Guest Bloggers: Rec Center Staff

Two St. Joseph's Indian School girls wait for their soccer game to start.
Tashia and Hialle wait patiently for the soccer game to start!

Every Wednesday, St. Joseph’s has Enrichment Night.

Last week, the Afra & Ambrose Homes were involved in our own little soccer camp!

First, we noticed the kids had a lot of extra energy, so we had them run some laps around the football field. That worked for a few moments. Soccer drills were taught by Mark S. and then we had a little soccer game. Thanks to Mike L. & Dave A. for their support.

With our older students, the Mathias and Rooney Homes participate in Camping 101 class. The Mathias Home had very little trouble in getting their tent together as they all worked as a team. The Rooney Home had some problems though. One of their poles got broken which made it tough to get up quickly. Thanks Mark for getting a new pole. Jan was the tent holder for most of the class. Thanks Jan.

Next week, we have the Cyr and Summerlee Homes at 6:00pm for our last Camping 101 class. The Fisher and Speyer Homes will fill the 7:15pm time slot with flag football.

Mark and Andy

Practicing for Saturday’s big event

Two Native American girls showing off their regalia.
Juliana and Sasha are ready for this weekend’s powwow!

Usually school at St. Joseph’s Indian School doesn’t dismiss until 3:25, but shortly after 3 today a lot of students were streaming to the homes. I stopped a group and found out that they are the powwow dancers, on their way to practice for Saturday’s big event. Their houseparents will still ensure that they have ample time to do homework around the kitchen table later on.

Fr. Tom, our SCJ provincial, is on campus this week for his annual visit to check on all the members of our religious order stationed here in South Dakota. Besides the work of the school, we serve eight parishes in the area. He wants to check on our health (I’m feeling good and cancer is in remission for over 2 years now!) and how we are doing with the work entrusted to us. I sat with him yesterday morning and reflected on all that’s happened in my eight years as director of St. Joseph’s Indian School, and looked ahead to what still needs to be accomplished in the future. I appreciate the chance to reflect on the blessings and challenges of trying to meet new needs while staying true to the mission and vision. Fr. Tom headed St. Joseph’s in the 70’s and 80’s and still has a passionate commitment to seeing the school make a lasting difference.

At the school, one of the 3rd grade boys was in trouble at the dean’s office, and was sitting in the corner on the floor pouting. He looked so unhappy that I just sat down on the floor and started making small talk. The one thing he was looking forward to was a flag football game. We talked sports for a while and his mood lifted considerably. After a while, I had to move along, and simply said,

“I’m sorry you had such a hard day today. I hope it’s better tomorrow.”

Some of our students have issues that none of us fully understand. Those are the ones you hope to reach, but are never sure how.

The students who volunteered for church choir were in the religious education room practicing new mass parts. It will take some time for everyone to catch on, including me as I preside, but it will eventually add a nice touch to our liturgical celebrations.

Guest Blogger: Facilities Team

These Native American girls can't wait to see their new home!
These four ladies can’t wait to play in their new home!

School is in session and powwow week is here! Every department is hard at work to make sure everything is ready. Here is an update of our largest projects:

Summerlee Home Renovations:

We have about 95% of the exterior work completed, which includes new siding, shingles and windows.  As for the interior of the home, we have completed all the rough-in plumbing and electrical work, and just finished the first coat of taping joints.  When the taping and texturing are finished, we will begin painting.  It is very exciting to see the layout changes that were made in the home come to life.

William Home Renovations:

The demolition process is still underway in the William Home.  We are considering a possible change in the floor plan, which would incorporate the entrance to the lower lever and to the adjacent office area.  Once walls are removed, we will have a better idea of how we will proceed with this possible change.  We enjoy putting our heads together and seeing what will best work for the students and their home and other staff who work in the Benedictine building.

Now, for a few tidbits of some to the day-to-day activities that are taking place around campus:

Grounds department:

The grounds department is checking out all the sprinkler lines and repairing or replacing any bad sprinklers.  They are also removing trees on the west side of Akta Lakota Museum to better accommodate some of the work being done there and at the Summerlee Home.

Carpentry department:

The carpenters are completing a few minor finishing touches to the Stevens and Mathias Homes – our most recently completed renovations. New railings are being added at both entrances of the homes.  They are also installing new carpet in the Human Resources and Facilities Management offices.

Electrical department:

The electricians are in the Human Resource and Facilities Management offices installing new lighting to help brighten up the work space.  They recently finished wiring in the Summerlee Home.

Plumbing department:

The plumber is keeping up with everyday plumbing RQ’s and also helping with the demo work being done at the Thrift Store.

This week, everyone’s main focus will be getting ready for the powwow.

Thanks – Facilities Team

Trips over the long weekend

Native American girls hiking through the woods.
All of the Lakota youngsters had a great, long weekend!

There was lots of student travel over the long holiday weekend. Some students were checked out by family and went home for a couple of days. Many of our homes scheduled trips either yesterday or today.

