Feedback, check up and a road trip

Happy Feast of St. Joseph!

The last quarter of school began with an all-school prayer service in the Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel. Each quarter, we recognize individual students who set an example of cooperation and service for classmates to follow. At the end of the year we will select one student from the group to receive the Leo John Dehon Service Award. Fr. Dehon founded the Priests of the Sacred Heart based on the values of justice and love. Today, 21 students came forward to receive a certificate and encouragement for their efforts.

Twice a year, our Parent Advisory Committee meets to give us feedback on how our programs and staff can better respond to our students’ needs.  Eight parents/guardians dialogued with our Child Services leadership about several topics:

–          How to handle restrictions and consequences when students misbehave.

–          The goals, highlights and changes we expect from our new strategic plan.

–          The opportunities and temptations about how our students are using technology.

–          Update on our Iye Tokéya InájiŋThey stood here at the beginning – Alumni and History center.

–          Creating public service announcements and video spots to help people know about the  programs St. Joseph’s has available for families and students.

Speaking of consequences and restriction, when students slip onto the F list in the high school program, a whole set of consequences kicks in to help students focus on school. With missing assignments come the loss of many privileges. One mom joked about how her girls refer to this loss of privileges as being under “house arrest.” But, the loss of privileges gets their attention and they know what they need to do to earn more freedoms. Another parent said that her kids may have learned St. Joseph’s rules too well – when they come home, they ask, “May I be excused to go to the bathroom?”

Three of the members have served on the committee for 5 years now, and we recognized their contributions by giving them one of our blue fleece St. Joseph’s jackets worn by staff.

I went to the doctor for a follow up visit from my recent hospitalization. Everything checked out OK. He told me to keep doing what I’ve been doing, and try to gradually increase the exercise.

I joined Fisher Home (6th-8th grade boys) for supper. The big topic of conversation was whose favorite teams would win the NCAA basketball tourney. There are no regional college favorites among our students but, like many kids, they tend to get on the bandwagon for winners. I grew up in Indiana and am cheering for the Hoosiers, glad to be back in the mix.

The boys had a great time in Washington, DC.

Each spring we have a donor-sponsored trip to Washington DC that allows a few of  our students to experience the Smithsonian’s American Indian Museum. Alex, Trey and Gabriel spoke about some of their favorite sights, with the White House on top of the list. It was Gabriel’s first visit to a large city, and he couldn’t get over the crowds everywhere. The boys got an appreciation of the many different tribes that are represented at the museum,and government and history became more concrete and real for them in what they saw and experienced.

Beginning the season of Lent

Our high school students went downtown to church this evening, but all the rest of our Native American students and a good number of staff gathered in Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel this morning for mass to begin the season of Lent. The first graders are the ones with the most giggles as ashes smear their foreheads and sprinkle down on their nose. But I sense a seriousness too, about wanting to become a better person. The dark crosses on foreheads were noticeable around campus all day.

My prayer is that I can have more discipline in all the areas of life that will help me to understand and follow God’s will. I get more serious about my growth in the Lord’s ways during this season. Lent is meant to inspire us to overcome sinful and selfish ways and to become more like God. That starts by picking up the daily crosses we are asked to embrace.

I always pick something concrete to give up. This year it is desserts and computer games. I play games a lot more than I watch TV, and with the extra time can spend more time in prayer or doing things for others.

I also try to focus on improving an attitude or a virtue. I get many requests each day from every corner of the campus. Sometimes it feels like a burden rather than an opportunity to serve. I’m reminded of Mother Theresa’s attitude of trying to treat each request as direct from God, and find a way to say yes to whatever was asked of her. I hope to be more generous in responding to what is asked of me.


What did you give up for lent?


Enjoying beautiful weather in South Dakota

We began the new semester with Tuesday morning gathering in Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel for a prayer service. There we also announced the students who received the Leo John Dehon Service Awards for the past quarter. The students were nominated by teachers and houseparents for their attitude, help and cooperation in the school and homes. In addition to academics, we want to encourage our kids to be good and kind people as well.

While last week was calm and quiet with long blocks of time to work away on projects, the first few days of the new semester felt frantic. As all the Child Services people got back to their computers after a couple of weeks off, the electronic communications that I thought I’d cleared up, started coming in at a pace faster than I could answer.

