Even though summer officially began on Monday, temperatures are and have been very high around here for a few weeks. I hope everyone is making sure to stay cool and hydrated.
Last week, I was able to attend the ordination for two new priests for the Diocese of Lafayette, Indiana. During the 1st Mass of the newly ordained priest that I had baptized 25 years ago in Houston, Texas, the pastor mentioned that the parish has had 18 priests ordained in the last 11 years and will have another next year. The parish has also been supportive of those who have entered the Brotherhood or convent. May we keep the need for more vocations in our prayers.
We hosted our yearly Scranton Prep students from Scranton, Pennsylvania last week. They raise funds every year to bring their upcoming senior class to South Dakota. During their time in-state, they do some sightseeing in the Black Hills and visit several reservations prior to working as counselors for our summer camp. Several of the students mentioned how helping out at St. Joseph’s has really educated them of the Native American Culture. They appreciated the opportunity to bond with the young people at camp.
Today is the last day of the 2016 Rising Eagle Day Camp. We’ve had a great time getting to know over 200 children from the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Reservations and look forward to some of them returning to campus for school this fall!
We have finally had some time to reflect on our 39th Annual Powwow.
What a wonderful few days we had! The festivities began with a bus trip to the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Indian Reservations. I had a chance to meet with donors taking part in the tour to offer a prayer for safe travel before they hit the road. It seems that they all had a great time!
On Thursday evening, St. Joseph’s Indian School had a Meet & Greet. Several staff members and students met with guests to explain the programs offered at St. Joseph’s and answer any questions our visitors had. We had two of our high school seniors and an alumnae who is currently working at St. Joseph’s share the impact our school has had on their lives.
Friday morning began with the announcement of our powwow royalty–Eagle Staff bearer Treshawn; Junior Miss St. Joseph’s Aurelia; and Miss St. Joseph’s Frederika. As our students headed off to class, our guests enjoyed breakfast and tours of the Nagel Business Office to see how our mailings are prepared and how envelopes with donations are handled.
From there, our donors and friends went to the Rec Center to make their own dreamcatcher and attend a demonstration of Native American children’s games.
On Friday afternoon, guests were able to tour the school with some of our students as their tour guides. A great time was had by all; students really enjoyed getting to talk with people from all over the country.
Over 400 guests and friends attended our Tiyospaye Banquet Friday evening. The highlight of the evening– besides the drawing for a star quilt– was the show of hands as to how many were attending their very first powwow. It seemed that 75-80% of the hands went up! We were so honored that they chose St. Joseph’s as the place to experience their first powwow.
Though Friday was rainy and cool, Saturday dawned clear and pleasant. Early risers had the chance to visit several of the
homes on campus to see where our students live. Prior to the Grand Entry, several of our grass dancers came out to bless the powwow grounds. The Grand Entry began with a presentation of the colors, which all veterans present were invited to take part in. The veterans in attendance were followed by the royalty from other Native American tribes and entities in the area and the many dancers who had come to take part in the powwow.
It is interesting to note that 102 St. Joseph’s students took part in the various dance categories, which enabled them to win some categories and place in others. The weather was wonderful, the colors magnificent and the dance moves intricate. Returning alumni were honored. Guests were invited to take part in tribal dances which are open to anyone in attendance.
We culminated the day with Mass at Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel and a complimentary meal prior to announcing the winners of the dance contests and drum competition. As things wound down, there were many compliments and ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ over what had taken place that afternoon.
We were honored to have so many guests, dancers, drum groups and staff all interacting in an enjoyable manner to make this one of the best powwows yet! If you would like to see some of what happened, you can take a look at the video one of our staff members put together.
We were blessed to have great weather on Saturday and we thank you for your prayers to help make that possible. I’m sure that many of those attending this year are already looking ahead to 2016. As a quick reminder, St. Joseph’s annual powwow always takes place the third weekend in September. We look forward to many powwows in the future and hope you can join us!
We had a couple of funerals the past two days that affected many people on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus. Yesterday, a teenager who was a student at St. Joseph’s a couple of years ago, was laid to rest on the Crow Creek Indian reservation. She has a couple of siblings still here at St. Joseph’s and lots of cousins. We had about 15 students checked out to be with family during these sad days. Several homes made their presence felt at the wakes over the weekend. Shauntae and her family are in all our prayers.
