Guest Blogger: Fr. Anthony

Dear Benefactors:

Greetings once again from the banks of the Missouri River at St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, SD.  Fr. Steve is in transit coming back from a donor luncheon in the Boston area.  He stated there was good attendance and when they were finished the team had a chance to do some whale watching.

Since he is away, I was asked to ghost write his blog.  My name is Fr. Anthony Kluckman, SCJ and I am the chaplain here at St. Joseph’s. I had the chance last year to help out when Fr. Steve was away and am happy to be in contact with you again.

The students and staff are starting to settle in as we begin the third week of school for grades 1-8 and second full week for our high school students who started on August 15th.

Several of our high school students are part of the Chamberlain High School Cub’s football team.  They had their first game this past Friday night out in Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, and brought home a 7-0 victory.  This Labor Day weekend, they will have their first home game against Valentine, Nebraska.

Football is in the air at St. Joesph’s just as many of the pro-teams are in the midst of their training camps.  Practice is underway for the Chamberlain/St. Joseph’s youth tackle football fundamental league open to students in the 5th and 6th grades.  The young people have some fun while learning the basics and it is a good way for all involved to make new friends.  In early September flag football will get underway for those in grades 1-4.  There will be footballs being thrown, kicked, fumbled and caught four nights out of the week.

This past Saturday morning, we saw 60+ young people from the local area around Chamberlain come to St. Joseph’s campus to take part in a youth triathlon.  Those under six took part in a bike ride and run.  The 7-15 age group  swam, biked and ran around the campus.  Many of our younger students took part in this event.  St. Joseph’s is always honored to take part in events that strive to offer fun and safe activities for local young people and their families.

Progress on renovations at St. Joseph's Indian School.
Progress on the Akta Lakota Museum!

The new addition to the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center is making a lot of progress since the groundbreaking at last year’s powwow. (Reminder that this year’s powwow will be September 13-16.  Hope you can come.)  Most of the new structure’s exterior is done and the remainder of time needed to get it ready will take part inside as the new display area is worked on along with the section on the history of St. Joseph’s Indian School.

One benefactor came through this past weekend on her way to view the Powwow at Pine Ridge.  She is coming back to visit St. Joseph’s and make a tour of our campus and facilities.  She came all the way from New York state.  The students welcomed her at our Sunday liturgy and then many of them and our staff thanked her for the items she brought.  We are always grateful for your generosity and keep you in our prayers asking that God will continue to bless and strengthen you.

Hope all of you have a safe, relaxing and enjoyable Labor Day weekend.

Guest Blogger: Julie H

Hello!  Can you believe that summer is in full swing?  Things here at St. Joseph’s Indian School, although it is summer, continue to move along swiftly!

My name is Julie and I have been here at St. Joseph’s Indian School for over 10 years.  I currently work as a Family Service Counselor.  During the school year, I stay busy seeing students for individual counseling, group counseling, and enrichment activities.  But what does a counselor do in the summer when most of the kids are gone?  Well, that is a good question!

As a Family Service Counselor at St. Joseph’s Indian School, part of my duties in the summer include traveling to see the students and families with whom I work during the school year.  We visit with the students and families to make sure their summer is going well and to see if there is anything we can help with while the students are at home.  Most of the time, this is just a check in and a great time to visit with students and families.

So far this summer, I have been to Eagle Butte to visit with one of my students.  This week will take me to on two or three more trips and the rest of the summer is filling up with travel as well!  Though many of our students are from the nearby Indian reservations of Fort Thompson and Lower Brule, we also travel as far away as Pine Ridge and Nebraska to visit Native American students.

Another thing the Family Services Counselors do during the summer is work on student admissions. Of course, we need to fill the first grade class with new students and other grades may have openings as well.  Part of the admissions process includes going to the prospective student’s home to meet them and their family.  A short interview is conducted to gain some background information on the student, and this is a great time to start building a strong relationship with the student and their family.

Interspersed with all of the travel, the Family Service Counselors work on getting consent forms signed for the next school year, finish up paperwork and start preparing for the kids to return.  Summer is also a good time to attend workshops to keep us up to date on the current trends and best practices in counseling.

The best part of the summer is getting to go out and see our students and their families, as well as meeting new families.  Although most of the kids were ready for summer to get here, they sure seem happy to see us when we visit! 🙂  And many times the first question they ask is,

“When do I get to come back to St. Joe’s for school?”

I hope you all have a blessed and safe summer! – Julie H

Be thankful and give back

Joe from Milwaukee has been a longtime friend of St. Joseph’s Indian School. He told me he still has a holy card with a picture of Our Lady of the Sioux that is at least 60 years old, from when he was a boy. Joe installs and services pipe organs, and every few years comes out to spend a few days to clean up and tune up ours. He and his friend Jay arrived yesterday.

Today during mass, I had asked them to pull out the stops and let the students hear what the pipe organ can do. We don’t have many in our area who play, and relish the chance to hear some good sacred music. The prelude music as the students were coming into chapel for mass helped set a prayerful mood that carried over to the liturgy. And instead of running right home, afterwards a few of our kids stayed afterwards just to hear more.

