Quality time with the Lakota (Siioux) youth

Basketball season is a favorite pasttime at St. Joseph's Indian School!
Basketball season is a favorite pasttime at St. Joseph's Indian School!

After cheering on our girls teams last semester, our 6th, 7th and 8th grade boys’ teams tipped off their basketball season against the first school west on I-90 rival: Lyman County. They took the 6th grade game and our 7th and 8th grade team claimed bragging rights. In the nightcap, the score never got farther than four points apart the entire game and we prevailed 52-49. A couple of my former altar servers from Kennebec were on the Lyman County team, and it was fun to visit with their families and check up on happenings in their community.  At halftime and in between games, I helped with the concession stand, where you get to run into so many students, staff, parents and visitors.

D’Kera, one of our high school seniors, started a part-time job working at the development office. After school, she calls donors to say thanks, which they appreciate. Or she might wish a happy birthday for the folks we know are celebrating a special day. She relayed to me how many people sent me their personal regards. I wish I could thank everyone more personally, but have many others helping me so that I can not only do other work, but spend quality time at ballgames and events which are special for our Lakota students.

Smiles and happy memories from our Lakota youth

One routine the junior high youth look forward to as the weekend begins is Friday Night Canteen. Our students earn a few dollars of allowance, depending on how they’ve done helping with their assigned home charges, or chores, during the week. Friday is payday, and a chance to buy a pop or sports drink, some popcorn or treat at the Rec Center concession stand. The 6th-8th graders have the gym to themselves from 8:00 until 9:00, and I stopped by to see what they were up to. A high percentage were playing basketball, which is the favorite sport here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Some were in the game room, playing pool and table tennis. A few sat in the bleachers, talking with friends. All relaxing and having a good time.

Saturday was a day to “supercharge” the homes, with a deep cleaning and straightening up of bedrooms and common rooms. In the afternoon our bowling league began.  Staff supervise teams of four students and teach them the basics, then give them a chance to roll a few games at the Chamberlain Bowling Alley. Bowling is one of those equal opportunity sports that doesn’t depend just on size or speed, but accuracy and consistency. Lots of our students take part and enjoy the activity.

I usually make the post office run on Saturdays, and while sorting the mail came across a letter to one of our brand new students. Figuring she might be just a little homesick and appreciate it sooner rather than later, I delivered it to Matthias Home (6th– 8th grade girls) and got invited to stay for supper. It was simple weekend fare, chili dogs and fruit. Sometimes houseparents apologize when I stop by and the meal isn’t fancy. But I’m reminded of Dorothy Day’s line,

Life is a banquet, even with crumbs, where there is a community of love.

We sat and talked a while until it was time for them to walk downtown to go to the movies.

Today we celebrated mass of the Epiphany. Students from Peggy’s 4th grade class dressed as shepherds, kings, angels and the holy family and acted out the holy night and season. I chuckled when the three wise men were pointing to the east and I saw fingers pointing in three different directions. Somehow they managed to find their way to Bethlehem! In my homily I urged them not to be afraid to let their light shine, and develop their God-given talents and abilities. While the Christmas season may be ending, it’s important for us to have that spirit of generosity and good will throughout the year and for a lifetime.

Kass and the gift she received this year for Christmas.
Kass and the gift she received this year for Christmas.

If Advent is a season of waiting with patient expectation, today was the day of fulfilled expectations for our students. Today the students opened up Christmas presents in each of the homes. After church, I joined the Dennis Home (1st-3rd grade girls) for brunch and helped pass out the brightly wrapped packages. The big hit our donors sent for the girls were Pillow Pets – nighttime pillows shaped like an elephant, frog, butterfly or giraffe. Those were a nice complement to the soft fleece blankets that houseparent, Alice sewed for each of the girls. You can watch a video and read about this fun day on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s website. 

I stopped in at each of our  18 homes for a few minutes, which added up to the entire afternoon. In the Raphael (1st-3rd grade boys) home, houseparent Peter had a screwdriver in hand, surrounded by four boys vying for his help with “some assembly required.” The Summerlee (4th-5th grade girls) Home was fascinated by the furry battery operated ZuZu Pets buzzing around a track. The Perky boys (4th-5th grade) had radio controlled trucks zipping around furniture and underneath the kitchen table.

