Guest Blogger: Clare

My name is Clare. I am the new Co-Director of Pastoral Care for St. Joseph Indian School, and this is my first blog. My career has included being a freelance graphic and editorial consultant, pastoral ministry in parish settings, campus ministry in a high school setting, teaching theology to youth and adults, and work as a designer, educator, artist and writer in the healthcare setting. I am delighted to be able to focus these coming years of my career with the students and staff in this very remarkable place.

In just six short weeks, I have already experienced many blessings. I’d like to tell you about an experience with one of our younger students. When he came into the room for the last class of the day, my little third-grade friend had racked up a full day of consequences for misbehavior.  Shortly into the lesson, my teaching partner, Joe, and I gave him one strike in our “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” method of keeping order. (Out means you head to the office.)

Joe and I team-taught during the first two weeks, getting to know our 160 children in grades one through eight. We had a lesson planned where, as we tossed a ball of yarn from child to child to create a spider web, they learned the meaning of their names (I explained to the students that whoever had given them their first name, made that choice for his or her own reasons. I explained that the meaning I was going to provide them had to do with the basic origin of the name/word itself. Some names are from places, others from things in nature and others have to do with qualities). Once we got around the room, we unwound the web and recalled as much as we could. We had done this with other sections, including the other third grade, but our little friend was making it look impossible for this group. In short order he received strike two.

I looked at the eager little faces wanting to know the meaning of their names. Joe and I decided to risk it, modifying the web so that each time the yarn would be tossed back to him in order to maintain a little more control. About three tosses into the game, I realized that Joe was actually becoming entangled and wouldn’t be able to help with the fidgety little two-strike child at my side. That is when I looked down and saw his name means “strong and intelligent.”

“I know what your name means, and if you sit still, pretty soon you will, too,” I said, hoping to buy time.

“It’s a girly name,”

he said, for the first time losing the bravado he’d been hiding behind all day. Beneath his tough-guy facade, I could see the little bullied boy who wanted to be valued, and I felt the spirit of mercy.

“You know what?” I said. “I can tell by the meaning of your name that Joe is going to really need you in few minutes, but that means you are going to have to be last so that you can help him.”

His eyes got big, and he waited through 24 tosses of the yarn until it landed in his lap and I told him his name meant “strong and intelligent” and that Joe was going to need him to walk around the web and help untangle it.

“I know you can do this,” I told him, “because you are strong and intelligent.”

When the bell rang, the lesson was accomplished. More than that, a little mercy was just the right medicine for a child whose spirit needs much more healing.

God of mercy, send Your spirit into our hearts. Awaken in us the wonder of what mercy can do when we extend it to each other. Amen.

Guest Bloggers: Jennie & Sarah

Hi, I’m Sarah and I’ve been at St. Joseph’s Indian School for 11 years.

And I’m Jennie; I’ve been at St. Joseph’s Indian School for 17 years.

We’d like to give you an inside look into one of the biggest days here at St. Joseph’s: 8th Grade Graduation. Continue reading to hear about our exciting day!

St. Joseph's Indian School's graduating class of 2012.
Congratulations graduating class of 2012!

As the year comes to an end, the eighth graders become extremely excited, but also anxious.  They are anticipating their eighth grade graduation and all of the banquets, ceremonies, and special gifts that go along with it.  Along with all of these great things, there can also be some nervousness for our Native American students.  It may be the students are envisioning their first day of high school at a new school, or they may still be unsure of where they want to go to high school.  This is my seventh year of eighth grade graduation.  One would think I would be used to this chaotic order of the end of the year… However, I too, as an adult, still get caught up in the excitement and anxiety.

