Fly, crash, dream, get back up and fly again

“Red Rover, Red Rover, send Fr. Steve right over!”

Bursting through the linked arms of a second and third grader wasn’t too difficult for me, but I was gentle about it. The students got a laugh out of it when I joined them in Wisdom Circle for a couple of rounds of the children’s game after school today.

Today began our second quarter – hard to believe we’re already that far along with our school year! Our custom is to start each quarter by gathering in Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel for an all-school prayer service. This Sunday Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk/Algonquin woman who lived during the 1600’s is being canonized a saint. Fr. Anthony quizzed the students about her life. Since she serves as a good role model for our Native American students, they’ve heard her story and came up with answers to all of the questions.

The pastoral care team put together a slide show set to a meditation on the scriptural theme of being lifted up on Eagle’s Wings and allowing our spirits to soar. Interspersed with inspiring pictures of eagles majestically in flight were pictures of our students going about their everyday routine of living and learning here on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus. As students recognized themselves we heard giggles, but also great focus, attention and pride. Afterwards we announced the Fr. Leo John Dehon SCJ Circle of Courage awards for the quarter, given to students who are good role models to others, and show generosity and kindness in school and in the homes. Hopefully the message that they can fly and God will raise them up was internalized.

Along that theme, I had an email from a donor – a veteran – who had been through many ordeals. His message to me was to help our students overcome the obstacles in their lives.

“Teach your students to fly, crash, dream, get back up and fly again.”

It was a gorgeous 80 degree day. Matthias Home (6th– 8th grade girls) invited me to supper. They fired up the grill and ate their  evening meal on picnic tables outside the home. We accept students throughout the school year as openings occur, and I got to welcome Brianna, our newest eighth grader. Her housemates were doing their best to make her feel welcome and help her fit in.

Developing a greater sense of pride in Native American heritage and culture

While much of the country celebrated Columbus Day yesterday, South Dakota celebrated Native American Day. We had a full school day, but all the classrooms had special lessons to help our Native American students develop a greater sense of pride in their heritage and culture. As students walked into the building they were smudged with the smoke from sage. They then participated in a Four Directions prayer service in the school gym to begin the day with a good spiritual grounding.

Our students took part in Lakota hand games, drumming and singing while their opponents tried to win wooden counting sticks while guessing which hand held the winning wooden dowel. In the old days, bones were used in this game. As our Lakota students learn the rules and strategies better, they can participate in contests against other schools.

We have an Artist in Residence working with our kids this week. His expertise is in brass instruments and the kids were thrilled and awed when he brought out a tuba and let a few of them try. They were blown away (figuratively)!

Four students and one teacher from our sister school in Handrup Germany arrived today. They will spend the next two weeks with us in a cultural exchange. The German students are the ones who hosted our students in their homes last summer, and I saw hugs and handshakes and joyful reunions all around. They will get to experience what it is like to live in St. Joseph’s homes and travel around the state to learn some history and culture of the Lakota people.

My day was enriched by two visits from donors passing through on their way to the Black Hills for vacation. One couple was from Virgina Beach, and I had time to take them into the school and let them see some of our young scholars in action. The second couple came from Youngstown, Ohio, and I met them in the chapel on my way to community prayer. We talked about the symbolism of the artwork in Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel.

I met the crew moving all our artwork into the newly completed storage facility at our Akta Lakota Museum. The curator from one of the state museums said we have a wonderful facility that will preserve our arts and artifacts well. The large back room is starting to come to life as more paintings, sculptures, arrowheads, beaded medallions and countless other treasures add color and texture to the shelving and storage areas.

Our students responded well to our first fire drill of the fall, even when the fire crew blocked three of the regular exits and they had to scramble to figure out an alternative. That’s so necessary if there is a real fire. Dave Z., our new Cultural Associate, uses a wheel chair and had to get creative when his regular ground floor exit was closed. This just reinforced the emphasis we’ve put on making all the older buildings on campus more handicap accessible over the past few years.

Our safety and security committee meets once a month to review drills and other issues. Living in a very rural area, wild animals become an issue, and lately we’ve had too many critters on campus. The deer that graze on our grass, and the wild turkeys that waddle around add charm to the campus. But we’ve also had lots of skunk encounters. Besides the smell, rabies is a concern. One of the sheriff’s deputies is also a trapper, and he’s helping us out. This week we removed five skunks, a possum and three cats. A farm family readily accepted the cats to help control their own little critter population.

