Lakota Students Give To Others

The Lakota children practice generosity by giving food to the poor.
St. Joseph’s fourth and fifth graders delivered food and toiletries to St. James to share with those in need.

During Catholic Schools Week in January, St. Joseph’s fourth and fifth grade students collected food and toiletries for St. James Catholic Church.  The church has a pantry that is open to the Chamberlain community.  Tubs were placed around campus to collect a variety of useful items.  Many students also brought items they picked up.

At the end of the week, all fourth and fifth graders went to St. James to deliver the goods in person.  We collected four tubs of toiletries and food items!

We got to see the pantry and Fr. Guy explained to the students how it works.  Fr. Guy was very grateful for the donation.  St. Joseph’s students were excited about the project and hope to do it again sometime.

Statistics tell us we feel happier or better about ourselves when we are able to give to others.  I feel projects like these give our Native American students the opportunities to get such a feeling.  Many were excited to go with their houseparents or counselors to pick out items to put in the tubs.

Fr. Guy’s excitement about our gifts made it even better!

I hope each of you who are benefactors feel the same joy in giving to the Lakota (Sioux) children.  Like Fr. Guy, we are very thankful and I hope you get a sense of how excited we are by your generosity.  In this season that expresses the kindest and biggest gift of all, Christ’s sacrifice, may we all be motivated to give of ourselves for others.

Witnessing History

The Lakota children witnessed history as a new Pope was named on March 13, 2013.
St. Joseph’s second graders used a Promethean Board to watch the announcement of the new Pope.

I’d just come back to the office after lunch yesterday when I heard rumors of white smoke coming from the Vatican. I called St. Joseph’s principal, Kathleen, to let her know. With the Promethean Boards we have in many of the classrooms, teachers can transfer images and programs from their computer to the big screen, so students got to watch the unfolding announcement live. I visited several of the classrooms, and the kids had tons of questions.

“Why the smoke?” – so I explained the voting process.
“Who are those people in the funny uniforms?” – and we learned about the Swiss Guard.
“When are you going to become Pope?” – I took a pass on that one.
And, as curiosity and impatience both grew, “What is the pope doing now and when is he going to come out?”

I enjoyed sharing this special moment in history with our Lakota students. People have been asking me about my first impressions of the new Pope Francis. I am encouraged that he has a reputation for reaching out to the poor in his diocese in Argentina. Choosing the name Francis raises the hope that he will be able to lead followers to strengthen and rebuild the church where it is broken, work for peace in our troubled world, and reach out with greater charity to those in need.

A Busy Saturday

The Lakota (Sioux) children at St. Joseph’s participate in the Rites of Initiation with the support of their families.
The Lakota students who will be baptized or receive communion make stoles to wear on their special day.

As our students prepare for to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation, our Rite of Christian Initiation included a retreat for the 11 Lakota (Sioux) families participating.

We began with lunch and introductions, then broke into six workshop stations. Each lasted a half hour, and the families rotated to different activities. Delores and Karen helped the students make the stoles they will use on their special day. Mary Jane and Claire helped with a bread making activity. Steve gave them some treats and prizes to help them learn and remember the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (i.e. “smarties” candy to represent the gift of understanding). Joe taught them a song for church. Mary showed them a movie about a family sharing bread and much love.

Father Anthony and I led the workshop in Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel. Ours was entitled “Holy Things” but we informally named it, “What’s it for, What’s it called???”

The Native American children and their families could wander around the church and ask questions about anything that caught their fancy. Fr. Anthony had a set of vestments sitting out, and kids were tickled when he stood each of them on a stool and dressed them like a priest, explaining each of the vestments and symbolic colors.

I had all the things you use for mass on the altar, and those students who were curious could even taste one of the unconsecrated hosts, to take some of the mystery and worry out of first communion. (Two told me they tasted like chips, but with just whole wheat and water they really are quite plain).

Questions ranged from statues and stained glass to cabinets and storage room. Two groups wanted to get the view from the choir loft, and we let them hear what the pipe organ sounds like up close. The students got excited about the interaction. As always, our main goal is to help them know and love God more dearly.

At the end of the retreat, we had our weekend mass for the whole school Saturday evening. The candidates and catechumens wrote their names in the Book of Enrollment. We will celebrate the sacraments of initiation the Sunday after Easter.

If that wasn’t enough for a Saturday, the 6th-8th grade basketball players, both boys and girls, were given the chance to travel to Mitchell, South Dakota for a college basketball game at Dakota Wesleyan University. The two highlights were Thomas making a 3-point shot during half time to win a bottle of pop, and our kids seeing the live action cam broadcast their faces on the jumbo-tron scoreboard.

Everyone deserves a chance to shine

The Lakota girls participated in a community hair shop this weekend, and everyone got a new ‘do!
Araya and Aralyn giggle in anticipation of curly, bouncy hair!