The four Benedictine Homes (1st – 3rd grades) had an early communal Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey and all the trimmings. Each home contributed its part to provide a festive banquet for everyone. Afterward, everyone helped clean up, and I had to laugh at the efforts of first graders moving chairs that in some cases were taller than they were.

The Ambrose home did their service project today. They gathered toys and took them to the domestic violence shelter to share with the residents there. One of our students remembered when his mom sought refuge there. They knew the kids didn’t have many toys to play with, and wanted to share some from campus to bring them a little joy. Not just at Thanksgiving, but all year, we try to teach our students to be thankful and give back.


Inipi – sweat lodge ceremony

As I walked through Wisdom Circle on my way to the Rec Center, I noticed one of our first grade girls sitting alone on a bench away from the other kids. I said, “You look sad – is anything wrong?” She had been playing tether ball, but when her time was up another girl came and played with her friend and she was feeling left out and probably jealous. While those are small things to us adults (hopefully we handle them OK) it was a big deal to her, and putting a damper on her whole day. Then another tether ball pole was  freed up and she was off to play, things right in her world.

Our girls had 4th, 5th and 6th grade basketball games against Chamberlain. There were plenty of St. Joseph’s staff with children on the Chamberlain team. Practically everyone in the stands had divided loyalties, so there was lots of cheering for everyone. What the girls lacked in talent, they made up for in hustle and enthusiasm. It was particularly fun seeing the 4th graders go at it.

The boys had a great time prepairing for their was inipi - sweat lodge ceremony.
The boys had a great time prepairing for their was inipi - sweat lodge ceremony.

This afternoon was inipi – sweat lodge ceremony – for our teenage boys who wanted to participate. Several high school students served as mentors for 8th graders, a few who were going into the lodge for the first time. The grandfather of one of our students led the ceremony. I stopped by beforehand to see how the fire to heat the rocks was coming along. Mark, who works in the rec center, was the firekeeper. As the rocks heated up, one started to crackle and pop, which is dangerous in the small confined spaces. Since Mark has lots of experience, he culled that rock out with his pitchfork, and selected another that would be better. After the four rounds of prayer, everyone gathered for a traditional meal at Speyer Home.


The words of Jesus came alive

Chamberlain High School put on the musical “Godspell”.
Chamberlain High School put on the musical “Godspell”.

Chamberlain High School put on the musical “Godspell” in the local community center. I’ve seen the production three times in the past, and it made the words of Jesus come alive for me in a unique way each time. I’ve also seen that student crews who worked on it came away with a deeper sense of faith. During the preparation, I overheard our students commenting at mass when a gospel passage connected with what they were rehearsing.  What was different about this production, was the presence of the entire 7th and 8th grade Chamberlain choir, and many high school students as a chorus that ringed the stage and made the background vocals stand out loud. There are lots of laughs, but many poignant moments.

We had several students involved. Chris, a junior, had a solo and was prominent in many of the skits. Trinity and Michelle did all the makeup. Jatonne played guitar as part of the musical support. The entire lighting crew of four was staffed by our St. Joseph’s Indian School youth, and others helped build the stage. Lots of staff kids’ had lead roles, and it seemed like half the town crowded in to participate. At the end we opened our programs to find the music and lyrics to Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. As the audience sang along, it sure lifted everyone’s spirits.

To make opening night even more festive, on campus the date happened to coincide with a feast that Tia, one of our high school houseparents puts on. She is from Louisiana, and her hometown has a “coming home” festival at this time. She made two kinds of gumbo, jambalaya and dirty rice. Those who dipped their ladle into the gumbo pot and pulled up a hardboiled egg also won an envelope with prize money. It was also Mark’s (the other houseparent’s) birthday, so he had some of his favorite songs on the boom box and a huge cake with one candle for each one of his years of life.

After supper, I sat and talked with three of our four seniors about graduation. This crew has been at St. Joseph’s Indian School for a lot of combined years. Erin arrived in 5th grade, Danisha in 3rd, Nick in 2nd and D’Kera in first (a lifer!) They’ve seen and experienced so much in their years at St. Joseph’s. And since the kids live here, you really do see them grow up.

We are all God’s children

I traveled to Eagle Butte, South Dakota for the Sacred Heart Center’s Board meeting. They do some great work in working with victims of domestic violence and Indian reservation youth who find themselves needing a group home living situation to get them through some of life’s trouble spots. Access to quality health care is also a problematic area on many of South Dakota’s Indian reservations. I was happy to see how near completion the new Indian Health Service hospital is, eliminating the need for tribal members to travel hours away to take care of injuries and illnesses.