Richard was one of our custodians until his battle with cancer made it necessary to quit work and focus full-time on treatment. He fought a long and courageous battle, but he too died this past week. His wife Mary still works at St. Joseph’s. I noticed a good crowd of co-workers that showed their support during the wake and funeral.
We get many letters each day from people who ask us to pray for them during their time of grief and loss. It’s a part of the human condition none of us escape. My prayer is that those who mourn will know the care and support of people around them to help get through the days of darkness. While it can be difficult to find words of comfort, a simple presence at wakes and funerals speaks loudly by itself.
Our high school students are starting to hear back from colleges they are applying for. Chris got an acceptance letter from Dakota State University today. He joins Elijah (U of Kansas) and LaToya (Presentation College in Aberdeen) as they plan for their post St. Joseph future. Other seniors are still waiting to hear from schools of their choice – appropriate during this Advent season of patient and hopeful waiting with expectation.
I walked by the music room and heard the sound of three beginning clarinet players working hard to get the sounds of Jingle Bells in time with the teacher’s lead and in harmony with one another. They are preparing to play in the Christmas recital on December 19th. In encouraged them to keep practicing, and look forward to hearing how they do in two weeks’ time.
Our Human Resources Department organized our holiday tradition called “Sweet Sampling.” Staff brought a variety of colorful, scrumptious Christmas goodies to the skate room and folks dropped by throughout the day for treats at break times. Recipes were left by each platter for people to try on their own for the items they especially enjoyed. I can tell that our push on wellness is also making inroads. The tables were also laden with fresh fruit as an alternative, and I saw recipes for Weight Watchers Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge and 50 – Calorie Chocolate Toffee Puffs. HR also passed out cute homemade cookie cutter ornaments to get people in the holiday mood.
Hello! My name is Geri and I joined St. Joseph’s Indian School on August 20. I’m delighted to be a ‘guest blogger’ and hope to share with you my ‘new to St. Joseph’s’ impressions!
What a warm, welcoming atmosphere! I’ve had a variety of past work experiences, but none can compare to how welcome and comfortable I’ve been made to feel in the month since I’ve started. I live in Mitchell and carpool with other St. Joseph’s employees Monday-Thursday and telecommute on Fridays.
Friends and family have asked me how the hour-long commute is going and I’ve honestly responded,
“It goes by remarkably fast, as we’re usually deep in conversation and surprised to see our exit sign.”
I’m amazed by how many people have worked at St. Joseph’s for 20, 25 or 30 years and very outwardly admit,
“I love working here – it’s a great place to work.”
I’ve had an opportunity to meet some of our Native American children and travel to the two reservations that 40% of our students come from, Lower Brule and Crow Creek. The children are beautiful – and from the two times I’ve dined with them, amazingly polite and well-behaved.
The houseparents I met over dinner recently, Aleece and Leonard, are wonderfully kind and patient and have been at St. Joseph’s since 1988. Their 1st-3rd grade boys were a joy to be around –proudly showing their regalia for the powwow and honestly remarking on my height (I’m north of 5’10”).
You may be wondering what my job at St. Joseph’s entails – let me tell you about that. My title is Director of Major Gift Services and currently I’m working to gain an understanding of all that is happening in our development program while working towards the development of a major gifts program.
I have so much to learn, but it’s exciting! I am looking forward to getting to know our supporters better and finding out what specifically they are passionate about and why they support St. Joseph’s, while at the same time learning all that I can about St. Joseph’s.
Donors started arriving last evening to get their powwow information packets in preparation for our activity-packed event. Many have come from long distances out-of-state. For some, it is their first trip to South Dakota. Because our donors ask many questions and want to learn more about our area, we tried something new this year – a bus tour of the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Indian Reservations.
We had room for 50 guests, and interest was very high. We filled up right away and couldn’t take any more sight seers. John, a St. Joseph’s alumnus who grew up in Crow Creek, served as our tour guide. While on the road, he mixed historical and cultural background with corny humor to educate and entertain.
