SHAWNEE - The American Indian Catholic Outreach (AICO) for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City opened the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Spiritual Center of Oklahoma Aug. 28 on the campus of Saint Gregory's University in Shawnee. The spiritual center is a ministry of the AICO.
"The center is there as part of the new evangelization effort that Archbishop Coakley has instituted in the archdiocese," said Deacon Roy, AICO coordinator. "We are there not only to evangelize, but also to re-evangelize those who have drifted from the faith."
As with most days, Deacon Roy and his wife Susan set up an information table on Sept. 6 in the middle of Rockwood Center on campus. Not long after they set up, students Krystal Lopez and Brendon Johnson walked to the table filled with books, brochures and Bibles. As they picked up pamphlets and rosaries, they began visiting with Deacon Roy and Susan. The students learned about the new center, the annual Saint Kateri Honor Dance held on campus and where the new office was located.
"I think it's great. I didn't know about it," said Lopez, an exercise science senior. "Now, I can spread the word. I'm happy they're here. What they do is good."
Johnson, also an exercise science senior, is Seminole and said it's "cool" the center is at Saint Gregory's, and that he'll be at the Saint Kateri Honor Dance next year.
"The deacon and his wife, are like soldiers on the front lines tending to our students. They're there to answer questions that go beyond 'where is this office?'" said Lily Bermudez, Saint Gregory's dean of students. "I see them as collaborators to the mission of the university, which is a faith-filled mission, to help a person academically, spiritually, socially, culturally, ... and for me I see them as the kind of aid that we need to engage our students spiritually."
Stephen Zaborowski, director of alumni and donor relations, said having the AICO and the spiritual center on campus is fantastic, and is another example of how the Catholic mission is flourishing.
"This spiritual center really demonstrates our commitment to the mission of outreach to American Indians. That's how Saint Gregory's got started with the monks 142 years ago," Zaborowski said. "A beautiful thing I see with Deacon and Mrs. Callison, is that they're just friendly. They present a public witness and a public resource, which I just find is beautiful."
The vision statement for the center states, "The purpose of the center is to provide the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy to American Indian People through the blending of Catholic spirituality and the teachings of the Catholic Church with American Indian traditions and culture."
The center also is "committed to the healing and reconciliation of American Indian people under the guidance of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City."
Saint Gregory's President Michael Scaperlanda said one of the strategic goals of the university is to further cement their relations with American Indians. He jumped at the opportunity for the spiritual center to be on campus.
"Another one of our strategic initiatives is to be the center of Catholic culture for the state of Oklahoma. So, they run together, Catholicism and American Indian mission, and so it's a wonderful opportunity for us. We had some space and we welcomed them here," Scaperlanda said. "This really is a location that will be a benefit to our students, but it also will draw people from the community here as they do programing and the Honor Dance every year. This is a place that if you're American Indian or if you're Catholic or if you're both, this is a place to be."
Rt. Rev. Lawrence Stasyszen, O.S.B., abbot of Saint Gregory's Abbey, said other locations were considered for the spiritual center, but they kept going back to Saint Gregory's. He said it's a natural choice for the center to be there because it touches on the original founding of the monastic community there, when in 1875 the monks came to Oklahoma to serve the people in Indian Territory.
"The development of the campus and the mission that's already here just seems very complimentary to the center," Abbot Lawrence said.
He also recognized that Saint Gregory's is the only Catholic university in the state, and they have an extensive collection of American Indian art and artifacts at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art. Plus, Shawnee is in the center of the state and provides good access from the interstate.
"The center really does become an effective outreach at proclaiming the Good News, and looking to the spiritual and practical needs of American Indian people that perhaps is not currently being met," Abbot Lawrence said. "It can become a good partner with the university to both enhance the experience of our university students and to bringing the various resources of the university to the people."
Abbot Lawrence said he hopes the spiritual center, "becomes something that will survive all of us. To see that something goes to the next generation we have to lay good foundations."
One of the first students to visit Deacon Roy and Susan when they arrived on campus was Heath Steward, a biology sophomore. He said it's nice to see an additional resource on campus and to have a resource specifically geared to the American Indian population.
"I would encourage everyone to go and see what the center can do for them," Steward said. "It would be nice to see more people get involved with the community."
The center is open to everyone. The office is in Benedictine Hall, Rm. 015. For more information, contact Deacon Roy at (405) 878-5495.
Dana Attocknie is managing editor of the Sooner Catholic.