A Conversation with a St. Joseph’s Indian School Alumna

Mary Jo stands by Andy, St. Joseph’s Alumni Coordinator, after she accepted her Distinguished Alumni Award in 2021.

Mary Jo Lends His Horse Dupris attended St. Joseph’s Indian School from 1991 to 1997. In 2021 she and three other healthcare workers were named St. Joseph’s Distinguished Alumni. 

We recently asked Mary Jo a few questions about her time at St. Joseph’s and what she has been up to since she graduated. Her answers were so inspiring that we wanted to share them with you.

We hope you enjoy hearing what she had to say.  

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Q: Describe how you felt on the first day at St. Joseph’s Indian School.
A: I grew up in the dormitory since I was in first grade. My Grandmother was a dorm matron in Eagle Butte, SD, where we lived [before coming to St. Joseph’s] so I was used to being away from home and my family. Before fourth grade, my family told me they were sending me to St. Joseph’s Indian School. I had never been to St. Joe’s, but my entire family went to school there, so for us, St. Joe’s was tradition. My mother had a going away party for me and the next day, I loaded my bags into the trunk of our car and with my cousin and best friend by my side, I made my adventure to this new life.

When I arrived at St. Joseph’s Indian School, I was anxious. My mom drove me around campus, and it was beautiful. The Missouri River was the front yard view. The environment was clean and well-kept compared to my reservation. There were these huge homes with basketball courts for each and vans in front. When I walked into my new home, I felt so lucky that this is where I would be living. The dormitories where I lived the last three years on my reservation were made of brick and were cold. They didn’t feel like a home setting. My St. Joseph’s home was like an actual home. The kitchen had appliances I had never seen before. It was very fancy to me, and I loved it.

Q: Describe what your favorite subject (or teacher) was and why?
A: My fourth grade teacher, Mary Jane Alexander, was my favorite teacher. In history class, she showed us pictures of her trip to Ireland and France. I didn’t know anyone who traveled outside the country, so to see pictures of these beautiful places was amazing. When you come from struggle, only in your wildest imagination would you dream of visiting other countries. One of the pictures that stuck out to me was the healing waters of Lourdes, France. I was just in awe of the story of the Lady of Lourdes that I added France to my bucket list. A fun side note, I named my youngest daughter Lourdes.

Q: Describe how important the cultural lessons were to you.
A: My first year at St. Joe’s, we had a speaker by the name of Dallas Chief Eagle. Dallas was a world-renowned hoop dancer who spent a couple of days with us and taught us how to hoop dance. I was a jingle dress dancer so dancing was one of my favorite things to do. The reservation will always be home and even though I grew up in the dorms in Eagle Butte, I still would get homesick for my family, my home and my people. To have that connection was very important. I’m thankful that St. Joseph’s incorporates the Lakota culture with the everyday teachings. I learned not only to wash my own clothes, cook and clean but we would smudge with sage, pray and learn about our Lakota cultural history. St. Joe’s makes it a priority to include our Lakota traditions.

On Saturdays for church, we would sing our Catholic hymns and read scriptures from the Bible, but we also had one of Crow Creek’s respected Lakota Elders, Clark Zephier and his two sons, come to the Catholic Church and sing our Four Direction song. The Lakota Four Direction song allows us to thank Tȟuŋkášila — Creator — for the blessings he provided for us in all four directions, including Father Sky and Mother Earth. St. Joseph’s Indian School includes the Lakota values in every part of their teachings, and I respect that.   

Q: Describe how you felt when you graduated from St. Joseph’s?
A: I am very proud to be an alumna of St. Joseph’s Indian School. At St. Joe’s, I met people who became my family. I learned to be self-sufficient and received a wealth of love and compassion from the staff. I give my Grandparents and St. Joseph’s Indian School all the praise for the person I am today. I am truly very blessed and proud of who I am.

Q: Describe your current life. 
A: I am a Nurse and work at the Cheyenne River Health Center in my hometown of Eagle Butte, SD. My grandfather taught me at a young age that whatever I decided to do with life to make sure I chose a career to help my Lakota people. The St. Joseph’s Indian School staff dedicated their time for the betterment of our future. Every day, St. Joe’s students are surrounded by a community of people who want the best for their students. The love and support received from my houseparents, teachers, the staff really impacted my life to want to be that kind of person for my Lakota people. As a Nurse, I go to bed each night knowing I make a difference on my reservation. Because of the kindness I received at St. Joseph’s Indian School, I pursued a life in giving back and working for my Lakota people.

Q: Why is St. Joseph’s important today and for future generations?
A: The educational system on the reservations is poor. The environment on the reservation is unfavorable for our Lakota kids to flourish, and some of the children will only learn how to survive day-to-day. St. Joseph’s Indian School provides their students an environment to succeed. St. Joe’s gives the Lakota children hope that even though we come from struggle, with the right tools, we can still succeed. 

Q: What would you say to a donor who supports St. Joseph’s? 
A: I would like to give thanks to the benefactors for giving me an opportunity to live in an environment full of opportunity. With your help, I was given the confidence and the encouragement to fulfill my dreams. Your donations provided all the tools needed to be successful. I have great memories of my years at St. Joe’s. St. Joseph Indian School is my second home.

Philámayaye — thank you — to Mary Jo for sharing her words and for supporters for helping provide her and other students with opportunities for a brighter future.

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

One thought on “A Conversation with a St. Joseph’s Indian School Alumna”

  1. Makes me feel good to know that Mary Jo was loved and taught good things. I have been a donor to St Josephs for quite awhile and have always felt that we should help the kids who our for fathers treated very poorly…..

    Jeanne

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