St. Joseph’s does something special for our kids in these last few days.  We offer them what we call our Eighth Grade Retreat, where all eighth graders spend some time together, along with a few staff, and discuss high school and the future.  We reinforce what a wonderful time of their life they have ahead of them, but also that they may experience struggles along this way.  We encourage these students and remind them that, during those times of trouble, they must remain confident in themselves, keep their faith in God strong, and also that they can lean on their St. Joseph’s family.  We then give students special letters that have been written for them from the staff and faculty of St. Joseph’s.  These letters are a surprise to the students.  Sometimes the letters bring tears and sometimes they bring laughs, but most of all they offer the students support.  They show someone here at St. Joseph’s will continue thinking of them even though they may not see the student as often.

The students have an opportunity to say, “Thank you” to family and friends.

The day continues on with a pizza lunch, where staff are invited to give their congratulations to the graduates and a trip to the movie theatre with their fellow eighth grade classmates.  The day is full of emotion.  I have asked students in the past what their favorite part of the day was.  Most students respond with reading the letters.  For me, this affirms the purpose of the retreat and most definitely the personal letters to the students.  It validates the time spent doing them and most of all I go away feeling as though I have given the students my best.  I’ve taught them Science, I’ve attempted to teach them social skills, but most important of all I’ve told them I care.

Then on Friday the big day is finally upon us!  Students are with their families and friends in the morning getting dressed up, sharing breakfast and having pictures taken.  They report to the chapel around 10:45 am for final instructions and line-up in preparation for the 11 am start.  This is a fun time as the students are excited and nervous and are just enjoying the moment.  Once the actual graduation begins there is some nervousness as they walk down the aisle in front of family, friends and staff.  The students generally relax once every one is in and seated and the actual ceremony begins.  The students participate by doing the prayers of petition, thanking our guest speaker and reading a friendship poem usually written by one of our eighth graders.

Their faces truly begin to beam when it is time to receive their eighth grade certificate.  Again the nerves show a bit as they walk up in front of everyone and pose for a picture but the pride is evident.  Next the Rose Ceremony, a favorite time for our students, begins.  They are given two roses which they present to their families as a thank you for all of their support and love throughout the years.  They also write thank you notes to family and staff that are delivered during this time as well.  Then the most fun moment of all is the slide show.  Each student is represented by baby pictures progressing through their eighth grade graduation picture and then they personally share their favorite memories in a short video clip.  The students then proceed to the receiving line where everyone greats them with congratulations and good luck!!

Family and friends congratulate the recent graduates.

Our students then officially begin their transition home and onto the next steps into their futures.  This is a very bittersweet time for all of us who work with these students.  We are so very proud and excited for each of them but a little saddened as we know we will need to let go as they move on.

It is truly our pleasure to be a part of these young lives and appreciate the families giving us the opportunity to Serve and Teach, Receive and Learn.  Honestly, it’s the greatest gift in the world! 🙂

Summer preparation at St. Joseph’s Indian School

When I finished morning mass I ran into 2nd grader, Dorian on his way back from the Health Center. Dorian had bruised his forehead and was coming back with an ice pack. He smiled about the frozen gel pack with a colorful picture of Garfield the Cat on one side. I remember the old days when nursing our owies meant ice cubes wrapped up in a wash cloth. Our nurses have created a child friendly area to help the youngsters through life’s bumps and bruises. We work with the local hospital to provide a doctor or physician’s assistant each morning for checkups and to make sure our students’ health needs are addressed. If kids are too sick to go to school, they stay in the health center with our two school nurses. After school, evenings and weekends, our houseparents take charge, just as you would do with your own kids at home. With spring in full bloom and outdoor activity increasing, the health center is less about colds and coughs this time of year than it is about healing cuts and scrapes from the playground.

A couple of college students that have worked here in the past summers showed up today to begin another round of summer work. With colleges already letting out, our graduations are not far away at all. Our facilities crew has an ambitious summer schedule that includes finishing two home renovations and beginning another two, in addition to all the ongoing maintenance, painting, landscaping and preventative work that keeps St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus looking beautiful. The extra help is already hard at work.

