indiana come to start a hospital in Deadwood, which eventually gives rise to the Miners’ Hospital in Lead.  During this year seven different Holy Cross priests from Notre Dame, Indiana arrive to shepherd the flock in Lead and Deadwood.  The Holy Cross Sisters build the St. Edward’s Academy in 1889 to help financially support the hospital, but it closes due to lack of enrollment.

1879:  Pope Leo XIII appoints Martin the Vicar Apostolic for the Dakota Territory.  There are 14,000 Catholics in the Territory.

1884:  The Territory now has 45 priests, 82 parishes and 62 missions.

1888:  Catholics in Sturgis request help starting a school for the young after the community gets a reputation of “scooping” your pockets clean.  Marty travels to Melchtal, Switzerland to ask the Benedictine Sisters of St. Nicholas de Flue to come educate the youth in Dakota Territory.  The Sisters first send five women to the Benedictine Monastery in Yankton to learn English. 

Marty makes the acquaintance of Katherine Drexel, becoming her spiritual director.  The wealthy young woman generously contributes $15,000 for a school building on the Rosebud Reservation, to be named after her father’s patron saint, Francis.  Eventually she gives additional funds to establish Holy Rosary School in Mission, four miles northwest of Pine Ridge, now known as the Red Cloud Indian School.  Thus begins the tumultuous times of the Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee.  The Jesuits and Franciscan Sisters remain at Holy Rosary, which serves as a refuge for frightened Oglala women and children.

St. Katherine Drexel

1889:  April 28 the Benedictine Sisters arrive in Sturgis, living in an abandoned tavern, and begin teaching classes on May 6 with 30 pupils.  This is the birth of St. Martin’s Convent and Academy.  In addition to classroom instruction, the Sisters care for more than 40 orphans, providing meals, laundry and a nurturing atmosphere while also tending livestock, milking cows, cleaning, sewing and mending, and, of course, communal prayer.

At one point shots are fired into the monastery.  Mother Angela Arnet narrowly misses being shot, but one bullet pierces the crucifix which is passed on as an example of Christ’s protection.

Benedictine Sisters

A typhoid epidemic breaks out in Deadwood.  The Benedictine Sisters from Sturgis travel to Deadwood to help the Holy Cross Sisters.  St. Edward’s Academy building is converted to a 20-bed hospital.

President Benjamin Harrison signs a proclamation dividing Dakota Territory into North and South.  Bishop Marty moves from Yankton to Sioux Falls.  South Dakota has 48,000 Catholics, most living east of the Missouri River.  There are 60 priests to cover 77,000 square miles.  Circuit riding priests are common, getting to some parishes only once a year.  Baptisms, first Communions, etc., are all done by the priest during this yearly visit.

Fun Fact:  Bishop Marty was presented with a pectoral cross made of Black Hills Gold.  It is still used by our bishops today.

Lakota Catechist:  A lay apostolate engaging local men to serve in parishes for $10 per month.  Their duties include maintenance, sacristan, political advisor to priests, song/prayer leader, teacher, spiritual director and counselor.

1894:  Bishop Marty moves to St. Cloud, maintaining his role as advisor to the faithful on the reservations.  He passes away in 1896.

1896:  The Benedictine Sisters purchase the old St. Edward’s Academy building for $10,000, remodel it and St. Joseph’s Hospital officially opened on January 15, 1897.

1900:  St. Patrick Church in Lead burns to the ground.

1902:  Pope Leo XIII establishes the Diocese of Lead on July 28. 

Bishop John Stariha is consecrated on October 28th and installed as the First Bishop of Lead on November 23 by Bishop Thomas O’Gorman of Sioux Falls.  Stariha is from Slovenia, part of the Austrian Empire.  He fought in the battle of Kustoca in the Austrian/Hungarian War.  On June 24, 1866 he promised God he would be a priest if he survived the war.  The next year he left his homeland and sailed to America. He was admitted to the St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee “since he had an honest face.”  He was consecrated a bishop on October 28, 1902.  The rebuilt St. Patrick’s Church in Lead now becomes St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  The Lead Diocese has 9,000 Catholics, 17 priests and 25 churches, including several thousand faithful on five reservations.

Despite health problems, Bishop Stariha relates well to immigrants and adapts well because his Slovak heritage means he can speak German and Italian as well.

1905:  The Benedictine Sisters begin the first nursing school in South Dakota at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Deadwood.  The first class graduated in 1908 after a three-year course.

Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital also opens in Hot Springs.

Homestake Mine

1909:  Bishop Stariha resigns due to chronic ill health and returns to his native Austria.

1910:  Joseph Busch from Minnesota is ordained the 2nd Bishop of Lead.  Trying to fight for the rights of miners who work seven days a week in dangerous conditions, Bishop Busch is burned in effigy in Lead.  He moves to his home on West Boulevard in Rapid City which is built with funds from his family.  Homesteaders on the prairie are going broke as weather is poor and the drought is devastating the economy.

1911:  Immaculate Conception Church is dedicated in Rapid City on June 14.  By this time St. Martin’s has 45 members from Europe and the United States.

1915:  Bishop Busch is transferred to St. Cloud, Minnesota.

1916:  Bishop John Lawler is installed as the 3rd Bishop of Lead on May 4th.  St. Patrick School in Lead is reopened by the Sisters of Charity of BVM from Dubuque, Iowa.

1920:  Catholics are persecuted as the Klu Klux Klan is active in the state. 