Lakota students learning important values

I’ve been around campus the past few days, but haven’t spent much time in the office. Starting Monday afternoon through this morning, all the priests and deacons who are part of the Sioux Falls Diocese gathered for our annual Clergy Days. Besides topics of continuing education, it provides the chance for social time and renewing friendships and support. The diocese gathered just across the river at Cedar Shores Convention Center. Rather than getting a hotel room three miles away I commuted, and was able to check in with life on campus and take care of a few of the notes and messages that come my way.

In the midst of that, on Wednesday we held a Board of Directors meeting for St. Joseph’s Indian School. One of the main fall items is to review the audit report. The good news is that the books are in good shape and the numbers add up to make our programs possible. We heard reports not just from our Child Services programs, but from the Sacred Heart Center in Eagle Butte, where we support a wide range of Indian reservation based social services programs, and from the Lower Brule and Crow Creek reservations, where my SCJ community continually reaches out through parish work to meet pastoral needs.

Deacon Dave Nagel, who was the director at St. Joseph before me, is now our provincial treasurer and still serves on the board. He enjoyed his time back on campus and made the rounds to catch up with as many of the staff as he could.

At our Clergy Days Social, Fr. Jerome, who is now retired, told me he had been a missionary with Maryknoll in Thailand. Craig, our junior high Language Arts teacher, also worked there, and in fact met his wife Ja overseas. In one of those small world stories, they knew each other, and after a quick phone call I was able to help them reconnect and relive lots of memories.

Besides theological input, the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation helped educate us on the scourge of methamphetamines. While big cities may struggle more with cocaine or heroin, for the Midwest and rural America in particular, meth is the bigger problem. On the Lower Brule Indian Reservation, near tribal headquarters, a prominent billboard reminds the tribe, “Meth is Death.” From my time as pastor, I would agree that addictions of every kind tear families apart and are the biggest block to spiritual growth and well-being. The stories from police in the field, and hard to view photos to back them up, brought home the harsh reality in a new and powerful way. In a few weeks we at St. Joseph will celebrate Red Ribbon Week, trying to get across the message early and often to our students – we all need to work together to prevent drug abuse and the horrible impact it has on our communities.

Clergy Days was not all meetings. One evening was the jubilee celebrations for those who have served in the priesthood for 25, 50 and even 60 years. Another evening the local Knights of Columbus grilled some good South Dakota steaks and hosted everyone at the local parish. Tuesday afternoon was free for folks to relax, and I offered a tour of St. Joseph’s campus for folks who have not seen our facilities. We started at Akta Lakota Museum, then dropped by the school. Our second graders were using the smart board to polish their addition by learning to count coins and add up the values. Our choir was practicing songs for church on Sunday, and took us through the hand motions to the song “His Banner of Me is Love.” I was tickled to see one of the 80-year-old priests, seated in a chair, smiling as he mimicked their actions.

Once school was out, we visited Afra Home, where the 1st – 3rd grade girls were gracious hostesses and gave tours. Some were very brief –

“Here is the dining room and here is the kitchen.”

Other students took lots of time showing everything, even digging out the variety of toys in the playroom.

We ended our tour in Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel, and spoke of our pastoral and spiritual efforts to help our students come to know and love God.

After school on Wednesday, I heard the loud beat of the drum, and followed the sound to the edge of the playground. Our Chalk Hills Singers group was gathered around the drum in the shade of an old cottonwood tree. Dave, one of our Native American Studies teachers, was helping them master the songs. It was also his birthday, so when I mentioned it, his son Courage started on the drum, and led the group in a powwow style ‘Happy Birthday’ song.

As I walked back to the office, I ran into our Student Leadership Group, loaded down with carrying bags, full of goodies. They had been up to Central Receiving, where we keep all our donated items. Through people’s generosity we have gotten a large amount of school supplies, and they were bagging up items we have a lot of, like crayons and notebooks, and preparing some gift bags for students in nearby schools who are in need. I thanked Frank, their adviser, for organizing such a thoughtful service project as our students learn the important values of generosity and service.


St. Joseph’s Indian School’s 36th annual powwow is in the books

Our 36th annual powwow is in the books! I’m weary, but it’s the good kind of tired from a wonderful day.