As our 8th graders prepare for the transition to Chamberlain Public High School next year, two of the coaches from high school visited with our aspiring athletes to get to know them. Students had a chance to learn about expectations and practice schedules. Some are excited about the chance to play on a bigger stage, but most are nervous and wondering if they are up to the competition.

It will take dedication and lots of practice, but I know many of the kids do have it within them to succeed not just in sports, but in life.

On the road again

We met with the architect and contractors on the Akta Lakota Museum project today. They were planning to start pouring floors, but we got a heavy thunderstorm and the area is a muddy mess so they decided to wait for a drier day. They’re perhaps even a little ahead of schedule anyway, due to an unusually warm and dry spell since mid February. The rain was actually very appreciated, as area farmers and ranchers have worried about the low water table, and have been praying for moisture. Next week, crews plan to start the outside brick and masonry work, after which the project will really start coming to life.

In a short while, four staff and two students will start our journey for a donor appreciation luncheon to Miami, Florida to meet with and thank our donors in that part of the country. You’ll get a few guest blogs until I get back, and I’m sure I’ll have a story or two to tell of the adventure.

For those of you who support St. Joseph Indian School from a distance, I hope we are able to one day meet at a luncheon or one of our powwows.

We really appreciate your help and dedication.

A day of meetings for Fr. Steve

Today was mostly a meeting day. I began with the monthly reports from all the Development Office managers. Our use of media and technology changes at such a rapid pace these days. What fascinated me the most was the suggestion that we move toward having PURLS (personalized URLs) on our website, so when people visit us online, the kinds of stories and information they will see can be personalized. We have some creative, hard-working people in that part of campus, and I’m proud of the initiatives and forward ways of thinking they bring to work each day.

I walked over to the Akta Lakota Museum for our bi-weekly construction update. I imagine that sometimes meetings between architects and builders can get contentious, but ours have been working very well together. The change orders have been small, and work is steadily moving along. Right now it’s mostly welding, which doesn’t show up as big progress. But it’s like school for our kids. You have to get the basics down well, in order to move ahead later.

My management team discussed next week’s Catholic Schools Week and the presentation of our new strategic plan. (Read more here about last year’s Catholic School’s Week at St. Joseph’s Indian School.)  We’re also looking at budgets and trying to prioritize capital expenses for next year, deciding what we can do and what has to wait.

When you’re a kid and don’t have to worry about shoveling snow or driving to work on icy roads, winter weather can be a lot of fun. The snow we did get is starting to melt, but made the slopes very slippery, and the kids were out in big numbers after school with sleds. Some dug tunnels through the big mounds of snow piled up by our grounds crew or played King of the Hill.

The Perky Home (4th-5th grade boys) invited me to supper. Afterwards I tried my hand (well, actually my foot) at hacky sack, but am definitely not limber enough to keep it going very long. What I was better at was helping some of the boys practice for next week’s spelling bee. In reading the words, I realized that there is a lot of vocabulary that our students don’t yet know.

Pilamaya – thank you so much

Natalie with her new Christmas gift.
Natalie loves her new gift!

Hey everyone! Jona here, from the Development office.

As you know from our other bloggers, St. Joseph’s Christmas celebration was a huge success – thank you so much!

In my role, I get to play a big part in Christmas on campus. I start by collecting wish lists from our Native American students in the fall.

As Christmas approaches, I am the lucky one who opens the boxes of gifts as they arrive. I check to see that nothing has been damaged in shipping (broken Christmas presents are no fun) and send the boxes on to the appropriate houseparent to be wrapped for the boys and girls. I am continually amazed at how thoughtful and generous you are with our students.

It seems corny to say that your work brings you joy but, year after year, it is this task that truly puts the Christmas spirit in my heart.

After the celebration, thank you notes from the students are sent to me, and my Christmas joy is renewed again! My desk is stacked with lovely notes from grateful children, drawings of their favorite toy and pictures of the celebration.