Our first stop was St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Fort Thompson. We had coffee, juice and rolls, and a chance to ask questions of Sister Charles, who has worked with Native people for over 50 years, and Deacon Steve, a Lakota from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation who now ministers in the community.
Our next stop was a set of flags set against the magnificent view of the Missouri River at the Big Bend Dam. They surround a medicine wheel that commemorates the 38 Dakota warriors who were executed by hanging during the 1852 Minnesota Uprising. The surviving family members were sent to Fort Thompson, hundreds of miles from their home and many died during the ensuing harsh winter. A sad piece of history, but one that puts perspective on the trauma people are still working to overcome.
Reservation life has a complexity to it. In Lower Brule, folks commented on housing conditions, with many small houses obviously in need of repair. Yet, they also saw efforts at economic development. Able to use water from the Missouri to irrigate, the Lower Brule farm cooperative is one of the largest producers of popcorn in the country. A few years ago the tribe decided that instead of just wholesaling the popcorn to agribusiness, they would develop their own brand (Lakota Popcorn) and add some jobs to their local economy by packaging and marketing it themselves. We also saw a small arts and craft store where workers produced items made of elk and buffalo hide and other local materials.
Our lunch stop included a hearty and tender buffalo stew, which folks seemed to enjoy.
The last stop was the tribal council chamber, and folks commented on the beautiful architecture. The room is in the shape of a large tipi. Out the window overlooking the pasture, they could see the tribe’s buffalo herd grazing in the distance. What impressed me the most was the quality of questions our donors asked – about treaty rights and trust issues, self-determination and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The people who came our way proved very passionate about Native American issues.
A few people, myself included, nodded off for a few winks on the half hour ride back home. The tour got high marks, and we think it’s a keeper for our powwow schedule.
This weekend the Crow Creek Indian Reservation held their annual fair and wacipi – powwow. I view powwows much like a family reunion. Since I worked in that community before coming to St. Joseph’s, I know quite a few folks when I go.
Last night, besides taking in the dancing and ceremony, I enjoyed walking around the arena and visiting with familiar faces and catching up with old friends. I noticed several St. Joseph’s students with their families. A few of our St. Joseph’s homes also loaded up a mini bus and came for a few hours.
Today I had to drop some items off at the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center. Glancing at the visitors log book, I was tickled by the number of overseas tourists who visited us. The notes told of folks hailing from Japan, Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands and France, besides a great number of different states in the good old USA.
As I walked back to the office on a lovely Saturday afternoon to finish up the weekend homily and prepare for Sunday, I heard laughter coming from atop the hill behind the Dining Hall. I followed the path to the area where we’ve developed our Project SOAR obstacle course. Mark and Nate were working with a group of boys from Fisher Home (6th-8th grade) at the nylon stringed spider web. The group was trying to help everyone cross from one side to the other, which involved lifting, carrying and passing teammates. The object was to help them learn to work together, and develop needed social and life skills such as cooperation, communication and planning. I even joined them in the next activity – a trust fall – where each of us had to fall backwards from a short ledge into a tangle of arms waiting to catch us.
On the playground, I noticed the Dennis Home girls (1st – 3rd grades) arguing about someone calling another student a cry baby, and hurt feelings escalated until they were mad at each other. One of the third grade girls was upset to start with. She asked me to pray for her two-year-old cousin, who sadly died in a drug related accident. When our students act out or misbehave, all of our staff are trained not to overlook the possibility that there is a deeper issue or problem that may be upsetting the child. In their young lives, many of these children have know a lot of sadness and difficulty.
This morning I attended a funeral at Fort Thompson, on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation. Rose was 90 years old and the matriarch of a large family. At the funerals I’ve attended of many elders, much of the congregation are gray-haired themselves. Rose outlived all of her contemporaries. Instead, the church was full of a lot of young people. Most of her 58 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren live in the area.
At Indian reservation funerals, it’s customary to start the services with a final viewing of the body before the casket is closed. Mourners also say a few words of comfort to the family, or give a hug or handshake. Today that process took over an hour as so many people streamed past. I have fond memories of Rose from my days as pastor there, and wanted to show my support to her family.
Today staff pulled together and the homes and classrooms are ready for the arrival of our students this weekend.
