God, please keep my heart pointed in the right direciton

Wednesday January 12, 2011

After flights to Chicago and then a transfer to Sioux Falls, I was back home by late afternoon. I did a fair amount of reading in the air, and came across a remark by St. Thomas that the highest form of intelligence is intuition. Some things we know by study, others from experience. But sometimes, you just have to go with your gut tells you, even if you can’t say exactly why.

I often pray that God will keep my heart always pointed in the right direction.

I stopped in at Hogebach (HS Girls) for supper. Often with busy schedules, the High School girls eat and run but tonight, to the surprise of their houseparents, they sat and talked for a full hour and were almost late for their Daughters of Tradition meeting.

What got us started talking, was when I asked them what they would be most interested to see when they come back to our St. Joseph’s Indian School campus in ten or twenty years. The young women I spoke with have been here since at least third grade, and have noticed big changes in our high school program since they first came to St. Joseph’s Indian School. They wonder what it will be like a generation from now, and what changes will be made. They recounted funny stories that had us all laughing about things that they remember over the years. They spoke about jobs they would like to have if they came back to St. Joseph’s to work, which I always encourage. They shared about life at Chamberlain High School. When they are one of a few American Indian students in the classroom, it’s hard when they get asked to answer a question “from a Native American perspective” – like they are able to speak for a whole tribe of people. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a young person’s shoulders as they’re struggling to find their own voice and their own ideas. The time with them was a real treat.

Back to the home office

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In preparation for a meeting, I was supposed to fly into Milwaukee last night, but all the flight delays and cancellations meant staying overnight in Minneapolis. The rebooked flight finally got to Milwaukee this morning–as soon as the wheels hit the ground–everyone dug out their cell phones and buried themselves in the latest texts and email messages. Everyone in the plane sat shoulder to shoulder, but with no conversations or interactions. And we wonder why many people feel lonely even among crowds of people.

I came to meet with my Provincial Council about St. Joseph’s Indian School’s planning to expand the museum and add better space for our alumni to visit. A big part of the project also involves floor space to tell the story of the history of St. Joseph’s Indian School. This afternoon, I provided background material, cost estimates, drawings, and answered questions as best I could. Observations from the Council helped provide direction and guidance. I’m finding this building project is taking a lot of work on the front end, so that it can be as useful and good as we hope when it’s finished.

Our SCJ retirement home is in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin. I visited those members of our community and joined them for supper.  Many of them also served in South Dakota, at St. Joseph’s Indian School or one of the missions. They invested a lot of themselves among the Lakota (Sioux) people and reminisced about the early days of the work.

This was my first trip back to the “home office” in over a year, since before I got sick. Everyone was very curious about my health, and I provided the latest updates. Everyone remarks how “normal” I look and say that with a sigh of relief and delight.

A successful week in Florida

January 10, 2011

I’m at the Daytona Beach airport in Florida with two students and three other staff members. We had wonderful attendance at our two St. Joseph’s Indian School donor appreciation luncheons in St. Augustine. Now we’re trying to get home and all the flights through Atlanta have been canceled due to an ice storm. Our staff members want to quickly get home to their families as soon as possible. 7th graders Jalynn and Mikeal, on the other hand, see it as a great adventure and want it to keep going as long as they can. When the airlines informed us that if we drive north to Jacksonville, they would try to get us to Minneapolis via Washington DC, the girls actually jumped up and down with excitement. Mikeal wondered if we might see the President when we passed through the airport, but I had to explain how unlikely that was. Still, all our travel opportunities for Lakota (Sioux) children help them see the larger world with more understanding.

On Friday morning, when we flew down, we met our bishop Paul Swain, who was on his way to a retreat with other bishops, so we wished each other safe travels and promised prayers for each other.

We had three flights to get to Florida. This being Mikeal’s first airplane ride, I heard her let out a nervous giggle as the plane’s wheels left the ground and we started that magical ascent into the skies. It is a fun privilege to be with our young people at such times.

St. Augustine also had that magical quality as we arrived in the evening. The girls had never seen palm trees, let alone ones brightly decorated with Christmas lights. Much of the center of town is restored in a Spanish colonial style, with lots of history in the area. We learned about Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth, saw the Nation’s oldest schoolhouse, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and learned about the local tribes who populated the area long before it was “discovered”. Mikeal and Jalynn were more excited about shopping and souvenirs, but I think some of the history lessons will come alive for them as they look back and remember.

