LEFT: Harry Blue Thunder, a devout Catholic, holy man and traditional elder.
RIGHT: One of the early Lakota catechists teaches on the reservation.
“I Can’t... I’m the Roughest One”
Harry Blue Thunder, a Lakota Sioux chief who served in the U.S. Fourth Cavalry and stood mounted guard when President Calvin Coolidge toured Sturgis, South Dakota, was the first Native American to receive Catholic Extension’s Lumen Christi Award. In 1992, when he was 86, he was among the last of a group of Native American catechists who taught the Catholic faith to their own across South Dakota beginning in the 1880s. Missionaries were scarce in that region of the country, and these catechists did more than just teach the faith. In harsh conditions, they traveled by horseback – later by car – praying with the sick, distributing the Eucharist, counseling troubled souls, preparing young people for marriage, and performing baptisms and burials.
When a missionary first asked Harry Blue Thunder to teach catechism in the 1930s, the young man protested, “No, Father. I can’t. I’m the roughest one!” But later Christ came to him in a vision, and he donned the purple sash of a catechist. Harry Blue Thunder spent his life showing others how to maintain their Native American heritage and embrace their Catholic faith – something he did himself as a devout Catholic, a holy man and a traditional elder among his people.
Postscript: Harry Blue Thunder died in 2005.