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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m back from a Donor Luncheon trip to Palm Desert/ Palm Springs California. Thirty years ago, I entered religious life with a year of Novitiate in the High Desert, about an hour away in Victorville. I remember at first being intimidated by the desert. Once I slowed down to explore and observe the myriad of life in what I thought was a wasteland, I was astounded by the beauty.
There is a lot to learn by going to the quiet.
This part of the Desert though, is well-developed and filled with hustle and bustle. Two high school girls, Erin and Danisha, represented St. Joseph’s Indian School at the luncheons. Both work part-time jobs after school and have been saving up their money to check out the clothing stores hoping to find different and unique items compared to what is available locally in Chamberlain, South Dakota. Shopping, especially clothes shopping (it seldom takes me long to find my basic black !) requires lots of patience on my part, but I know it brings joy to them. I walked around and got my exercise, and had time to visit with Cheryl, the girls’ houseparent and trip chaperone. She told of her interaction with the students’ families. As she’s built up a trusting relationship the girls have shared with her many of the difficult circumstances that brought them to St. Joseph’s Indian School in the first place.
We were joined by about 70 donors on Saturday and 45 on Sunday. With some students, I worry they will get stage fright and be afraid to speak up. Erin and Danisha are both seniors and over the years have developed the self-confidence that made it easy for them to talk to our gathered friends and answer their questions. That bodes well for their future as they prepare to move on from St. Joseph’s in a few months. Both are applying for college.
Danisha’s family sew beautiful Star Quilts, and wanted to honor those folks whose generosity has made her education possible. Danisha brought along a beautiful quilt and at the end of the Saturday luncheon, she drew a name from those in attendance. Lucille was the lucky winner, and we couldn’t have picked someone for whom it meant so much.
Lucille herself taught for 50 years, and felt so honored that her excitement moved me to tears.
We drove by two of the huge Indian Casinos of the area. One of our donors is a member of the Morongo Tribe. They have shared their resources by taking materials to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation here in South Dakota to help those in need. While many of the Sioux tribes in South Dakota have tried casinos, the low population to draw from on the prairie has most of them struggling and not the massive operations like we saw in California.
Today I spent catching up on mail and messages. The bulldozers moved in and started the groundwork for our Akta Lakota Museum expansion. It will block off traffic flow for a while, but we look forward to the end results.
Two girls who have been here for 3 ½ years are transferring to another school. Their mom has moved and is in a better position to have them come back to live with her. Our goal isn’t to keep students here as long as possible, but prepare them for life when they and their families are ready to move on. We easily get attached to students and miss anyone when they leave. When students transfer like this in the middle of the year, we look to our waiting list and offer the spot to another child.
Our principal Kathleen is in the midst of teacher evaluations, and this year is trying a new technique – actually videotaping lessons. This allows her to show the teachers how they present themselves and the materials in an even more concrete way. Because she also videotapes the class and how the students are responding, the teacher can observe student attentiveness and notice anyone who is having difficulty keeping to task.
I think it is a gift to see ourselves from others’ perspectives, and we can learn a lot from that.
At day’s end, I watched the our 7th and 8th grade girls’ volleyball teams defeat our upstream neighbors the Crow Creek Chieftains. Many of our students are from the Crow Creek Reservation. Instead of an intense rivalry, play on the court was friendly. In the 8th grade game, Martina started the second game with the serve. Before she relinquished it back to Crow Creek, the score was already 18 – 0! Awesome job Braves!
Greetings once again from St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota. As Fr. Steve Huffstetter, SCJ is away for a donor lunch in southern California, I have the opportunity to share with you what has been happening over this past weekend. One piece of good news is that we had some much-needed rain which helped keep the dust down that has been blowing around recently.
I just returned from a prayer service that kicked off our celebration of Native American Day here in South Dakota. While the rest of the country celebrates Columbus Day, South Dakota, as part of a process of reconciliation, started by the late Governor George S. Mickelson, honors the heritage and culture of the Native Americans here in the state. Several of our students will be traveling to Kimball, South Dakota to do some powwow dancing for them and explaining various aspects of the Lakota (Sioux) culture and tradition.