I’ve also been participating in a series of meetings with many different departments to listen to their questions and feedback as we prepare to launch our 2015 Strategic Plan. We hope to finalize it by the end of the month, but even by raising the questions and setting goals we have already begun laying the groundwork in the many areas we want to improve.

The bar joists for the Akta Lakota Museum expansion have arrived,  within the next week we’ll start to see the roof go up and the completion of the exterior frame. January in South Dakota is usually bundle up weather, but today we set a record high for this date with a balmy 66 degrees. A year ago we were in the midst of a long cold winter where such work wouldn’t have even been attempted.

Most of our Native American students have returned, but a few are still out. A few had transportation problems. One family is still out because of a funeral. One child has the flu and wouldn’t have been able to go to class even if he made it here. The high school program opened up all four of its homes and campus is starting to get back to its normal rhythms.

The kids loved unusually nice January weather!
The kids loved unusually nice January weather!

With the spring like weather, the students were out in full-force after school playing tetherball, football, tag, basketball and jumping rope.  First grader Treshawn repeatedly bemoaned the fact that we put the bicycles into storage for the winter since it was perfect riding weather. I joined in at the basketball hoop in front of the Benedict Homes and played with the 1st-4th graders. They’re used a lot of one-on-one moves, but I taught a few of them the basics of the give and go. A few of them got the hang of cutting to the basket and receiving a pass – wide open for the layup. Next we’ll have to teach the rest the concept of defending!

When supper time came I joined the Ambrose (1st – 3rd grade boys) Home for a hearty stew.

The conversation got around to Christmas break, and while many of the boys shared about their favorite toys they received, one of our second graders told me that he didn’t get anything for Christmas.

Those are the children that I know our upcoming Christmas celebration with presents will mean the most to. I know his family must have really appreciated the gifts he was able to bring home to share from our Christmas store.

Another lovely tradition

Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel hosted the Chamberlain Area Churches Choir as they graced the space by singing an uplifting Christmas Cantata. This is the third year the community has gathered for the event, which gets better attended each year as word spreads. The singing and Christmas story “The Love of God” certainly helped lift my spirits and place me more deeply in the Christmas spirit. Afterwards fellowship and Christmas goodies were shared in our skateroom. My only regret was that our Native American youth weren’t around to be able to share in such a lovely tradition.


Behind-the-scenes at St. Joseph’s

We’re a real crossroads this time of the year, but don’t get a whole lot of visitors in February!

Fr. Steve of St. Joseph's Indian School
Thursday, August 05, 2010

St. Joseph’s renovations
I didn’t have many meetings today, so I was free to move about campus and check in on what’s been going on.

I talked with Tom, head of our facilities department. Tom updated me on all the summer projects our maintenance crew has been up too. It’s obvious what they do when you see one of the homes being gutted and remodeled.  There’s so much behind-the-scenes work that goes on; people may not notice.

The campus was surveyed for drainage to improve problem spots. The electrical system on our geothermal Templifier was upgraded, so we won’t have problems heating the campus this winter.  Our crew takes great pride in all that goes into keeping the campus safe and beautiful.

I checked out our pool after it got a paint job and a new surface on the surrounding deck. I ran into Patrick, a houseparent I hadn’t seen for about a month. There are so many folks on campus I so enjoy sitting down to share with … even if I only take a few minutes to catch up.

Silent auction brings new friends
There’s been lots of activity at the pavilion where we’ve been silent auctioning off furniture we’ve replaced over the years.

First, we gave staff on campus the chance to look over what we have and switch out anything they could use for offices or campus homes. Now, we’re making a few bucks and clearing out needed storage space. Seems like the biggest spenders were parents of college kids, looking for some worn but usable couches and chairs for setting up an apartment. You’d think they’d buy more of the bookshelves, but no!

Our Lady of the Sioux chapel visitors
Over at the chapel I saw a man kneeling in prayer and another looking at the artwork. I turned on more lights so they could get a better look. They were two priests visiting from Massachusetts, on the way to Alaska. I answered questions about the school until their traveling companions showed up and urged them to hit the road on their westward journey.

Fr. Peter, an SCJ from Ottawa Canada, also surprised us with a visit. He’d been on a tour of many of the National Parks, and just stopped in for a cool drink and the chance to say hello before he continued his journey east. We’re at a real crossroads this time of the year, but don’t get a whole lot of visitors in February!