Three things in my life came together recently and gave me pause to thank God and say, “I’m part of this!”
A few weekends back, I attended a wedding of an old friend and ran into several others that I literally had not seen in over 30 years. After exchanging pleasantries about life and family, the topic of careers and work came up. In my case, the answer was “Yes, I still work at St. Joseph’s Indian School in South Dakota!” Soon after came questions about my job and a curiosity as to why I have stayed here for so long.
It was one of those moments that you are fortunate to experience… like so many others over the past 30 years. I am frequently reminded that the mission at the heart of our work at St. Joseph’s Indian School is truly a blessing for all who are open to it!
It started with our yearly Christmas Store, held on December 12 this year. Like many other caring staff, I volunteered to assist as our students select Christmas gifts for their family members. The Christmas Store comes about because of the generosity of so many. Students are able to select gifts for their siblings and family members. It is an opportunity to give someone a present that they might not otherwise have.
Throughout the day, some staff help students pick out gifts. Others, like me, volunteer to help wrap presents. There’s music playing and Santa Claus is here. St. Joseph’s high school students even assist the younger students. It is a lot of fun!
After assisting a couple of students in wrapping their presents, there was a short break between groups… And there it sat on a table full of wrapping paper.
It was a letter to Santa Claus.
I was not sure where it came from, but it had all the magic that a letter to Santa should have. It had a few misspellings and imperfect penmanship, just as a child’s letter should. But it was magic nonetheless. It asked for gifts for her siblings, and she had drawn a few pictures.
But mostly, I was struck by the spirit of the letter! Simply stated, this child was given the opportunity to ‘Believe’ in the magic of Christmas.
With this being the Christmas Season, I find there are a number of Christmas movies that give one perspective. In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Baily sees a world without himself in it! This led me to the question, what would the world be like without St. Joseph’s Indian School? What if we did not have so many generous supporters? What kind of Christmas would our students and their families have?
How would their lives be impacted?
Thirty years ago, my wife and I were fortunate to come to St. Joseph’s Indian School. Back then, the plan was to take a year and see if we could make a difference. And what we have 30 years later is a lifetime full of memories and many instances where the Mission impacted us far more than we impacted the Mission. So what George Baily realized, I too realized. How truly lucky I am to be part of this wonderful Mission that is St. Joseph’s Indian School.
That student letter was a simple reminder of the magic that is in the hearts of our students, their families, the staff and our supporters. It is you, our supporters, and your generosity that allows the Spirit of the Mission to thrive each and every day on our campus. And it is during this important Christmas Season that your generosity is most apparent in the eyes of the children we serve!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! The Spirit is alive! God Bless!
Holy Week began yesterday morning here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Outside, the South Dakota wind gusted across the prairie at 20-30 miles per hour. The cool
nature of the wind and the sound of its force against the walls and windows of the chapel provided the setting for our morning. The Spirit was moving!
As students, staff and a few visitors gathered in the Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel, our Palm Sunday Service began with Fr. Anthony blessing the palms. Deacon Bud proclaimed the Gospel of our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The assembly dispersed to the hallways on either side of the chapel to re-enact the procession along the road that Jesus traveled.
Banner carriers holding the colors of the Four Directions led the assembly back into the chapel accompanied by our student drum group singing and playing a traditional song. Everyone found their places and held their palms high as our dancers processed forth in traditional regalia down the center aisle. They were followed by the Eagle Staff Bearer, altar servers, Fr. Anthony and Deacon Bud. It was quite the multi-cultural celebration of our traditional Palm Sunday.
The morning’s Lakota liturgy also included the Lord’s Prayer said in Lakota and Amazing Grace sung by our student choir in both Lakota and English. Mass ended with our weekly Happy Birthday announcements and acknowledgement sung in Lakota, “Nita anpetu waste.”
I describe this celebration because I was awed by how our Catholic traditions and elements of the Lakota (Sioux) culture blended at this Palm Sunday Mass.
Not only was it great to see our students involved in dancing, playing the drums, speaking the language and singing, but also the colors, the movement and the language enhanced the meaning of the liturgy.
As we entered into the holiest of weeks in our Church year, one that begins with triumph and endures through crucifixion to Easter glory, the blending of our culture and our common history and humanity spoke powerfully of the mystery we celebrate.
At St. Joseph’s, we provide our students with a holistic array of services, thanks to the generosity of friends like you. Through the support of many, their hands and feet in solidarity with our mission, we are able to carry this important ministry, helping children and families.
Yesterday’s Palm Sunday Service was one of many ways we look to preserve the Lakota culture for our students.