Sue, a houseparent in the Speyer Home (6th– 8th boys) wanted to show her appreciation to our maintenance staff for all the work they did to completely renovate the Speyer Home. She and her daughter Wendy, who owns a BBQ restaurant, prepared a feast of ribs and pulled pork and invited the entire crew to lunch. Our staff at St. Joseph’s Indian School works hard at what they do, yet it always feels good to get some added affirmation and appreciation. While my travels kept me away from lunch, I made it home in time for supper, when the boys of Speyer and Fisher got to sit down to a similar feast.

St. Joseph’s has been sponsoring the Institute for Healing Racism in our community. A year ago, a group of 24 staff members and leaders from the community went through a two-day training session and have been working to find ways of following through to address the issues that cause tension and misunderstanding in our area. As a follow-up, a second group of 21 is meeting these days, and an open meeting was held tonight to fill in anyone interested from the public to learn about these efforts.

Addressing racism has to begin by looking inside and changing ourselves and our own attitudes, especially those ways we distance ourselves from others who are different from ourselves. When we are curious and learn from other people’s stories and experiences, there is so much that we can share. All our high school students were in attendance, and they were most at attention when the speaker was addressing racism within the Native American community. Sometimes our students judge each other on the lightness or darkness of their skin. Sometimes animosity exists between “breeds” and “full bloods”. “Apple” (red on outside / white on inside) is another slur that isn’t helpful to people pulling together for the good of their own community. Race is an ongoing issue that we as a nations constantly struggle with, and have to get right.

Really there’s only one race, the human race, and we are all God’s children.

Changes to serve more students

Walking down the hill to church, the weather was still frigid. We had the first hard frost of the season and the grass crunched underfoot. I know this is just the first of plenty more to come, but know there is still plenty of time for lovely fall days.

In the development office, Marcia’ turned 50 today, and her co-workers decorated her office well. At mid-day break, we had carrot cake awaiting, and Marcia came in wearing oversize silver glittery glasses in the shape of 5 and 0.

Our home remodeling project is moving along well. Next year, all of our homes will be back in play, and we will be able to serve more students. What we are starting to do now is evaluate how best to make use of the beds we will have. Which age group would best be served by expansion? Should we keep an equal number of boys and girls homes or change the mix? Should we change the mix of ages any? We will start to have discussion sessions with staff to come up with good and workable ideas.

Benefit from their generosity

While I was in the office working on Sunday’s homily, I got a phone call from the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center. A couple from Houston, Mike and Carolyn, had brought up a truck load of clothes to share with us and wanted to meet me and say hello. I was in sweat pants and an old t-shirt, but that actually worked to my advantage as we went to the storage building and unloaded. I took Mike and Carolyn on a tour of campus.

The William Home (4th-5th grade girls) were most gracious about showing us the home and talking about their routine. They also volunteered to try on some of the sweatshirts and a coat so the good folks back in Texas who gathered it all up could see the kids who will benefit from their generosity.

Hidden America – Children of the Plains

A day of some sadness with a funeral and a wake to go to today.

Fr. Brian was a 46-year-old priest who pastored in Fort Pierre, South Dakota until an inoperable brain tumor was discovered about four months ago. He had been in the hospital and hospice care since then, and died earlier this week. During the homily, Fr. Michel acknowledged so many people were saddened that a young priest who touched so many people’s hearts should die so young and so quickly. But God’s ways are not our ways. What is most important not the length of our lives, but what we do with the time God gives us. Going to a priest’s funeral makes me more deeply reflect on my own priesthood and ask how I can be a better and holier servant of God.

The moment I was most moved to tears came at the beginning of mass, with about 40 priests lining the center  aisle to greet the body. Fr. Brian’s niece and nephew sang a gospel song, “I will Rise”. I couldn’t help but think of my own cancer, which is still in remission. I had a sense of,  this could have been me. But it led to a deepening of the psalmist’s attitude – “What return can I make to the Lord, for all the good God has done for me in seeing me through?”

One of our secretaries suffered a family tragedy when her college aged son died. This evening at the wake the church and hall were packed as tightly as possible, with a tremendous outpouring of care and support from the community.

Tonight ABC news 20/20 program with Diane Sawyer ran a special on Hidden America – Children of the Plains. South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was the location for the reports. The images and stories were powerful and well done. The journalists were realistic about the tough living conditions on the Indian reservation. And they also showed some of the hope and promise in young people trying to break cycles of poverty and alcoholism. Those are much the critical issues we at St. Joseph’s Indian School try to address.

I value the wisdom shared

We had an all day Board of Directors meeting. The longest segment of discussion revolved around the new strategic plan that we have been working on. With the added input and approval of the Board we should be ready to begin in early 2012. We went through the annual audit; we were glad to hear there were no major problems or findings. We reviewed the plans for the museum expansion and alumni center, and heard reports from our outreach programs on the Indian reservations.

I’m always trying to make sure St. Joseph is headed in the right direction, and asking the right questions. It helps to have others who care about the mission of the school to ask the big questions too, and provide direction and recommendations.

While I finish these meetings feeling a bit worn out, I also value the wisdom shared, which makes the load of administrative leadership easier to carry.