In an empty parking lot outside St. Joseph’s Church in Spearfish a man in black throws his leg over a crimson Road King Harley Davidson and hits the start button.
Hidden under his black Harley Davidson jacket is a white collar. It’s a sign that this is no ordinary biker. Bishop Robert Gruss runs the West River Diocese in South Dakota. Gruss has thinning gray hair and he could be described as a bit shy, but Gruss hopes the bike brings out his approachable side.
“As Pope Frances says the bishop needs to get know the smell of their flock and so this is a sector of my flock I’m looking forward getting to know,” says Gruss.
Bishop Gruss hopes that straddling a Harley Davidson in a biker outfit makes him more approachable than his clerical garb.
“Because of my position people think well maybe they can never approach the bishop because he’s very different than everyone else, but you know as I get among them with my own motorcycle and ride with people one it’s a chance for evangelization and might be a chance to bring people some Catholics back to the church who have fallen away,” says Gruss.
He’s decked out in a black Harley Davidson jacket, black pants, and a black long sleeve button up with his clerics. The last thing Bishop Gruss wanted was to add a black bike to the mix.
“You know when I was at the Harley Dealership they were asking what color you want and I said anything but black because I wear black all the time, so it’s nice to have a little color, and plus I think it’s easier to be seen you know safety wise on something this color then something that’s black,” says Gruss.
This isn’t the Bishop’s first motorcycle.
“I had a motorcycle back it was back in the eighties and I just sold it when I went into the seminaries. I thought I wouldn’t have a need for it, and I don’t need a big toy like that and it was actually a little toy and I never really envisioned myself riding again, so but here I am 27 or eight years later back on a motorcycle again,” says Gruss.
The nearly three decade break from riding a motorcycle comes at the suggestion of Monseigneur Michael Woster. He needed a creative way to raise money for a new Newman Center. Woster says the current center is too small.
“Our current Newman Center is a small house kind of on the edge of our church parking lot and were about a mile off of the campus and so we have a couple limitations with what we’re doing right now relative to the Catholic students up at Black Hills State University,” says Woster.
A Newman Center provides students Catholic ministry at non-Catholic universities.
Bishop Robert Gruss says he hopes this ride not only raises money for the Center, but also helps the community get to know the clergy.
“It lets people know that church leaders you know pastors and the bishop we like to do other things. We have other interests besides church, and this is a way for us to participate in these other interests, but also do it in a public way where others can be involved in it as well,” says Gruss.
Back in the parking lot Bishop Gruss is astride his Harley. He turns the throttle and lets out the clutch. The bike inches forward and the motor turns over as he takes off. Bishop Gruss says he enjoys the thrill of riding like every other biker.
“We are normal people, and we like to have fun,” says Gruss.
As a bishop, Gruss is seen as a leader of a flock. As a biker, he will lead the pack. Gruss says it’s all for a great cause.
For South Dakota Public Broadcasting I’m Nicole Griffith in Rapid City.
To register for the 1st Annual Ride with the Bishop go to www.stjosephspearfish.com.