Sunrise came up over the ocean at 7:25 (6:25 our time), but the girls were game with getting up early and driving to the beach to welcome the day. Jalynn and Mikeal were most excited to see the sandpipers and seagulls on the beach. They filled a plastic bag with sand to take back with them, and threw in a few shells for good measure. Only a handful of others were on the beach at that hour, and for me it was a prayerful and reflective time.

About 125 donors came to the Saturday luncheon, and another 80 on Sunday. Florida is such a long way from South Dakota, most had never seen St. Joseph’s Indian School, but was delighted to visit with us, take pictures, and ask questions. When I was 12 or 13 years old, I would have had great difficulty speaking before such crowds, but our girls talked about their school day, life in the homes, and some of their future goals and plans. Then, they helped me answer questions from the crowd. Once they got past the nervousness of the first day, the second was even easier and better. I was proud of them. We met such kind and generous people. Some I remember from visits to the school, and a few of the folks have been to other Florida luncheons hosted by St. Joseph’s Indian School, so it felt like a reunion to see them again.

Saturday evening, a donor who runs a sanctuary for exotic animals who are injured and have no other place to go, invited us for a tour. My favorite was a black leopard who lost a leg to cancer but manages to keep on going despite its obstacle. They told us we would be able to walk along with their tiger cub, and I was expecting a cute little thing about the size of a stuffed animal. The one year old “cub” was much bigger than me and weighed around 300 pounds! Most of the sanctuary is run by volunteers, who are very passionate about their work. It’s inspiring to see people so dedicated in any form of charity and service.

The rest of the evening was spent in a second round of shopping. Since Chris, the Pinger Home 6 day houseparent, is such an avid golfer, the girls asked us to stop at the World Golf Hall of Fame so we could run in the gift shop and get a souvenir for him. Both of the girls wanted some things for themselves, but their first priority was finding small gifts for family and close friends. My leg started to get sore from all the roaming around, and I’m not much of a shopper anyway, so I read and rested in the hotel, and left Teresa, the houseparent chaperone to oversee the expedition and she was happy with that.

St. Augustine Cathedral/Basilica was just two blocks from the hotel, and we went to Sunday morning mass there. With excellent music, and good homily, and the historic nature of the parish, that too was a memorable experience.

Guest blogger: Fr. Anthony

Monday, January 10, 2011

As Fr. Steve is away for a St. Joseph’s Indian School donor luncheon in Florida, he asked me to bring you up-to-date on what happened over this past week here on our Native American campus here in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

The high school children returned on January 4th, to be ready for the opening classes on January 5th.   They got right into their basketball schedule, the Chamberlain High School girls’ teams had games against Crow Creek on Thursday January 6th, and then against Cheyenne Eagle Butte on Saturday January 8th, which was a double-header since the boys’ teams also played that day.  We have students on the teams at all levels: “C” team, junior varsity and varsity, cheerleading squads and team statisticians.  Many of the St. Joseph’s homes attend the games to be supportive of their housemates and friends.  The “C” teams and junior varsity teams won their games, but the varsity teams came up a bit short though they gave a good effort. One team even gave Cheyenne Eagle Butte’s defending LNI (Lakota Nation Invitational—an annual gathering of Native American schools which takes place in Rapid City, South Dakota and sponsors competitions in a variety of sports, academic, and heritage contests) champions a scare!

On Friday, the St. Joseph’s bowling season kicked off as 6th, 7th and 8th grade students joined with staff, and spent an enjoyable two hours on the lanes.  Each of the 8 teams had a staff captain and four students from the various grades.  The recreational center staff helps establish averages, so that when the teams face each other there is a little bit of balance.  Since this was the opening session, there were a number of gutter balls, but everyone enjoyed themselves and is looking forward to the season ahead.

Sunday January 9th, was the day we “celebrated” Christmas here on campus.  We began with Mass in Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel during which students acted out the Nativity Story and the coming of the Magi.  This year, we were honored to have Mrs. Rose Dillion Kredt attend the Liturgy.  She is a St. Joseph’s Indian School alumni and currently lives in Pierre, South Dakota.  She, her husband and others adopted a couple homes on campus to help provide Christmas gifts for the students.  We had her stand and be recognized. Then we had the students give her a round of applause to thank her for her generosity, and had her stand in for all our Benefactors who generously donated money or gifts for our students.  We are grateful to you all, and wanted to let you know that you were remembered during the Mass. 