A few homes just took a quick run to Mitchell, an hour away, to watch a movie or do some shopping.

Several other homes went to the State Fair in Huron, about an hour and a half away. Students bought a wrist band to ride all the rides they wanted. My favorite as a kid was the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Another group of homes attended “Life Light” near Sioux Falls, which is one of the biggest Christian music festivals in the country. Kids came back with lots of songs on their lips that uplifted their spirits.  A bus load of students went for a day trip, but a few of the more adventurous homes took tents and sleeping bags and had an overnight. The favorite stage seemed to be the Christian Heavy Metal, complete with a mosh pit!


Guest Blogger: LaRayne

Two Native American girls take a break from powwow practice!
Laurissa and Shawnna take a break from powwow dance practice to smile for the camera!

We are all looking forward to hosting many visitors and friends at our 36th annual St. Joseph’s Indian School Powwow! We are busy having dance practices with St. Joseph’s students.  To date, we have around sixty kids who plan on dancing at our annual powwow.  This number always increases as powwow nears.

The favorite style for the girls is fancy shawl and the boys like grass the best. The dances look simple and easy, but when it comes to being judged at the powwow, there are several elements that come into play.  Not only the foot and body work, but hands, head and accessories also play a part in the judging process.  Having beadwork on one’s regalia is also a plus for the judge’s eye.

Because many of our Native American students only dance at our powwow, it is a challenge to convince them that they must “showcase” themselves to the judges in order to gain points.  All in all, it is a fun time practicing and dancing at our annual powwow.

Our staff are also preparing for powwow.  This is one organization that comes together for one of our many great events of the year.  It is great to see staff, families and our students along with the community, friends and donors share in a great cultural experience.

Guest Blogger: Claire

Hi again!  My name is Claire, and I am a houseparent in the high school program. I’m excited to be back, starting my fifth year here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. This week is all-staff orientation.  Those of us that have been gone part of the summer rejoin our hard-working year-round colleagues for a week of training, refreshers and refocusing.  This can be pretty exciting, especially when we all arrive in chapel on Monday morning and someone holds up a “free hugs” sign.  Woo hoo!

We usually start off with smudging—the Lakota tradition of burning sage—which is a symbolic cleansing of our minds, hearts and bodies with the smoke.  This sets a prayerful space and atmosphere for our work together in the upcoming year.

Our orientation theme this year was “Nourishing Mind, Body, Heart and Spirit.”

How cool is that?

After all, we are not just about teaching reading, writing and arithmetic.  Our goal is to prepare kids for life outside of St. Joseph’s, so they can be strengthened by relationships, faith, a sense of culture and history, and skills for living.  In order to do that, we have to bring our whole selves into the equation—which is why we start the year with prayer, sage, free hugs and even some darn good bread which the Pastoral Care staff handed out.

A lot of this week is about remembering our mission, and focusing on what we hope to accomplish in the upcoming year.  For us houseparents, one challenge is to bring the oyate values outlined in our Circle of Courage into our daily routines.  Those values are: Belonging, Independence, Mastery and Generosity.

We all agree that we do a great job at building a sense of belonging.  We are very good at building relationships with our kids, their families and with each other.  We are turning our attention to other areas where we are not so strong.  Sometimes, in our efforts to build relationships, we end up doing too much for our kids, to the detriment of their sense of mastery, independence and generosity.  We had some serious and thoughtful discussions on how and where we can work on these areas.

Not all of orientation is fun, I will admit.  Our newly hired staff have already completed a full week of training, and their heads are about to explode with facts, figures, rules and guidelines.

Veteran staff members groan a bit when we get to the part that we have heard every year.  Over and over and over.  For those of you who are uninitiated in the joys of orientation, let me sum up Day Two as briefly as possible:

  Rule #1:  Treat your co-workers with respect.  Play Nice.

Rule #2:  If you make a mess, please clean it up.

Rule #3:  If the mess involves blood or other body fluids, use gloves.

Rule #4:  If the mess is on fire, call 911.

Rule #5:  If you can’t seem to follow Rule #1, make SURE you follow Rules #2-5.

I think I can manage that!

Thank you for continuing to hold the kids and staff at St.  Joseph’s in your prayers as we kick off the 2012-2013 school year.  So far, we’re off to a good start.




The first day of classes at St. Joseph’s

The first day of classes! I enjoyed looking out my office window and seeing the playground, full of laughter and playfulness again.

I waited until later in the day to make rounds of the classrooms. The teachers need some time to get students settled and organized. The first graders especially will take some time to feel at home here and get used to the routine. As I walked into each classroom, I had our returning students help me meet and greet our new kids. I welcomed them and worked on remembering a few more names. We still have a few students who haven’t arrived, but know they’re on their way. By the end of the week when our high school students return, we should have everyone in place.