Pilamaya – thank you – for providing these opportunities!
When the students of Sheehy Home (high school boys) decided they wanted to go snowboarding and skiing for their home trip, I knew we needed to do a fundraiser to help cover the cost. So, we sat down and talked about some ways to make extra money.
Previously, another St. Joseph’s home had done a lemonade stand at our annual powwow, and one did a bake sale. We’ve done car washes in the past but, with the weather outside below freezing at the time, we decided to come up with a new idea: create and sell a t-shirt.
I wanted the guys to learn how a company works from idea to completion, so to get started we elected a president, treasurer, designer, sales manager and production manager.
The young man chosen to be the designer – Craig – sat down and got to work. In less than two hours, he had a sketch of what would become our design.
We took his sketch and had it copied into a computer file. My wife, April, helped Craig enhance the digital file of the sketch and came up with our finished design.
The top banner says Chamberlain High, where our high school students attend. The bottom banner says St. Joseph’s Indian School, where we live. The bear cub is the mascot for Chamberlain teams and the paw print is also a school recognized image. The design also incorporates the colors of the Lakota medicine wheel. The dreamcatcher surrounding the school images symbolizes all the possibilities an education brings.
The Sheehy home accepted the design and submitted our idea for a fundraiser to the management team here at St. Joseph’s. They heard our plan and agreed to allow us to sell the shirts on campus and at Chamberlain High School.
We worked with a local company that makes t-shirts and negotiated prices for various amounts of t-shirts sold. Our goal was to sell 100 shirts to ensure the best price. With that cost in mind, we worked with St. Joseph’s management team and came up with a sale price of $12.00 per t-shirt.
Our sales manager created a sales folder that everyone used, including a picture of the shirt, our design story and an order form. Our guys covered the campus and school for an entire week taking orders. Our Production Manager took all the order forms and totaled all the various sizes and announced that we had sold 192 shirts. Our elected president led the way selling 58 shirts. When we turned in our order we were able to negotiate an even better cost price for the shirts!
Once the shirts were ready we picked them up and, again using the order forms from each student, filled the orders. After delivering the finished product and all expenses were paid, our treasurer announced that we had earned just over $850.00 for our trip.
We had raised enough to stay in a cabin less than a mile from the slopes!
Our guys enjoyed two days of skiing and snowboarding, followed by relaxing in the outdoor hot tub at the cabin. The best part for me was, when all was said and done, one of the boys said “You know, there is a lot of work that goes into making a shirt.”
Thank you for making St. Joseph’s possible, and the life lessons our guys learn here that are making tomorrow brighter.
In all the excitement of powwow on St. Joseph’s campus this weekend, our 2014 seniors are experiencing a whole new kind of excitement: the next chapter!
They have taken their next step in their lives, whether to college, technical school or something else.
Mike, one of St. Joseph’s houseparents, had the privilege of taking one of the boys to college:
My wife and I have been houseparent’s at St. Joseph’s for six years now. Our first two years were in the 6th-8th grade community. The last four were in the high school program.
One student, Errol, has been in our homes for all six years. Watching him become the young man he is has been a privilege. He graduated with honors as member of the National Honor Society.
In July I received a call asking if I would be willing to drive him to the University of South Dakota so he could register for his classes and finalize all the paper work. I quickly agreed and counted it as another privilege.
On our way back to his house that day I asked him what his plans were for getting to school in August. He smiled and said, “Well, I was hoping you would take me.”
I was glad to help and we made plans for the move-in day. When August arrived, another one of my graduates, Cody, was playing basketball with my home in the gym. Cody would be leaving for South Dakota State two days later. I told him I was going to pick up Errol and take him to college the next day and asked if he wanted to ride with me. He said sure he would like to go.
The next day, most of the ride they debated which school was better and why the other one should transfer. Once we arrived at Errol’s new home for the next four years, we were happy to see Errol’s roommate, Wyatt, was also moving in. Wyatt is also a graduate from St. Joseph’s Indian School.
Of course they were laughing about how they were going to fit everything into such a small dorm room and they realized their rooms at St. Joseph’s were much bigger, not to mention they had air condition and the dorm room doesn’t. Once settled, in Errol ask if we could drop him off at the Native American Center for his orientation class. We pulled up in front and I was expecting to say our goodbyes, but Errol and Cody both got out and went inside…
I had to circle the block and find a parking spot.
When I went inside the meeting had already started, so I motioned for Cody to come with me and waved bye to Errol. Errol waved back and said thank you.