This past Thursday, we saw our 7th & 8th grade volleyball teams have their first home game against Kimball. The 7th grade swept the Kiotes and the 8th grade won their match 2 games to 1. There were several rallies and good service streaks. Most of the teams games have been away, so as the month progresses we’ll be having more home matches.
On Friday, Peggy Thomas’ 4th graders had a ‘book share’ in which they read stories they had written based off of a basic three paragraph start which they then could take in any direction. They invited staff and other classes to come and listen to the stories and then discuss the stories and look at the pictures they had made to illustrate their story.
Two German exchange students and an advisor made it to St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus late Friday night. They were suppose to be here on Thursday but a delayed flight caused them to miss a key connection which resulted in their coming a day late. Father Steve and the group going to California had hoped to meet them as they arrived, to have supper prior to the departure of those going West, but the delay negated that. They did not get much chance to rest up since they went out to the Black Hills with the students of Hogebach Home to see the sights. They will be with us for about a week and a half and will attend Chamberlain High School with our students for a few days and get to know our program and then make a presentation of their school and the activities they are involved in Germany. St. Joseph’s sends over some of our students in late May and early June.
Our 5th graders took part in a program call Starbase which is a program to encourage interest in science and space. They had daily activities here on campus and then went to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota for a tour and some additional activities on base.
Several of our students are involved in the Explorers Club which meets weekly. One of our students, Isaiah, was elected sergeant-at-arms for the club. They have only been meeting for a few weeks with other students from the Chamberlain area and will begin to focus on what activities they can be involved with to help the local community.
On Sunday the SCJs who serve here in Chamberlain, at St. James Parish and St. Joseph’s, joined with those SCJs who serve the Indian reservations of Crow Creek and Lower Brule for a community meeting. It is our chance to get together each month and share what’s been happening and how each of us is doing. It is an important aspect of community to be present to each other as a sign of support and encouragement. We also have a chance to share a meal together and share some social time.
The rec department just sent out the schedule for the up-coming basketball season and the Inter-City league, which is a program to offer the opportunity for our students to get to know local Chamberlain students by playing together so that when they reach high school they will already know each other a bit. I help out with officiating and the schedules reminds me I have to get in shape to run up and down the court. The spirit is willing, but the knees can be weak.
Hope all of you have a wonderful week ahead. Know that we continue to keep you in our prayers thanking the Great Spirit for your generosity. May God continue to bless you all.
After two days away from the office, today was one of those days of catching up with paperwork, but more importantly getting around campus and seeing what everyone has been up to.
After school, I saw lots of the younger kids from the Benedictine Homes out riding bikes and jumping rope. The junior high girls at the Pinger Home had raked the falling leaves into piles. At first I admired their willingness to tidy the yard up, but when Mailana surprised me by jumping up from underneath the pile, I realized they had ulterior motives. But, play and fun is a worthwhile motive too!
I shot some baskets at Fisher Home (6th – 8th grade boys) and stayed for supper. The talk around the supper table was mostly about football, but I did get them to talk occasionally about school and family and other topics.
Since I enjoy sports, it is a nice ice breaker, but I want to get to know more about the students than who their favorite team is.
Tonight all four high school homes gathered for the midterm GPA (grade point average) announcement. Each quarter, we award a traveling trophy to the home with the highest average, and for a full year the Hogebach Home (junior & senior girls) have had a lock on the glittery hardware. In a big upset, the Sheehy boys pulled ahead 3.28 to 3.26, and will have bragging rights for at least a few months. I must say however, that the girls are now highly motivated to reclaim the prize.
Overall, our high school homes GPA is up almost .50 points over last year. They need to keep it up until the end of the semester of course, but this is a good start. We’re trying to create a school culture where good students are not made fun of, but kids are striving to do well. That has taken some doing, but hopefully we’re moving in the right direction. In December, there is also an academic competition against other Native American schools at the Lakota Nations Invitational, and we’ve got more students applying for that team than ever before. Thanks to our houseparents, tutors and counselors for challenging our youth to excel.