In the mail they go to those who made St. Joseph’s Indian School a special part of their Christmas tradition.

So many notes from the children are brutally honest,

“if not for you, I would have gotten nothing for Christmas.”

But also so unabashedly appreciative,

“I’m so happy there are people like you.”

As one second-grade girl wrote,

“I pray for an angel to bless you every day.”

She couldn’t have said it better. We pray for angels to bless you every day. Thank you for making our Christmas celebration so special!


Preperation at St. Joseph’s Indian School

In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate and kick off the beginning of our new strategic plan. Aaron is filming a video to give some visual images about our mission, vision and core values. Graduation is one of our highest values, and we gathered up the 8th graders who will be receiving their diplomas in just a few months. They got excited as they put on cap and gown and mugged for the camera. They dreamed about what will be the next goal they set their minds to.  A few of the American Indian students were here as tiny first graders when I first started here eight years ago.

The actual filming took only a couple of minutes. The set up, with lighting and equipment took much longer. And before the setup, Aaron had to have an idea of what he wanted to show and get everyone’s schedules arranged to be together at that particular time. It reminded me that so often in life, preparation time we put in beforehand really determines if something we do will be successful or not.

I stopped in for supper at the Crane Home (high school girls). It’s hard to find a night when most of the high school students are home at the same time, but Wednesday’s the local schools don’t schedule evening activities so the churches in the community can have religious education time. Still, I visited the young women in shifts as they came and went from other activities – basketball practice, play practice and tutoring appointments. A few of the students are preparing to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation soon, and had scheduled interviews with Fr. Anthony. They ate in shifts, and I did get a little time with each of the students. The time with any individual was too brief. I just hope that being present and letting them know I’m interested in how school and life is going, builds a rapport for a time when they might want to talk or share more.

Generosity – Wacantognaka

This weekend is our Rite of Acceptance for the 20 students who are part of our RCIC (Rite of Christian Initiation of Children) program. One of the gestures is a seven fold blessing of the different senses – eyes, ears, lips, shoulders, heart, hands and feet. During practice, I asked the students what they thought each of those gestures meant.

I asked, “Why would we ever bless someone’s feet?”

One girl chimed in, “So we can walk toward Jesus.”

A second added, “And run away from evil!”

We definitely have a couple of good young theologians that I am constantly learning from.

The William Home (4th – 5th grade girls) has a tradition of a Christmas open house every December. Mike always makes his meatballs, and Jessica her peanut butter and chocolate Buckeyes. The rest of the menu is up to the talents of the girls in the home, and they came up with tasty finger foods and baked goods. From the moment you walk in the door, they offer to take you coat, get you some punch or hot apple cider and show lots of hospitality. I enjoyed looking over the photo album they’ve put together of their activities for the year up to this point. As I looked back on some older photo albums from the home, I got a real sense of the passage of time. After seven years here, the girls who were 5th graders when I first arrived, have now graduated and gone off to college.

Our student leadership committee did a great job hosting their food/clothing drive!
Our student leadership committee did a great job hosting their food/clothing drive!

Our student leadership committee held a food and clothing drive these past few weeks, mindful of families in town and on the Indian reservations that really need that kind of help right now. Generosity is one of those cardinal virtues we try to instill in all our students.

Personal renditions

December 6 is the Feast of St. Nicholas. When Fr. Guy came to the chapel for morning prayer, he brought us little red stockings filled with a few holiday treats. St. Nicholas is a nice reminder of being generous to others, and doing so in a fun and festive way. The St. Nicholas story I remember from childhood, was how he secretly put gold coins on a man’s doorstep so his three daughters, who couldn’t afford the dowry, could get married.

When I stopped by the Native American Studies Class, the Lakota (Sioux) youth were drawing their tribal flags. There are nine Sioux tribes in the state of South Dakota and this particular class had students from Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Crow Creek and Lower Brule Sioux tribes. I learned something about the symbolism and colors in each flag as the students meticulously worked on their personal renditions.