For supper I joined the girls of Stevens Home (6th-8th grade). They are enjoying the brightness and spaciousness of our newest remodeling job. The five 8th grade girls remember living in the home two years ago before the upgrades, and proudly showed off what they had done with the new spaces. While few of the students particularly enjoy cleaning, the houseparents, Frank and Wanda, told me the students have a little more pride and put in a little extra elbow grease to keep things looking nice.

After school the houseparents took the girls to Central Receiving, where all the new clothing that generous donors have dropped off or mailed in has been sized and sorted. They got to “shop” for a half hour, and were showing off their fashion finds. They were especially pleased to find a nice, dressy outfit or two for “church clothes”.

As I walked back to my office, I saw groups of the younger children playing in Wisdom Circle. I noticed that a good-sized group of Dennis Home (1st-3rd grade girls) were seated at the picnic table. Three were on the bench, and four others were sitting on the table, hovering above them and combing their hair.

A fair number of kids have returned from summer with head lice. It’s so commonplace here that it isn’t embarrassing, but a back-to-school routine that we have to plan for. Their housemates were gently and carefully combing and pulling nits out of hair. It seemed to build a sense of care and community among the girls, and they were enjoying the great outdoors, talking and getting to know the new students.

The 1st day back at St. Joseph’s Indian School

The day our Lakota students return for the start of the new school year is among my favorite days of the whole year.

Siblings Anthony (5th grade) Samantha (4th grade) and Nevaeh (2nd grade) were the first students back on campus a little before 11:00 this morning. Anthony asked his houseparent Luke, “Are we the only ones here?”

Since the homes don’t officially open until noon, Luke replied, “Yes, but we’re ready for you and excited that you’re here.”

The rest came trickling in throughout the day. Central offices were abuzz with Family Service Counselors on the phone with families having trouble getting in – for instance, car trouble, no gas money or family events. Lower Brule Powwow is still going into the night, so we expect those students late or even possibly not until tomorrow.

We’ve heard of a few families changing their minds about having their children enroll here, so we go to the waiting lists and invite the students we have prioritized, and whom are happy to be told of the opening.

I made an early round of visits, and saw some of the families arriving with suitcases, tubs or plastic garbage bags with clothes for the new school year. All their clothes are inventoried when the kids arrive. Next stop is the health center for a checkup which includes an eye exam, check of any medications the students have been prescribed over the summer, checks of hair for head lice and notation of any cuts or bumps and bruises. The Health Center staff will be especially busy these first few days making sure all the health care needs are attended to.

Once settled in, I saw lots of game playing. Some tossed a baseball or shot baskets. The tetherball post was crowded. Other kids checked out inside play like building blocks or computer games. Older siblings got passes to other homes to check in on younger brothers and sisters.

As of right now we are bringing in 39 brand new students to our program. As I stopped in the homes, I started the ongoing task of learning names, and a little about their family or home community. Since I see students in the homes, classroom, playground and in church throughout the week, it really doesn’t take all that long to link a name to a face, and make them feel that much more welcome and accepted.

The first night is often the most difficult in terms of homesickness. While that is always sad when a child feels so lonely, our houseparents are prepared and try to build the comfort and trust that will help a youngster grow and flourish as the year goes on.

New staff, new school year at St. Joseph’s Indian School

New staff are continuing their orientation, with everything from how to calm an out of control child to working our email system. One day they had a scavenger hunt to get acquainted with campus and start to find useful and needed things. I  hope our new co-workers will feel welcome and an important part of the St. Joseph’s mission. Today  the SCJs hosted them for lunch at our house.

As folks finished eating, I asked each person to introduce themselves with a short “job description” of their role. Present among us were houseparents and teachers, custodians, food service worker, an electrician and a bookkeeper. I asked folks who came from a distance how they heard about St. Joseph’s Indian School. Several were from families who supported us with donations, and through the mail have known about the school since they were little. Others saw an ad in their area newspaper, or found job information online. The people who grew up in the area were asked to share a favorite memory of St. Joseph’s Indian School. Two people whose parents worked here fondly remembered the family picnics we have for staff. One woman recalled her own elementary school days when she played basketball and volleyball against our kids. I trust the good spirit of camaraderie and sharing, the hope and enthusiasm they bring will enrich us all.

Fifteen of our staff sat in on a teleconference with a group of researchers. Child Trends conducted interviews with our students and their families and presented their findings. Overall the report was affirming. Like any organization, we look for ways to improve, and there were areas to look at in that light as well.

One area we need to review is our vast array of rules. Students grudgingly admit that the rules are overall a good thing that point them along the right path. Still, few of us really like so many rules. Just because we’ve always done something that way, it’s still worth a fresh look. Celia, one of our residential coordinators pointed out that we have a rule limiting student outgoing long distance calls to the weekend. That was put in place years ago partially because that was when calls were cheapest. Our phone services now costs the same per minute all the time. As we look at improving communication with families, that’s an example of a rule that probably needs to be revamped. While students also complain about homework and house chore rules, those are the kinds of things that we’ll undoubtedly keep in place.

Peace to All Who Enter Here

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.