As visitors streamed onto campus, they boarded our mini buses and were shuttled around campus for morning tours of Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel and four of the residential homes where the boys and girls live on St. Joseph’s campus. Houseparents prepared snacks for our guests, and students volunteered to give tours of the homes. The most enthusiastic were the 1st – 3rd grade girls of Afra Home, who  at times led people by the hand, tugging them along to see the playroom or laundry and tell them about all they’ve already learned from life in the Home.

Our students were polite, respectful, excited and touched people’s hearts. Our ever-present blue-shirted St. Joseph’s staff members drew countless praise as they made folks feel welcome, answered questions and made sure people had directions to the places they needed to go next.

Dave, our powwow arena director, kept things moving along and made sure people were in the right place and time for ceremonies and competitions. Virgil, our PA announcer entertained with humorous banter, encouraged dancers and educated visitors with his explanations of what they were seeing on the powwow grounds.

Besides our own St. Joseph students, many young people came from surrounding areas. When 150 dancers processed in during the Grand Entry, the colorful spectacle was a beauty to behold. We had ten drum groups rotating the songs, including our St. Joseph’s student group – “the Chalk Hills Singers

The last couple of years, weather for the powwow has been on the cool side. Today, the sun was out much of the day and temperatures climbed into the high 80’s. The energetic dancers certainly worked up a good sweat! Spectators coveted the shady spots and more than a few took a mid-day break in our air-conditioned Akta Lakota Museum.

At supper we served stew and fixings at the picnic pavilion, feeding over 900 guests, students and family members. After the judges’ points were totaled, we announced the award winning dancers and passed out prizes. As the sun set over the majestic Missouri River and people headed home with pictures and memories, our facilities crew was already tearing down and putting the football field back to it’s normal configuration. Next year’s powwow will be the weekend of September 21, so make your plans now to join us!

Watch this beautiful video of this year’s powwow!

Building a culture of success

All St. Joseph’s staff returned to campus today to begin a week of orientation. Homes and classroom are being prepared in anticipation of our students arrival on August 12. Some folks we’ve not seen since graduation in May, while many others have worked day in and day out over the summer. There were lots of hugs and catching up.

Energy filled the Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel as people streamed in for the opening prayer service. Our theme this year is Creating a Culture of Success: Mind, Body, Heart and Spirit. After a spirit-filled time of prayer, one of the houseparents said to me,

“This was great, now while we’re all rested and excited to be back – but could we do this again in the middle of February when we’re frazzled and weary?!”

We gathered in the dining hall for a review of the strategic plan, and the required Human Resources announcements and reminders. “Play nice” is our standard speech about avoiding any hints of workplace harassment and cooperating with others. When we entered the dining hall, HR had loud, peppy music blaring, and before we started they led us in a few exercise/dance moves that woke people up and got their blood pumping. It helped create more of a fun, engaging atmosphere, which people appreciated. It also made us more attentive to the information that followed. Taking short breaks for fun and exercise are not a waste of time at all, but contribute to building a culture of success.

Our two SCJ novices-to-be, James and Juan,  arrived on campus last night. They will be making their retreat here this week. While the staff is lively, and lots of work and activity is going on around campus, there are still plenty of quiet spaces to be reflective. I had individual meetings with each young man, and in the evening they gathered with Fr. Anthony, Fr. Bernie and I. We shared our vocation stories, about how we came to understand God’s call to religious life, and what has brought us here to this place and time. Even though I’ve known Fr. Bernie and Fr. Anthony since I was in the minor seminary at the age of 14, I still learned many new insights from what they shared. I also appreciated what our newest members had to share from their faith experience.

Beautiful art around St. Joseph’s campus

When you rebuild and renovate, it’s a messy job. With all the construction and remodeling projects going on around St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus, I see organized chaos. I tell myself things have to get worse before they get better. The students will arrive in less than three weeks, and we will get our house – and campus – in order by then. The improvements so far this summer have been of good workmanship and much needed.

Part of the afternoon was spent with a film crew from South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Through a grant from the Endowment for the Arts they are producing a piece about stained glass windows to be aired early next year. Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel has stained glass windows with some traditional Lakota geometric shapes that depict the seven Sacred Lakota ceremonies and the sacred pipe. We also have windows of significant moments in South Dakota Catholic Indian history,

  • Black Elk and other Native Catechists
  • The first ordained Native priest and Deacons
  • The establishment of the Oblate Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Native women who felt called to religious life.

We also have a morning star on the east wall of the chapel that lets in the vibrant morning sun. A window of a Native Holy Family graces the doors above the Benedictine Homes, where the first, second and third grade students live.

