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.