Nicholas Black Elk is being considered for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church, and some are on a mission to shed light on his life story. Damian Costello, Ph.D., internationally recognized expert on the life and legacy of Nicholas Black Elk and author of Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism, will deliver a two-part series to the St. Thomas community, covering “The Vision and Legacy of Nicholas Black Elk” and “Indigenous Sources for Christian Worldviews and Ways of Living” respectively on Feb. 16 and 23 at 11:45 a.m. These sessions will be live online.


Free and open to the public, this series is sponsored and organized by the
Jay Phillips Center for Interreligious Studies at St. Thomas and the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at Saint John’s University (Collegeville, MN) with generous support from Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota.

Few Native American elders have achieved the iconic status of Nicholas Black Elk. Many know his early life through the 1932 classic “Black Elk Speaks.” Crazy Horse’s cousin – Black Elk was raised on the plains hunting buffalo, and fought at the Battle of Little Bighorn and at Wounded Knee. Since 2018, the world has learned about the second part of his life through the cause for his canonization in the Catholic Church.

In the first session (Feb. 16) at St. Thomas, Dr. Costello will discuss how Black Elk became a prominent Catholic leader with an unexpected and striking vision. Amid a collapsing world due to oppressive Western colonialism, Black Elk’s vision – at once thoroughly Indigenous and thoroughly Catholic – helped renew his and others’ Lakota understanding of the Spirit World’s creative and healing power. Some may wonder that as our current world exhibits increasing signs of collapse, might Black Elk’s vision serve as a beacon of hope?

In recent years, many Christians have been giving new or renewed attention to religious insights and traditions of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. While some claim that Christians have much to learn from Native philosophies and spiritual practices, others reject this view, suggesting that drawing upon these Indigenous sources compromises Christian witness. In the second session (Feb. 23), Costello will discuss this controversy and explain why he believes that Christian life can be enriched through engagement with Native Americans, their worldviews, and their traditions.

Damian Costello holds a Ph.D. in theological studies from the University of Dayton. Costello’s work is informed by five years of ethnographic research on the Navajo Nation. His recent publications include “Indigenous Peoples are filling in the gaps in our Catholic faith” (America, 2019) and “Black Elk, the Lakota Medicine Man turned Catholic Teacher, is promoted for Sainthood” (America, 2017). Costello served as an academic advisor and associate producer for the documentary “Walking the Good Red Road: Nicholas Black Elk’s Journey to Sainthood” (NewGroup Media, 2020), which aired on ABC affiliates in 2020 and in which he appeared. Costello is on the faculty of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS) and is a founding member and the American co-chair of the Indigenous Catholic Research Fellowship (ICRF).

Visit the Jay Phillips Center website to register for or learn more about upcoming events.

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