This was also the final day of our SCJ novices’ retreat. They will head back to Chicago and what the novitiate will bring them this year in a time of self discovery. I was truly blessed by listening to them listen to the Lord, and sharing with me where God is leading.
This evening was fun and festive as we took in the Lower Brule Tribal Fair and Powwow. We spent a little time at the rodeo grounds, where Juan Carlos was fascinated by the horsemanship. Next stop was the softball tournament, where James got several chuckles over the teasing banter of the PA announcer.
The highlight, of course, was the powwow with eleven drums singing traditional songs and the colorful Grand Entry with a procession of all the dancers. The novices got their first taste of Fry Bread and Indian Tacos and found it quite tasty.
We saw lots of St. Joseph’s students. While some kids complain about having to go back to school, many of the youngsters I met were actually excited and looking forward to coming back.
This week I was reminded of the scripture passage where Jesus told Peter that he would give him the keys to the kingdom. Because we changed the locks around St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus, I received a new set of keys. When you think about 19 homes, offices, classrooms, storage sheds and supply closets, there are hundreds of locks to change. While it is an expensive and time-consuming task to re-key all the locks, occasionally it has to be done to keep the campus secure and our most precious resource, our students, safe.
We keep chemicals and cleaning supplies that might be harmful to a child under lock and key. Prescriptions have to be in locked medicine cabinets. We also have alarms on all the homes that serve a dual purpose. We don’t want intruders to come in, and we also don’t want children leaving the homes after bedtime.
Some staff who didn’t check their email were mystified when they came to their office and the old key wouldn’t turn the nob. Not all the locks are changed out, and there has been some inconvenience and confusion as happens with any change. Folks are understanding and make the trek down to Facilities to get their shiny new keys. And more than one employee has remarked that it was time to update and upgrade.
Wednesday I traveled to Eagle Butte for the Board Meeting at the Sacred Heart Center. This year marks their 30th anniversary. To celebrate, after our meeting the staff organized a lunch celebration and invited past employees. Sr. Ruth Gareats, PBVM served as the 2nd director of the center. She remembers the day when all the services were cramped into one small building, with rummage spilling out into the soup kitchen and the women in the shelter waiting for their turn. Sr. Ruth brought along pictures to share that brought back so many memories.
Fr. Joe shared the trip’s driving. He is pastor of the parishes we serve on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation and Lower Brule Indian Reservation. Two of the sisters, Elaine and Mary Clement, had lovely and heartfelt farewell celebrations at the beginning of summer. The parishes are awaiting the arrival of two Sisters of Christian Charity to join the pastoral team in August.
We continue to make progress on the Akta Lakota Museum expansion and met with the architects and contractors to keep up with the projected timeline. A crew has also been pouring a lot of concrete in an effort to rebuild the road and tunnel caps and improve drainage across campus.
Two high school girls finished up their summer jobs, one as a nurses aid at the nursing home, and the other busy with maintenance on campus. LaToya loved visiting with the patients, and gained a lot more confidence driving (she just got her license) back and forth to work. Erica’s supervisor praised her thoroughness, and she said she liked dusting – probably my least favorite household chores. They will spend a few weeks home before school begins in mid-August. For the next two weeks we have no students on campus.
When we pulled up the old Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel carpet for replacement, we uncovered a nice floor mosaic on the tile below. We decided to polish it up and not carpet that area since it adds to the chapel decor.
The classrooms also got new carpet, the first in about 25 years of steady footsteps. The rooms also received a new coat of paint. That meant everything had to be moved, and it made for lots of rearranging. Teachers have been coming in early putting things back in order, and to recycle old and outdated materials. We have two new pastoral care/religious education teachers this year, and both were in the room going through many boxes and shelves of material to reorganize and see what they have to work with.
Friday night was the area Relay for Life event. As a cancer survivor myself, I found a lot of support from the group gathered to walk, celebrate another year of life, remember those who have died and celebrate the goodness of people who care. The event was held on campus, in Wisdom Circle. We had bands playing from a flatbed trailer, matching shirts for all the survivors and caretakers, and a wonderful community spirit.
I’m back on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus after a few weeks on the road. I combined vacation, Priests of the Sacred Heart jubilees and assembly and my annual retreat.