Mary Jane, our Alumni Director , was getting a care package ready to send out to Lolita, an alumni in the Navy stationed in Japan. I was glad to drop off a letter of encouragement and wish her well.

The Braves had a great basketball season!
The Braves had a great basketball season!

Some of our students have emotional struggles that may lead to acting out in self harmful ways. I stopped by one of the counselor’s offices and saw a student just back from a week long in patient treatment placement. Lots of times, I see our students coping so well, but I’m reminded that at times we have to go the extra mile to meet their needs. They did well with the program and are glad to be back on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus again.

Our 5th grade girls basketball team was back in action for their last home game of the year. After Christmas break, it will be the boys turn to play other schools and our girls will shift to the inter-city league, which is more like intramurals. Their weeks of practice paid of nicely and they played well as a team to hold on for a four point victory. After the game, the kids and coaches enjoyed a pizza party in the game room to celebrate the end of their season.

Helping boys becoming men

Mike and April's philosophy, "don't give fish, but rather come along side them and teach them to fish."
Mike and April's philosophy, "don't give fish, but rather come along side them and teach them to fish."


My name is Mike. I have been a houseparent at St. Joseph’s Indian School for three and a half years. My wife April also writes on this blog. We currently work as six-day houseparents in the Carola Home with 10 high school boys, as well as our two youngest children Miranda (6th grade) and Seth (5th grade). When we first came to St. Joseph’s we worked three days in the Rooney Home with 6th-8th grade boys and then three days in the Pinger Home with 6th -8th grade girls. Needless to say, life changed drastically every three days. 🙂

Almost every time I tell someone what I do, they ask just what is a houseparent? My typical response is, it’s the greatest job in the world. Artist mold and shape clay, doctors help mend broken bones,  but we mold and shape lives, we help mend hearts and minds.  We get the privilege to watch boys become men. My philosophy as a houseparent isn’t to give fish, but rather come along side them and teach them to fish.

We began working in the Carola Home last year with 10 freshman boys. Three of the boys were with us in the Rooney Home during their 7th and 8th grade years. The others, I coached in football their 8th grade year. We ended the year with eight boys. All eight boys are back with us this year as sophomores and we have  added two freshman. One of the freshman was with us his 6th and 7th grade years in the Rooney Home. It truly is a privilege to watch as these boys work towards becoming men.

An example of our boys working to become men is the following. Our typical day starts at 6:30 am. While I’m getting breakfast ready, the boys wake up on their own, clean their rooms,  bathrooms and come downstairs by 7:00 am. While they’re eating, I check their rooms and bathrooms. Once they have eaten, they do various chores such as: cleaning the kitchen, living room, game room or sweeping the stairwells. I drive the school bus to the high school for all the homes, so I leave around 7:25 am to get the bus ready. The boys finish their chores and Ms. April checks them. They get on the bus by 7:40 and arrive at school around 8:00 am.

Last year, I went up stairs and went to each room waking each one. I discovered not everyone is a morning person like me. 🙂  I then watched as they cleaned their rooms and bathrooms. After several reminders we made it down stairs, however not everyone was on time. At the beginning of this year, I asked them  if they wanted me to wake them or use an alarm clock. They all agreed to the alarm clock. I asked if they could get their cleaning done on their own or did I need to come and watch. They all agreed they could do it on their own. They even set the consequence for anyone who wasn’t downstairs on time. To date, we have had far fewertardies and fewer reminders about their cleaning . One of my favorite posters in our home is a quote from the 1 Corithians 13:11:

When I was a child I spoke, thought and behaved like a child, but as I became a man I put away childish things.

Thank you for all your support. Please pray for us as we encourage our young men on their journey. Also, if you have a favorite quote about becoming a man we would love to hear it. We have many posters on our walls encouraging our guys to become the man their families and communities need them to be.

Until next time,