Continuing education is important for everyone, no matter what their field or profession. The past two days the Clergy of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota gathered for their annual conference with the Bishop. We also had a speaker who focused on spirituality and the everyday struggles we all go through to turn from evil and do what is right and good. Besides the intellectual and spiritual nourishment, just being together with a group of priests and deacons who are trying to follow God faithfully and serve people generously provides a good sense of support and camaraderie.
We’ve had morning and evening sessions, but free afternoons. Yesterday was a glorious, sunny day in the low 80’s. To take a break from all the sitting, I decided to enjoy a walk along the river, and I ran into a couple of other priests with the same idea. Fr. Jim and Fr. Tom were wonderful company on a relaxing stroll, with no destination to get to.
The meetings were held just across the Missouri River in Chamberlains’ sister city, Oacoma. This afternoon three of the guys had never seen St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus, so I led a tour through. We visited some classrooms and one of the Homes. People get a much better idea about our programs and approach when they can come out and see for themselves. Our staff and students also make good tour guides and helped answer all the questions our visitors asked.
This evening the Knights of Columbus grilled up some good South Dakota beef steaks for us to enjoy.
Yesterday was FAST (Families and Schools Together) graduation for 10 families who spent four weekends involved in on campus activities with their children. One of our students’ grandfathers, asked to stand before the crowd gathered in chapel and say a few words. In the old days, boarding schools didn’t involve families much at all, but he is grateful for the way it is now, and how we try to work side by side with families. He also gave a good witness talk about people’s ability to turn their lives around for the good – reminding us that it’s never too late, or too early to start walking on the good path.
After mass today, Mike and Christine, the houseparents of Afra Home (1st – 3rd grade girls) invited me over for brunch. Normally there are a dozen students in the home, but many were checked out and they were down to just three girls for the day – Kyla, Lynaiah and Selesia. While I like to go to the Homes when I’ll catch a majority of the kids there, it was nice being able to sit around one table rather than two, and have a series of conversations with my 7 and 8-year-old friends. I took some time to listen to them read afterwards, before it was time to go outside and play, and enjoy the unseasonable hot weather we’ve been having. It just doesn’t seem like October.
The past two days, I’ve been busy with a task most priests do a lot, but I don’t get involved with too much anymore – a wedding. Six months ago the local parish was in between pastors and since the couple didn’t know which priest would be here now, they asked if I would handle the preparation and the wedding. I knew Nicole as a parishioner in Reliance, just 15 miles west of here, when I was pastor in that area, so I was delighted to be asked.
The wedding rehearsal, went smoothly with even the flower girls and ring bearer handling their responsibilities. When we went for the rehearsal dinner however, the restaurant had forgotten all about the reservation for 30 and really had to scramble. Many people would have been furious, but these two families just made the best of it, ordering drinks and enjoying each other’s company until we were able to get served. I hope that Nicole and Steven can handle many frustrations and setbacks with the same ability to make the best of a bad situation.
The wedding itself was lovely. I particularly enjoyed visiting many of the cousins and neighbors that I hadn’t seen in a while. Congratulations, and prayers for the newlyweds.
I also did my fair share of office work the past two days. Yesterday, as school was about to end, I realized that I’d been so busy at my desk, I hadn’t even seen one student the whole day. I remedied that by standing in the hallway as classes were dismissed and students were heading to their homes. Even if it’s a brief encounter, kids appreciate being greeted by name, and having the chance to show off the drawing they did in art class, or the A they earned on a science project.
Today was also homecoming for Chamberlain High School. When our students make the transition from St. Joseph’s Indian School to the public High School, they generally fit in well and are accepted. Cody, one of our sophomores was recently voted class Vice President, and rode proudly on the Sophomore float. Many of our students put in lots of hours working on the floats and decorating for the dance and other activities. We dismissed our grade school classes a little early this afternoon, so the kids could walk downtown and take in the sights and sounds (and candy tossed to the sidewalks) of the parade.
At the big game, the football team had a one point lead at halftime, but faltered during the second half. Maybe next year!