Yesterday, we had a Community Hair Shop to teach staff and students about braiding and decorating hair. We saw lots of cute new do’s sported around campus, and people enjoyed the time thoroughly. I promised one of our other bloggers I wouldn’t say much, and let them add more pictures and descriptions of those events.

Last night, I filled in for mass at St. James parish in downtown Chamberlain. Fr. Guy, the regular pastor, needed to be away attending to his ill father. Three of the pews were filled with very familiar folks – high school students from our St. Joseph’s program. Our older Lakota students enjoy going downtown for church when they don’t have a ballgame or something going on Saturday night. One big draw is that it gives them the chance to sleep in Sunday morning. But, I also know they enjoy taking part in the local community, and mingling with classmates and teachers from the public high school they attend.

I saw the rest of our crew Sunday morning in Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel. During the announcements Steve, our HS academic advisor, awarded the traveling academic trophies to Hogebach (HS girls) for the highest overall GPA, and to Carola (HS boys), for the fewest missing or late assignments.

There was also plenty of basketball today! Besides our girls intercity games, the Knights of Columbus and Jaycees teamed up to sponsor a Free Throw and Hot Shot contest. I saw several of our students proudly displaying trophies they’d won.

Jashon (10), Wankiya (11) and Trenton (14) took first place in their age group and will advance to the next level of state competition in two weeks!

I ran into four girls from the Afra Home (1st-3rd grade girls) walking home with their houseparent, Alice, from a trip to the dollar store where they spend some of their allowance. Mariah held out a rubber ball that bounced very high. Neveah, Loverine and Kyla clutched colorful journals they were planning to write their life stories in.

One of the books was titled, “Everyone deserves the chance to shine.”

That’s my hope for each of our students, and brought a smile to my face.

Preparing the Native American youth

It is remarkable to see the Lakota (Sioux) students mature and grow in their love of Jesus.
It is remarkable to see the Lakota (Sioux) students mature and grow in their love of Jesus.

We have begun the RCIC (Rite of Christian Initiation for Children) this month. This is a program to teach the youth at St. Joseph’s Indian School about becoming a Catholic and preparing them to receive the Sacraments in May. I enjoy teaching this program and seeing the children develop their faith issues and become excited about the day they are Baptized and receive their First Holy Communion. It is an extraordinary journey we take and I am so honored that I am accompany them on their exploration of their new faith. It is remarkable to work here at St. Joseph’s Indian School and not just see the students mature physically and mentally but also grow in their love of Jesus.

This year we have twenty-one students enrolled in the RCIC program; there are five second graders, six third graders, two fourth graders, four fifth graders, two sixth graders and two seventh graders. Please keep the students in your prayers as they take the first steps in their faith journey and also for me that I may have the wisdom and insight to be the best mentor for them that I can be. Next time I write, I will discuss the different themes we are touching. May I offer to each one of you a blessed and sacred Thanksgiving.

Who’s your favorite Saint?

All Saints Day.

Fr. Anthony had morning mass for our school crowd. Since our high school students go to Chamberlain High School, coordinating schedules is difficult at times. To have morning mass for them we’d have to start somewhere around 6:30 am. If you know HS students, that’s not their most alert or best time of the day. Instead, I celebrated mass for them after school when they participated quite well.  I try to get them involved in reading and helping serve. They’re more open to do that in a smaller crowd of peers than for the whole school. At times, I also appreciate the opportunity to preach geared more exclusively to their age group’s reality and issues.

There are over 10,000 people who have been canonized as saints. One church in Chicago has an empty alcove amid a pantheon of saints. The point is that some day, if we live our faith to the full, we could be one of those remembered as a great example to others.

Do you have a favorite Saint?

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.

Making the Akta Lakota Museum into a small town treasure

Today, 15 Northern Plains artists submitted their latest creations  to our Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center acquisition committee, and the museum picked up several nice new pieces. The things I usually like are not the same ones our more knowledgeable artists recommend, and in the long run, they have done a great job of making our museum into a small treasure in town.

Two fellow SCJs Fr. Jack and Deacon Dave arrived for tomorrow’s Board of Directors meeting. Deacon Dave was my predecessor as director of St. Joseph’s Indian School. When I saw the school secretary at 11:30 mass, I asked her if anything special was happening at school today. “Deacon Dave dropped by to see us, so that made the day pretty special.” People still appreciate all he did to build up St. Joseph’s into the place it is today.

Adrian and Merrill are two 8th grade boys chosen to represent St. Joseph’s at our next donor luncheon, which will be in Pittsburgh in early December. I practiced with them after school, asking typical questions  our donors want to know. They’re excited and a little bit nervous, but that gives them incentive to practice harder. It will be a great chance for them to experience a big city and see what life is like there.