1921:  Chancellor/Secretary Fr. Arthur Belknap is shot to death and the murder still goes unsolved.  However, the Klan is suspected.

1926:  The Benedictine Sisters open St. John’s McNamara Hospital in Rapid City.  The nursing school is added in 1927.

1930:  Rapid City, originally called Hay Camp, has a population of over 10,000.  On August 4 Pope Pius XI transferred the Episcopal See from Lead to Rapid City.  St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception becomes Immaculate Conception Cathedral.  Bishop Lawler and the Chancery move to 1622 West Boulevard.

1931:  The first graduation is held at Cathedral School.

1940:  St. John the Evangelist Parish in Rapid City is founded.

1942:  Ellsworth Air Force Base is built.

1947:  Blessed Sacrament Parish in Rapid City is established.

1948: Bishop Lawler passes away on March 11.  Bishop McCarty succeeds him as the 4th Bishop of Rapid City.

Cathedral High Glee Club 1949

1950:  Mother Butler Center is dedicated.

1951:  Due to overcrowding, Sunday Masses are celebrated in the Rapid City Catholic High School Gym.

1957:  St. Isaac Jogues Chapel is dedicated at Mother Butler Center.

1960:  Ground is broken for Our Lady of Perpetual Help by Bishop McCarty. 

1961: Perpetual Help Grade School opens (later renamed St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School)

1963:  On May 7 the Solemn Dedication of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is held.  On May 8 St. Martin’s Chapel is dedicated at the new Benedictine Monastery in Rapid City.  The Sisters move down from Sturgis.

1968:  Cathedral High School closes.

Perpetual Help Grade School being built – 1961.

1969:  Bishop McCarty retires on September 17, and Harold Dimmerling is ordained at Cathedral on October 30th as the 5th Bishop of Rapid City.  Bishop Dimmerling moves to 721 West Boulevard and the Chancery moves to the Cathedral basement.

1972:  Monsignor O’Connell establishes Catholic Family Services, now known as Catholic Social Services.

On June 9th the tragic and historic Rapid City Flood occurs.  St. Isaac Jogues Church and Mother Butler Center are severely damaged, and their pastor Father Francis Collins, SI, drowns.

Monsignor O’Connell forms Rapid City Church Response to coordinate flood aid.

Cathedral School serves as headquarters for the Mennonite Disaster Team.  The Benedictines shelter flood victims.

In November St. Isaac Jogues and Mother Butler Center move to Wright Street.

1973:  St. Martin’s Academy goes co-ed.  The West River Catholic Newspaper is established in May by Monsignor O’Connell.

1975:  The Chancery and Catholic Social Services move into new buildings at 606 Cathedral Drive.

1983:  The Catholic Schools are restructured interparish style.

1987:  Bishop Dimmerling passes away on December 13.  Monsignor William O’Connell is chosen as Diocesan Administrator.

1988:  On May 2nd Pope John Paul II appoints Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., as the 6th Bishop of Rapid City.  He is ordained on July 26th at the Civic Center.

1991:  St. Martin’s Academy closes.  Bishop Chaput appoints a formation committee for a new school, and National College was secured as the new location.

1992:  On December 30 the Western South Dakota Catholic Foundation is established as a trust for present and future needs.

1995:  On August 1st the new St. Thomas More High School at 300 Fairmont Boulevard, just east of the Cathedral, is dedicated.

1997:  Bishop Chaput is named as Archbishop of Denver on February 18.  Monsignor Michael Woster is named Diocesan Administrator.

1998:  Monsignor Blase Cupich  is appointed as the 7th Bishop of Rapid City with ordination and installation held on September 21st at the Civic Center.

2002:  Casa Maria Priest Retirement Residence is dedicated.

2004:  Rapid City Catholic School System establishes the Endowment for Excellence in Education Trust.

2007:  The Diocese purchases 200 acres of the St. Martin’s Monastery/Academy property from the Benedictines and rename it Terra Sancta.  The We Walk by Faith Special Appeal begins to raise $7,000,000 to build the Terra Sancta Retreat Center, a new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Elementary School and two Newman Centers.

2009:  Terra Sancta Guild is established.  The 1st Annual Winefest is held , benefitting the Rapid City Catholic School System.

2010:  Bishop Cupich is appointed Bishop of Spokane on June 30, installed on September 3.  Father Steve Biegler is named Diocesan Administrator.

2011:  Monsignor Robert Gruss is named the 8th Bishop of Rapid City, with his ordination and installation occurring on July 28th.

2012:  Dedication of the Terra Sancta Retreat Center and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Elementary School at Terra Sancta is held on May 10.  St. Thomas More Middle School is established in the former Seton Elementary School on the corner of Fairmont and 5th Street.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha is canonized in October.

2013:  The Rapid City Newman Center opened on East Kansas City Street.

2014:  1st Annual Bishop’s Classic Golf Tournament is held to benefit the Rapid City Catholic Schools, Catholic Social Services and the Western South Dakota Catholic Foundation.

2015:  The 35th Annual Mayfest Dinner and Auction is held on May 2.

2016:  The 1st Annual Winterfest is held, benefitting the Rapid City Catholic School System, in the Seton gymnasium at Terra Sancta, replacing the annual Winefest.


See more images in our Yearbook Archives!

  • Fr. Pierre Jean DeSmet

  • Gaels Boy’s Basketball 1958

  • Construction on Perpetual Help Grade School later named St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School.

  • Gaels Football 1958

  • Music lessons

  • Glee Club

  • Senior Annual Yearbook Insert

  • Learning Latin