As Cody and I started out the door towards the car he said “What about Errol?”
“He is staying here,” I answered.
“We are leaving him?” Cody asked.
I said yes.
Cody asked again, very thoughtfully, “We are leaving him here all alone?”
“Yes Cody,” I replied. “We are leaving him here all alone. He’s in college now, buddy.”
After a moment’s thoughtful silence, Cody said “I can’t believe we are leaving him here all alone.”
I reached up and put my hand on Cody’s 6’4’’ 290lb. back, and reminded him that in two days his mother would drive him to South Dakota State University and watch as he moved in to his dorm room.
“Then,” I said with a quiet voice, “she will then leave you there. And you’ll be in college too.”
We rode in silence for a few miles, not entirely sure where the most sniffles were coming from. After a few minutes, Cody broke the silence.
The excitement is growing at St. Joseph’s Indian School as we end All Staff Orientation Week. Around St. Joseph’s campus, this is a time of great anticipation. We are
renewing old acquaintances and preparing for the school year that lies ahead. Child Services Staff have had some time off and the spirits are high.
Although most Child Services Staff (houseparents, teachers and Family Service Counselors) were away for part of the summer, our Facilities Crew has been busy. The campus looks great! General upkeep and many maintenance projects have been finished with others nearing completion. The playground is torn up as we are preparing the area for our new playground equipment. It will be so awesome when it’s finished!
Our Development Staff has also been very busy this summer. They work with our generous donors to provide the necessary resources for all our programs. They are getting ready for events like our powwow in September and upcoming Donor Luncheons.
As we come back together after a break, there is visiting and catching up to do. Employees learn about each other’s summer trips; weddings we attended or even participated in; updates on changes that have happened in each other’s lives. There is home and classroom prep along with staff meetings.
We also catch up on what we have heard about our Lakota students. Are they having good or not-so-good summers? I saw so-and-so at the store, this or that. The Family Service Counselors have some updates from their travels, but there are other stories that will have to be checked out next week when the students arrive.
On Wednesday, all our staff came together for our traditional beginning of the year kickoff. We fittingly started with a prayer service in the Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel. We asked for guidance and inspiration from the Great Spirit in meeting our important mission for the children and families we serve. The prayer service was followed by an all-staff meeting and lunch.
Yes, spirits are high as we look to carry out the work of our mission this year! We are blessed to be the hands of our donors, working directly with the Lakota children and families who come to St. Joseph’s for help.
Have you ever wondered what a day is like at St. Joseph’s Indian School?
Here’s a page from Mike’s book in recent weeks. Mike and his wife started as houseparents in 1985. Since that time, Mike has worked in several areas, including Human Resources and Executive Director of Child Services. He was recently named President of the organization.
Friday, May 16
I am fortunate to be able to attend Mass at 7:00 AM in the small chapel next to the larger Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel on St. Joseph’s campus. Fr. Anthony presides to a small group of four plus Fr. Bernie, a retired SCJ. The Gospel reading speaks of Jesus saying, “I am the Way, I am the Truth and I am the Life.” My reflection this morning gives me a sense of appreciation for all of God’s gifts, especially this gift of St. Joseph’s mission.
Fr. Anthony ends the Mass noting that high school graduation is on Sunday. We say a prayer for good weather for the event. Everyone on campus is wishing and praying for our nine high school graduates.
Mark, the husband of a former teacher comes to visit St. Joseph’s. His wife, Melody, who worked in the Title Program, died on May 7 from cancer. He stops to bring blankets for our eighth grade students.
Melody had been making blankets for our eighth grade graduates for several years. This year, she had finished all but seven blankets. Mark and Melody’s family helped complete her project for delivery to the school.
Mark visited with the students and told them that Melody loved them and wanted to make sure they received a blanket. He also said that working here was very important to her. His words were quite moving.
The students each picked out a blanket and then shook his hand as a sign of respect and thanks. The other Title teachers that worked with Melody were also present. I could tell everyone was touched by Mark’s words and sincerity. It is a reminder to me that our mission impacts many of lives.
A card from the mail is on my desk. It is from our recently recognized Distinguished Alumnus Sam Dupris. He went to school here in the 1930 and 40s. In the note, Sam not only sends his thanks for the award but also notes his true appreciation for all those responsible for the work currently taking place at St. Joseph’s Indian School. It is another example of the heartfelt appreciation for our work.
I recall his message when he spoke to the students last week. It was a powerful statement of working hard and believing in yourself. In his remarks, he noted how important St. Joseph’s Indian School was in his life. It reminds me that our work has long-term effects on those we serve.