I don’t often make the time to stop and observe the beautiful art that’s around campus. As the film crew went to each window to get a good shot, I took a longer and more meditative look at the windows and reflected on the meaning and history behind them.


Guest Blogger: Julie H.

And the summer begins…

Eight grade graduation at St. Joseph's Indian School.
Jarrad and Fr. Steve at this weekend’s eight grade graduation ceremony.

On May 25th, 2012, St. Joseph’s Indian School was proud to watch 21 eighth grade students process into Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel and graduate from eighth grade.  It was a wonderful day, full of celebration.  We, the staff of St. Joseph’s Indian School, are always humbled and honored and to be able to spend such a special day with our students and their families.  While it was a bit cool, the day went off without a hitch and the graduation ceremony was truly lovely.

So what does it mean to graduate from eighth grade?  For many of our Native American students, they will return to St. Joseph’s Indian School in the fall to be a part of our High School program.  For others, they will begin a new journey in a new place.  No matter where they are going, it is a new chapter for our eighth grade students as they begin their high school career.  Some are nervous, some are excited, some a bit scared, but in my opinion, all of them are ready to take on this new challenge.

For those returning to St. Joseph’s Indian School this fall for the high school program, they will come and spend three weeks on campus, beginning on May 28, 2012, to go through our transition program which will help get them ready to attend Chamberlain High School this fall.  It is just a preview of what they will be experiencing at a new school.  The students will get to meet some of the Chamberlain High School teachers, tour the Chamberlain High School, and begin to the learn ropes of being a freshman.  It is a great introduction to what they can expect this fall.

While the eighth grade students are preparing for the fall, the Clinical Services Department is doing the same.  This summer, the Clinical Services Department will spend a great deal of time traveling.  What do we do while we are traveling?  We visit our current students and their families and we work on admissions for the fall.  Part of the admissions process is to interview the student and their families to learn a bit more about them and to see if their needs can be met by St. Joseph’s Indian School.  It is a great time to start building relationships with new students and families.  Traveling to see our current students and their families is just another part of building relationships with those already a part of St. Joseph’s Indian School as well.

While summers can be a bit quiet around St. Joseph’s Indian School, there is always someone around, so if you are in the area, make sure and stop by to see us!  We are always willing to give a tour, talk about what we do and share what a great place St. Joseph’s Indian School is.  So come and see us, you are always welcome!

Julie H.
Family Service Counselor

Guest blogger: Facilities Team

Summer is approaching fast and St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus is looking nice and green!  The kids are in their last week of school and we are all busy working to get campus in tip top shape for our Eighth Grade Graduation on May 25.

Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel at St. Joseph's Indian School.
St. Joseph’s Indian School’s Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel

We are in the process of updating our landscaping and planting some colorful flowers to brighten up our campus.  Our grounds crew has fixed up the yard around Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel where the graduation ceremony will take place.  We are also adding a special touch to the front entrance of our campus: a flag pole with some rock landscaping around it.  This will help add that special touch to the entrance and also help in giving family members and visitors directions to our campus.

Our renovation of the Stevens and Mathias Homes is still progress.  All of the major work is complete in the Stevens Home and the students have already started moving some of their home items back to help in getting ready for next year when they return from summer break.  The Mathias Home is, for the most part, completely painted except for some minor touching up.  They have started installing the ceramic tile flooring and have also started hanging the cabinets in the kitchen.

Welcome to St. Joseph's Indian School.
The new flag pole at the entrance of St. Joseph’s Indian School.

The entire facilities crew is busy laying out the schedule over the summer months and setting up future projects that will be taking place on campus here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.  We will be working on doing some updating in the school, start our next home renovations with the Summerlee and William Homes, and many more!

As always, we continue to keep busy doing our best in making the campus feel like home to all the kids that are here over the school year.

Until next time,

Facilities Crew

Pilgrimage to Rome

In Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel, we have a prominent stained glass window of Kateri Tekakwitha from the Mohawk and Algonquin tribes who lived near Auriesville, New York. On October 21, Blessed Kateri will become the first member of a North American tribe to be canonized and made an official saint in the Catholic Church. Bishop Paul Swain of Sioux Falls gave this exciting news to two Native American Deacons with St. Joseph’s connections. Deacon Bud Jetty (Spirit Lake tribe) is a member of our Board of Directors. Deacon Steve McLaughlin (Standing Rock Sioux) works with the SCJs on the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Indian Reservations ministering to the pastoral needs of the people there. Bishop Swain told the two excited men the diocese would sponsor them on a pilgrimage to Rome being organized by the Rapid City Diocese and the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions so they can participate in this landmark ceremony.