Once Mass was over, the American Indian children returned to their homes for brunch and opening of gifts.  I had the opportunity to be with the students in three of our homes to watch the excitement as the gifts were opened.  Some homes had the children go one at a time, others had each student open one gift and then chaos took over as bows, ribbons, wrapping paper and scotch tape were pulled apart.  Your generosity was greatly appreciated in all the smiles and squeals of joy as gifts were opened; plans were certainly made how to spend the rest of the day playing with all the various gifts.

The weather made it easy to stay inside, as our area was hit with several inches of snow again.  It was falling gently as the students, staff and guests came to Mass. It was not as bad as the days before New Year’s when the Chamberlain area got hit with a foot of snow, but several inches did come down that have caused several schools in the state to close or run on delayed schedules.  I must give a shout out to our grounds crew members for their efforts to get the snow cleared enough to open up the campus.  They did a magnificent job.

I hope your weekend was enjoyable as well.  May God’s blessing continue to be with each and every one of you, and thank you for helping our Native American children in need.

 Sincerely,

 Fr. Anthony Kluckman, SCJ

Daily rhythm

Thursday January 6, 2011

There’s a daily rhythm to life in the homes that many people do not see. While walking home after morning mass, I passed Mary on the way to the health center. In the mornings, if children aren’t feeling well enough to go to school, or if they need a check up, glasses adjusted, ect  they check in with the school nurses so they can help our children. I passed the William Home (4th-5th grade girls) where the vacuum was running as one of the girls was completing her morning charge of straightening up the living room before going off to school. The Lakota youth all help with daily chores. At the Carola Home (high school boys) Kuwa was wet mopping the stairs leading up to the home, making sure the mud and salt tracked in from the snow was cleaned up.

In the mornings, the campus itself springs to life. Ja from the dining hall, was delivering fruit to the school for the morning snack and starting up the ovens to prepare the day’s lunch fare. Quentin our electrician, was doing a check on our amplifiers to make sure the geo-thermal heating system is keeping up with winter’s requirements. Mike was warming up the bus to make the morning run to the high school.

I needed to talk to Fr. Joe, who works on the nearby Crow Creek Indian Reservation and the  Lower Brule Indian Reservation. He took a few days get back to me because he has been very busy with funerals. Two were teenagers who died by suicide; the Native American community has also called together a task force to address the issue. In a small community of 1,800 people, besides those two tragic deaths, there were four other attempts. I remember a similar rash about 8 years ago, when I was pastor there. We see a lot of hurting and alienated young people in our midst, which makes our efforts all the more crucial.

Tomorrow, a new set of travels begin as a group of us make our way to Florida, for donor appreciation luncheons. I’ve spent the day trying to tie things up on my desk, which is impossible. Sometimes if feels like I just rearranged the piles to look more presentable, but I think I did actually reduce them a little this time.

Keeping the Lakota (Sioux) youth on track

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My usual Wednesday business meetings were much lighter than normal. I met our newest staff member Terry, who will help with all the paperwork involved in running the high school program, and keep in closer touch with the school. We’re also waiting for a new houseparent from Philadelphia, who arrives tomorrow.

Many of our families live several hours away, which makes the meetings we are able to have with them all the more important. I ran into one family after they attended a meeting with our staff regarding a medication being prescribed for their child. The parents were concerned because in some places medicine is too easily given without looking at all the options. We try many other possibilities first. They were impressed that they saw our consulting psychiatrist, together with a teacher, a houseparent and a family service counselor, all looking at the child’s behavior from different perspectives, and trying to come at the best solution. All their questions were addressed, and they felt very good about the consultation.

Supper tonight was with the Sheehy Home (high school) boys. They were more relaxed that usual, mostly because after the first day of class no one had any missing assignments or homework due. Some of them are starting new classes for the 2nd semester. The one that generated the most conversation was the Criminal Justice class, since they looked at the high rate of juvenile incarceration in South Dakota. All of them have friends or relatives who’ve been incarcerated, and we want them to keep on track to stay out of trouble and finish school and go on to better things.