Lots of excitement and smiles and happy memories.

Focusing on faith

Greetings everyone, Richard here! May I wish you all a blessed Christmas time and my prayers for all to have a healthy and joyous new year. Now that the frenzy of shopping hopefully is over … except for the returns … let us take a moment to reflect of the meaning of this season and what the message of the Gospels is all about. Christ came in peace and lived in peace, yet His simple message has eluded humanity since His birth.

On December 11, in the Chapel of our Lady of the Sioux, we had the First Rite of the RCIC program. It is the Rite of Welcoming. We had twenty-five Lakota (Sioux) students partake in this ceremony conducted by Fr. Steve. This is the Rite where students ask to join the community in learning about becoming Catholic. The students ask for acceptance and the community pledges to support their endeavors. The community also prays that I be guided in teaching the students about faith issues. As part of the Rite. Fr. Steve blessed their senses and their hands and feet so they may walk in the path of Jesus. Each student at the conclusion received a Bible for them to read, as we journey on path to receiving First Holy Communion.

Before break, Fr. Anthony conducted class Masses for the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.  Each class had their own Mass in the morning before the start of the day. The students reflected on the experience and all said it was the best Mass they ever attended. They liked the shared intimacy and members of each class helped serve and did the readings of the day. It was a good experience for the students.

Before break, we also had confessions for the students. Many students who are not Catholic also attended and had the chance to speak and pray with the priest in the confessional; it gives the student an opportunity to focus on their spiritual development.

Until next year!

This path of life

Only one other staff member was in the office all day, and I took advantage to work on several project uninterrupted. I gave several hours to answering Christmas cards. I answer cards as they come in, so some friends and relatives won’t hear from me until after Christmas, but I figure you’ve got twelve days to celebrate anyway, right? With each note, I say a little prayer and remember people with nostalgia. I wish time and distance didn’t separate us so much from all the people who have made such a difference in our lives. I wish we were more connected, but I believe we will be in God’s greater plan. As the Lakota (Sioux) say – Mitakuye OyasinWe are all relatives and I’m grateful for all  those I share this path of life with.

My 500th post!

I’ve been blogging for almost two years now, and Adria, who helps me with the technical work on my blog, tells me that I just completed my 500th post!

I started as a way to keep a lot of people posted about my battles and recovery with cancer, but also to let people know about the day-to-day events that make up the St. Joseph’s Indian School experience. I go back to the doctors in a few weeks for my next check up, and am feeling well. And each day that goes by at school, is another day of blessing, with lots of little events that touch my heart and bring a smile to my face.

"And each day that goes by at school is another day of blessing, with lots of little events that touch my heart and bring a smile to my face."
"And each day that goes by at school, is another day of blessing, with lots of little events that touch my heart and bring a smile to my face."

Today was All Souls Day. Fr. Anthony suggested the homes give the students a chance to write down names of their loved ones whose death is close to their hearts. At Sunday mass, the kids placed small scraps of paper, or a whole page of neatly written names into a basket. Today before mass, I read through them, and prayed for all people who grieve and are trying to find the way forward without those they love to walk with them on life’s journey. I’m also reminded that we’re all ultimately on a journey towards our heavenly home, and remembering and praying for those who have died gives us a better perspective on how we should live our lives today.

Chris Grant is a law enforcement officer whose specialty is preventing gang violence in Indian Country. He did a series of student presentations today, and I sat in with the 4th and 5th grade boys from Cyr and Perky Homes.

When he asked the boys how many of them knew someone in a gang, all but two hands went up.

Sadly, it is a very real problem even in rural South Dakota Indian reservations.  When he asked what gangs do, one of the students said, “Gangs fight for colors”. Just wearing the wrong color can be dangerous in many places.

Officer Grant showed some graphic photos about the kind of harm violence can lead to. He had our boys complete  attention the whole time through. We hope and pray our students make the choice not to become involved in gangs!