by Joe Bollig
LAWRENCE — Despite the rumble of traffic from adjoining 23rd Street, an air of reverence descended on the people gathered in the yard of Haskell Catholic Campus Center here.
Benny Smith, a respected member of the Haskell Indian Nations University community, began to sing in his ancestral Cherokee language.
“Hi yo wa. Ya ka ni. Hi te hu yu. Ya ka ni. Hi wa Aa yi. Ya ka ni,” he sang.
Or, “Our Spirit sees and knows all./ The Spirit knows, sees all that moves.”
As he sang, individuals came up, one by one, to the new, ceremonial fire pit. Each selected a handful of material from one of the pouches on the ground beside the fire.
Next, they tossed the material into the fire and paused as they stood and wafted the smoke toward themselves with their hands, bathing themselves in the aromatic scents — a Native American practice called smudging.
“Hi yo wa. Hi ye yo. Ya ka ni. Hi Aa ni. He ho. Ya ka ni,” Smith concluded.
And this means: “We are to teach the way of the Great Spirit. This is it — how you are to live accordingly.”
Inside the pouches were bits of sage, sweet grass, tobacco, cedar, etc. All were donated by other tribes for this special blessing April 23 commemorating the 30th anniversary celebration of the founding of the archdiocesan-sponsored Catholic Campus Center at Haskell University.
Before the smudging, Smith also led the participants in a modified “going to water” ceremony, which included acknowledging all created things in the four directions.
The ceremony drew members of the center’s permanent community, students and friends who live in and around Lawrence. It was followed by a potluck cookout. The event was accompanied by gift giving, the renewal of old friendships and prayer drawn from Native American and Catholic traditions.
The current chaplain Father Michael Scully, OFM Cap., and founding chaplain Father Al Rockers stood side by side to welcome the attendees.
“It was 30 years ago that this building became the Catholic Campus Center, but the Jesuits were here a long time ago. [They] came from St. Marys, Kansas,” said Father Rockers. “The Jesuits had a mission on campus.”
The Jesuits left, and, years later, Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker asked Father Rockers (then pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence) and Jerry and Terry Tuckwin to scout a property suitable for purchase so a Catholic ministry could be established for Haskell.
“There’s a house . . . about two houses down [from here] that Terry and I found for sale,” said Father Rockers. “Terry and I went to the archbishop and told him [we found a house] for sale. And he said, ‘I don’t want that one. I want the one on the corner.’ I told him it wasn’t for sale, and he said, ‘Everybody has their price.’”
The real estate deal was inked on April 23, 1986.
Community and family
A very personal perspective on the day was given by retired Haskell University football coach, athletic director and teacher Jerry Tuckwin. He grew up on the Potawatomi Reservation north of Topeka until coming to Haskell at age 16.
“On April 23, 1949, I lost my parents and my little sister in a fire in our home,” said Tuckwin. “It was always a sad day. And 30 years ago, we got this place right here, and then it became a day to celebrate instead of for bad memories.”
The center has a great history to be honored, but it is also looking forward to a great future, said Jean Finch, center director since June 2015.
“We have a really strong permanent community,” said Finch. “It’s close and people are very active, but we want more students to come. That’s been a challenge. That’s what we’re aiming toward.”
Finch has gotten to know a lot of people on campus and is working to increase her visibility and build trust with the community. The Sunday Mass will be shifted to the evening to accommodate the students.
Among the most popular center events is the weekly Wednesday cultural night and potluck. Father Michael hosts movie showings with reflections on Thursday nights. Finch does sacramental preparation and leads the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for children and youths.
The center helps in a lot of ways that are nonprogrammatic, as well. Sometimes, students need financial help or help dealing with serious family problems.
“Haskell Indian Nations University has a big gap in serving the ‘hidden needs’ of both young students and nontraditional students,” said Finch. “Sometimes, it comes down to looking at situations or schoolwork and breaking the problems into realistic chunks. We can help with things like money management, resume writing and letter writing to deal with difficult, far-off situations.”
The eucharistic adoration chapel is a ministry unto itself.
“The adoration chapel has had an astonishing effect on students, often nonbelievers,” said Finch. “When I sense some high anxiety, I will ask them to wait a bit in the adoration chapel. Questions then come from a calmer student who has sensed [God’s presence].”
For students, the center is a safe and welcoming place to study, socialize or hang out. It offers faith and community, and even a surrogate family while far from home.
In addition to the smudging and “going to water” ceremony, another part of the celebration was honoring the Capuchin Franciscans for their ministry.
The Capuchins have been part of the center since the beginning, thanks to a request Archbishop Strecker made to then-provincial Father Charles Chaput (now archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) to assign friars to the center.
In addition to Father Michael, other Capuchins present were former center director Father Duane Reinert and current assistant to the center director Brother Jordan Rojas.
Letters of congratulation were sent by Father John Cousins, OFM Cap., and Father Francisco Ramirez, OFM Cap., who both formerly ministered at the center.
Former center director Monica Olivera, who leads an outreach to Native American communities, was also present at the anniversary celebration.
The day ended with gift giveaways, followed by a Mass in the adoration chapel. Father Michael was the main celebrant and homilist, and Father Duane concelebrated.