At noon, I am privileged to have lunch with three of our high school graduates. I have had the good fortune of getting to know these girls over the years, partly because they have become friends of my high school daughter Maddy. We had a nice lunch at Al’s Oasis.
During lunch, there was a lot of small talk, laughter and sharing of stories. Throughout the discussion, I could not help but believe these young women now have a strong foundation. That foundation, provided at St. Joseph’s, is rooted in education and allowed them to forge life-long relationships with staff and one another. Those memories and shared experiences will be helpful to them in their future.
As I drive them back to campus, they have to get going to pick up caps and gowns. Getting out of the car, they each ask if they could come back someday and work at St. Joseph’s. I tell them of course, but we cannot afford to have them eat at Al’s Oasis. They laugh.
I receive a call from Maija, a high school staff member who is taking two students to France this summer as part of an exchange with a school in Chateauroux, France – one of our sister school partners. She is excited and explains how the French students raised Euros for St. Joseph’s Indian School. This is an example of how far reaching our mission truly is.
End of the day
As I jot down some reflections from the day, it is late in the afternoon and my office windows are open. In the background, I hear swings squeaking on the playground, student voices, laughter and that South Dakota wind. It reminds me that our mission permeates everything we do.
And I wonder why I am so blessed to be given this precise time here on campus today. Our Lord truly is the Way, the Truth and the Life…
Hey everyone, this is Mike and April from the Carola Home.
This time of year our boys are balancing school and athletics as well as preparing to go home for the holidays. This can be an overwhelming time for all the boys, but especially the freshman.
Freshmen have already been adjusting to new houseparents, new school, new curriculum and new friends. Our four Juniors have had a couple of years to learn what works for them to succeed in all areas. However, our three Freshmen still have a lot to learn and this is usually the hardest time of their high school years.
Thankfully, our Juniors have taken our Freshmen under their wings and given them advice on how to deal with homework – number one being do not get behind with missing assignments – classes and teachers, where to go and who you may have to be extra nice to. 🙂 And of course advice on their houseparents – don’t try that, they won’t let you get away with this, handle your business and they won’t make it theirs.
Each student has their own ways to succeed and all seven of our boys are doing just that, succeeding. With all that high school life brings to offer our boys, they are doing an amazing job keeping up with it all.
St. Joseph’s gives the boys a lot of support with the learning center, which is run by our High School Academic Advisor, Steve. Steve works with Chamberlain High School to help them with their homework. Our Transitional Specialist, Pam, helps our Juniors with upcoming college trips and helps them plan for the future after St. Joseph’s.
Basketball season has started with Errol, Cody, William and Kyle playing for the Chamberlain Cubs. Our home will be attending many games in the next couple of months to support their fellow classmates.
Shawn is involved in CHS’s Wrestling Team. We also have one student Dean, who has been actively preparing for the past several weeks to attend LNI (the Lakota Nation Invitational), to participate in the Knowledge Bowl Competition. Trey, one of our Freshmen, is not in any sports. He thought it would be best to give all his focus on his schoolwork, so he can continue his streak of no missing assignments and A honor roll.
Hello again from the Carola Home! A new year has begun and our boys are doing a wonderful job with all they have to do. This year we have four Juniors and three Freshman boys in our home. They have worked hard with school work, homework, tutoring, football, other activities and home responsibilities.
First quarter we had five boys make the honor roll and two who were just short of the honor roll, giving our home a GPA of 3.32. Besides studying hard, part of their success is not getting behind in their school work and not having many missing assignments.
With all the hard work they put in so far, they really enjoy having some downtime. With donors helping provided for St. Joseph’s Indian School, each home has a budget that they go by. Part of this budget goes to home trips. Home trips are a great time to relax and have fun and build relationships. At the beginning of the year, our home went to LifeLight Music Festival and Wild Water West. They had a great time camping and enjoying some wonderful music, go carts, going down the water slides and swimming in the wave pool.
With funds for a trip already spent, the boys had to come up with a way to make money. Our boys decided to do a car wash to raise funds for another home trip.
The boys used a no school day for the car wash. They asked for a freewill donation to support their home trip. They washed many cars and they spent all day with such a positive attitude and worked very hard. They made enough money for the trip – hiking at Harney Peak, shopping at the Rushmore Mall, and dinner and movies in Rapid City.
The boys are always saying “thanks for dinner” and while we were out at the restaurant they said, “Thanks for dinner.” We reminded them that they earned this themselves and thanked them for dinner.
They were very proud and so were we. They also realized how working hard can pay off.