Here to give, yet receive much

Tuesday January 4, 2011

I’m still in the process of answering the many Christmas cards that friends and relatives sent in. I figure I still have the 12 days of Christmas to complete the task. I like to read what people write and catch up on what they’ve been about since I’ve last heard from them. For some it’s been a whole year, but though distances may not allow us to see one another as often as we’d like, there is still an emotional and prayerful connection over the miles.

Our high school youth came back today. Chamberlain Public High School starts two days later than we did here at St. Joseph’s Indian School and only now are we getting back to our full complement of staff and students. Over the break, three high school students decided to continue their schooling elsewhere. But another three high schoolers who set off for “greener pastures” applied to come back and are with us again. There are many pulls and pressures on these young Lakota (Sioux) people, and no matter where they end up living and going to school, we encourage them to finish the race and fight the good fight. I visited two of the girls homes, Crane and Giles, to see what the young women had been up to over the break.

This evening one of our houseparents Jim, sent me an email. Two Lakota Sioux girls in his home, Jalynn and Mikeal, are preparing to represent St. Joseph’s at our upcoming donor appreciation luncheon in St. Augustine, Florida. I asked the houseparents to take some time and have the students practice with them. Jim thanked me for the “privilege” of listening to them, for he said it helped him see the girls in a new light, and he learned more about them. He told me that many times we think we are here to give, yet we receive so much more in return.

Welcome back

Monday, January 3, 2011

We began the day with our 3rd Quarter Prayer service – a nice way to ask God’s blessing on staff and students as we start a new year and a new semester. 27 kids were still not here when we began the day, but several have arrived since.

For me it was a day of “wandering”.  The family service counselors work in my building on campus, and every one of them was at work early sitting in front of their computer screens and reviewing a couple of weeks worth of campus emails. They’re also making contact with the families of any students who haven’t made it back yet. I poked my head into each office to welcome them back. 

Next, I had a meeting in the Development Office. While over there, I made the rounds and did some catching up with staff about how their holidays went. Our maintenance crew is remodeling the break room and redoing some of the office space, so I checked in on their work too. We’re still answering some of the Christmas mail, but making good progress. Donors were generous to us over the holidays, and we are prayerfully grateful.

I wandered around the school, welcoming students back, and meeting the new ones who have just joined us. Some of the students looked tired – not used to waking up so early while on vacation – but they’ll soon be back in the routine. I was always hard to wake up when it came to school, but did OK once I got there.

I stopped in the Rec Center to check out the gym floor that was redone over the break – looks sharp and ready for boys’ basketball season, which starts with practice today. Then I joined the Raphael Home (1st – 3rd grade boys) for supper. After reading time, I got challenged to a game of Connect 4 and had to match my wits against the kids. I set out to let them win a few, but quickly realized I had to concentrate to win any!

A lovely Christmas

Sunday, January 02, 2011

 

I made my first, long overdue visit home to Indiana for Christmas in 14 years. My family knew that when I became a priest, I wouldn’t be home for most holidays. After last year’s cancer scare, this was a special Christmas that I really wanted to be home for. I made the rounds with different members of my family and got to meet my newest grand-niece for the very first time. We had lots of laughs, ate too much, revisited the old stories and caught up with new events in our lives. My Christmas was lovely.

 

When I drove onto campus yesterday, our facility crew was hard at work removing snow. On New Year’s Eve, Chamberlain got about 8 inches, and winds whipped the drifts high. Interstate 90 was closed down for the day to prevent travelers from getting stranded out in the country. On my travels, the road surface itself was fine, but the biggest problem I encountered was snow blowing across the highway which caused white-outs at times. But the campus is shaping up, and everyone is able to get where they need to go today.

 

Our St. Joseph’s homes opened back up today at noon for the children. While most of the students take some time to trickle in, one 7th grade girl was at the Pinger home with her grandmother as soon as the houseparents opened the door. While there are always some tears of homesickness as students are dropped off and families part, generally our students are glad to come back. Today was a day to catch up with students and staff and share holiday stories and memories.

 

I ran into several houseparents at the dining hall, which also opened today so the Homes can do their grocery shopping and replenish refrigerators that sat empty for two weeks. Each of the homes stocked up on milk and eggs, fruits and vegetables and all the makings for the next several days of meals.