I also heard that Fr. Tom Westhoven, SCJ, plans to be there as well. For many years, Fr. Tom was St. Joseph’s Director of Development. Now retired, but still very active, he has been asked to chaperone a pilgrimage for the same exciting event being organized on the East Coast. His group will leave October 19. For anyone who might be interested, information on that trip is available by emailing

A bit of everything

Greetings once again from St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota.  As Fr. Steve Huffstetter, SCJ is on his way back from a donor luncheon in the Miami, Florida area, I have been asked to bring you up-to-date on what happened here at St. Joseph’s over the weekend.

It was a weekend that had a bit of everything happen.  Friday afternoon had one of our 4th grades present a ‘living’ Way of the Cross entitled The Week That Changed the World to our students and staff.  Friday also saw the end of the bowling season as all the participants had a fun afternoon in which trophies were awarded and snacks provided.  A lot of fun was had this year and several of the students improved remarkably over the course of the season.

While we were at the bowling lane, word was received that the Chamberlain water supply was experiencing some difficulty and that the water should not be drunk.  The whole town and campus were affected.  As those working on the problem were not sure how long it would last, there was a run on bottled water.  Luckily the disruption was fixed overnight and we could drink and use the water in cooking.

The end of the month also brought an end to our Home Prayers for March and the theme of St. Joseph.  We had the homes pray the Litany of St. Joseph and talked with the students about who St. Joseph was and why he plays an important role in salvation history as the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus.

Saturday saw the Spring session of FAST (Families And Schools Together) hold its graduation.  We had five families complete the program which encourages interaction among the students, their families and St. Joseph’s staff.  It was wonderful to see several homes attend the graduation as a sign of support and encouragement for their students who took part in the program.  A nice reception took place afterwards.

Should the popular movie, The Hunger Games, have a sequel, several of our students are ready to try out.  Due to the beautiful weather we have been having, those who have been practicing their archery skills were able to shoot outside on the football field.  They seemed to really be into the experience as they were out there for several hours.

Several of the younger grades are taking part in a gymnastics camp offered in the Chamberlain community.  It seems a very popular event; one of our students even participated on the Chamberlain High School Gymnastics Team as a 7th grader.  We hope that taking part in such a camp helps the students get the basics and establish some friendships with Chamberlain students. When they meet up again in high school, we hope good team work values may be established and will bear fruit as Chamberlain’s gymnastics team competes locally and on a state wide basis.

You know Spring has come when you see your first riding lawn mower!  I am not sure if it was out to be used or was being moved to be prepared for the upcoming grass cutting season, but it was moving about the campus.  I hope that is a positive sign that no more ‘wintery’ weather will hit the campus until next Fall and Winter.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday and we began our liturgy by gathering outside in front of the Benedict Homes for the blessing of the palms and then the procession into Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel.

I hope that each of you will have a meaningful and grace-filled Holy Week.  As we continue our journey to Easter and witness what takes place on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, may we be grateful for the love and mercy the Great Spirit shows His people through the witness Jesus gives as He willingly pays the price for our sins.  May we always be grateful and echo the statement of the Roman officer heard in yesterday’s reading of the Passion,

‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’

May we live out that gratitude by following Jesus’ example of love and service to all those we encounter in our journey through life.

During our Sunday liturgy we make various announcements.  Our high school program asked us to share some wonderful news.  Erin, one of our high school seniors, has just been awarded the opportunity of a lifetime.  She is one of only six South Dakota students to receive a Davis-Bahcall Scholarship.  This will enable her to spend a month studying particle physics at some great laboratories world-wide.  She’ll spend a week at Sanford Labs in Lead, South Dakota, which used to be an active gold mine, and then two weeks at the Fermilabs just outside Chicago, Illinois, where the Manhattan Project was begun.  She ends the program with a visit to northern Italy where CERN’s Gran Sasso lab, which houses the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest, is housed.  The Chamberlain High School principal stated he ranked this as one of the two highest honors a student could receive in the science field.  We congratulate Erin on this honor.  It was also mentioned that Erin and D’Kera have both been accepted at South Dakota State University following graduation.

Have a Happy Easter and know we continue to keep all of you in our prayers in gratitude for your generosity.

Fr. Anthony Kluckman, SCJ