One of the 60-year jubilarians was Fr. Bernie, who is retired and lives with us at St. Joseph’s. While retired, he is more active now than ever. With no administrative duties, he enjoys the freedom to read, study, pray and work on projects he is passionate about. I enjoyed meeting his relatives who made the journey to Wisconsin for the celebration. I also got to reconnect with some mutual friends of ours who also came to honor him.
On one of our continuing education days the staff from Guest House, a program that treats alcoholic priests, brothers and sisters, gave us a sobering (no pun intended) and excellent overview of what body, mind and spirit go through in the addiction process. We also spoke of intervention and how to help those we care about who suffer. In my years of parish work on the Indian reservation, that was constantly the biggest problem facing families. It’s also a factor in the lives of many of our students’ families, and we try to be supportive and help our young people through those rough spots.
Laughter is the best medicine, and a good balance to the heavy topics. A group from Comedy Sportz came to our Monastery and led us in an hour of improv that had me holding my side laughing. Two of our priests and one of the seminarians were called up on stage, and added so much of their wit and personality to make it a memorable evening.
My retreat was spent at Blue Cloud Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery in Northeastern South Dakota. I had arranged the retreat a while back, and a month ago the Abbey announced that due to aging membership and too few vocations, after 60 years of prayer and work (Ora et Labora), they will have to close in August.
There was an unexpected grace for me being with these monks at this time of transition. They all took a vow of stability, seeing themselves remaining on those ground until the end of their days. Now down to 13 members, they will be splitting up and joining at least six different Abbeys. During my days there are a steady stream of visitors stopped to make their last visit, recalling how retreats or workshops or the lives of the Monks made a lasting difference in their lives. A sign outside the church reads “Peace to All Who Enter Here.” Their hospitality to me and to so many others was inspirational.
My life at St. Joseph’s Indian School can get hectic and busy. It was refreshing to go to chapel four times each day to partake in the sung chants of the psalms, and pray the liturgy of the hours. Sometimes I rush through prayers, but there the pace was measured, deliberately slow and reflective. At the end of each day, they voiced a prayer asking God to be their guide and helper during the time of such dramatic changes in their lives. While difficult, they are working through the closure with grace and dignity.
This Benedictine Abbey sent missionaries to four reservations in North and South Dakota. At the cemetery grounds I recalled many of the priests and brothers who dedicated so many years to serving the church in Indian Country. Many of them worked on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, where I later served as pastor, and I heard many parishioners stories of affection and appreciation from their presence.
This afternoon the school hosted a Native American Career Day. Six different guests set up tables where a small group of students had time to ask questions and learn about their life and career. Two of the presenters were St. Joseph alumni. Nancy is the manager of the Subway restaurant here in town. Paul works at the Sanford Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls. It’s important for our Native American students to see those who have been in their shoes going off and taking on responsibilities like that. They also met a nurse from Indian Health Services on the nearby Crow Creek Indian Reservation, the director of the technical school in the Sisseton, South Dakota area, and a tribal drug and alcohol prevention coordinator. The ambulance crew was also scheduled to present but, just before the day got started, they got called out for an emergency.
After school the whole student body and staff gathered in the Rec Center for our end of the year farewells to Child Service Staff who won’t be returning next year.
Kim taught here for 4 years, and will be moving to a different school.
Christine has been a houseparent for 5 years, and will be going home to New York to spend more time with her children and grandchildren.
After 10 years of houseparenting and teaching Religion, Richard will be retiring.
Chris has been a houseparent for 22 years, and will be going back to his native Oklahoma to continue his career in residential child care. He got up and reflected on his years here. “ Working with you kids here at St. Joseph’s all these years taught me how to be a good father to my own children.”
After 35 years in the school, Vaye Jean is retiring. She definitely enjoys being with our young people and will be back to sub frequently. But she does look forward to the freedom that comes with not having to come in to work every day when there are other family things you would like to do.
All of our honorees were given fitting presents. For their longevity, Chris and Vaye jean were honored by being given star quilts which were draped around their shoulders. There were few dry eyes in the gym when all was said and done. Every year we say goodbye to some great people. Every year we also have some new folks who join us with new ideas and energy.