Fr. Steve’s updates

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The office is usually empty on Saturday mornings, and since there are no interruptions, it’s great time for me to go in finish lots of the 10 and 15 minute tasks that pile up. I felt a good surge of energy this morning, and actually found the bottom of my desk today!

Some of our students get checked out regularly and spend quality time with their families. Other students live four or five hours away from family or have home situations that don’t allow for a lot of family time.

For those reasons, we have a mentor program at St. Joseph’s, sort of like a big brother/ big sister match up.

I enjoy the chance to hear about life at school from a student’s perspective, so I support the program completely. Today, I took one of our students, RJ, downtown for a movie and a bite to eat.

Sixty of our staff members have also volunteered to take part in such a monthly activity with students who appreciate the outlet. To me, these selfless actions speak of the extra miles our staff is willing to go because they care about the well-being of our students.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Friday is my usual day off, a chance to get away and relax before the weekend duties.

With icy roads, and feeling tired, I opted just to stay home and read, exercise, and work on answering some of the many cards coming in.

I know I’m being prayed for in every corner of the country, in many different churches and denominations and among many prayer groups.

One prayer card sits before me and made me do a double take.

One of the sisters I used to work with sent me one of our St. Joseph’s Prayer for Healing Cards. It has my name as the one being prayed for, and my signature as the one leading the prayers.

I guess other folks who receive those cards these days can be reassured I’m praying extra hard for all the people on that list!

Fr. Steve’s updates

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I went up to the clinic for another blood draw today, and the white blood cell count must be climbing back to normal because they didn’t have to call back this time.

I’m feeling physically better each day, as I build up before the next cycle of chemo, but the biggest drawback is lack of energy, motivation and oomph.

When I feel really sick, I don’t feel guilty about not accomplishing much. But, now that I don’t feel “sick,” it seems like I should be doing more. But, I tire out so easily.

When mom and dad called to check in on me, Dad reminded me my main job right now is to get well. That’s a very boring job at this stage of the game, but Dad is right!

After school today, the 1st – 3rd grade honor roll students had a pizza party to celebrate their success.

I initially sat with some of the boys as we gathered around the tables, but once the video started playing, they ditched me to move closer to the action on the TV screen.

After a few minutes, two tender-hearted girls – Sasha and Jayda – saw I was sitting alone. They moved their chairs over to keep me company.  We watched some of the movie but also talked about school and families and many things.

How often I’m impressed by the kindness of a child!

The girls reminded me the importance of looking around a gathering and seeing who might be feeling alone or left out and reaching out to them.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Wednesday February 3, 2010

Today was our school spelling bee.

Initial rounds were done in the classrooms; then, each grade sent the top 6 finalists to the school gym for the friendly competition in front of cheering classmates.

Fr. Anthony and I took turns as MC, which helped me from playing out.

Some of the matches were decided quickly; others went round after round to determine a champion.

The last group was, of course, the 8th graders. It came down to 4 students who went many rounds without missing.

The difference in their personalities showed even in how they spelled.

Cody is easy-going, had fun and grinned ear-to-ear as he got each word right. Amber is shy, and the judges could barely hear the letters as she successfully handled her words. Erica spelled perfectly; yet, each word finished came with a big question mark. Christian had bold confidence as he rattled off the words.

We got through the regular list and moved on to the challenge words, which caused two students to falter. It came down to Cody and Amber.

Both missed a few words, but since their competitor couldn’t finish the word, the spelling be went on.

Finally, Amber got a winning word right, but two of the judges couldn’t hear what she said.Fr. Steve is looking for the correct spelling!

I was right next to her and said, “I heard you do it right, Amber; now, go ahead and show the judges you can do it.”

She repeated her spelling more boldly and won!

It’s so satisfying when our students overcome their fears, shyness, insecurity, whatever, and find ways to succeed. Some students are more gifted and talented, but all generally need affirmation and encouragement.

I suppose that’s a good thing for all of us to experience from time to time.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

After I felt the first tufts of hair fall out, I went to the barber shop and got a good buzz cut – the kind dad used to give us to keep us cool in the heat of summer – no sense messing around.

I don’t know if the buzz was the best idea given our South Dakota winters, but there are plenty of knit caps around as the need arises!

Today, I got to read the winning essays for the Catholic Schools Week writing contest.

Students wrote how being at St. Joseph’s helps them develop faith, knowledge, discipline and morals. Their reflections reassured me we’re passing along some good values. 

Because we accept students based on need rather than religion, many of our students come from other faith traditions, which we respect and work with.  The four keys we stress – faith, knowledge, discipline and morals – will help anyone make their way through life regardless of tradition or denomination.

Tuesday is also one of my heavier meeting days.

There are so many day-to-day things to attend to while running a school. But, our work also requires planning and thinking ahead.

While there’s so much of the school year left, I just reviewed a draft of next year’s schedule. We also started planning for next year’s budget and discussed the timing for our home remodeling projects.

My stop at the campus print shop reminded me they too are working ahead … on our graduation mailing for May. As we adults look ahead and plan for the future, we also find it helpful this time of year to remind the children in our care of the long-term goals and prizes that will come with graduation if they faithfully study and learn along the way.

Personally, with this illness, keeping my eyes on the long-term goals helps me get through the daily struggles, too.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mike is our Director of Child Services and handles all the programs related to our students.

We hadn’t met for a couple of weeks while I was getting diagnosed and starting treatment, so I stopped by his office to check in. After a while, he asked the question he pops on me every once in a while.

“So, what’s your sense of how things are going on campus?”

I usually have a great handle on both successes and struggles.

But since the new semester started, with my illness and absence, I really don’t have that sense of what most needs attention.  When I do get around campus, because staff care so much, they focus the conversation on my health needs and how I’m doing. 

It takes a little more work now turning the conversation back to how they’re doing, and what we can work at doing better together. But, staff are stepping forward to address problems that arise and build on the successes we have. There’s a good sense of team here, so the ball gets carried forward whenever a teammate goes down.

When I ran out of mental energy today, I switched to a simple task – putting several batches of photos in albums. Brought back lots of good memories of the times and events we celebrate as a campus-wide community.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sometimes illness has dramatic effects; other times, it affects your life in little ways, unnoticeable to others.

When I stood before the mirror this morning and ritually picked up the can of shaving cream, I rubbed my hand along my cheek.

For the first time in about 30 years, I didn’t need to shave. My beard is back to the peach fuzz I had as a teenager.

It’s my hope the chemo that’s inhibiting my fast-growing hair cells is making an even bigger impact on the fast-growing cancer cells.

The kids see me wearing a small pedometer on my belt and will often ask, “How many steps today?” That’s always followed by a request to let them loop my pedometer in over  their belt and run a lap around the playground to see how many steps they can accumulate.

I normally average 15,000 steps a day, (not counting the ones the children add) but lately I’ve logged only a small fraction of that. Today, I only needed one nap and was out and about campus more.  One small step at a time, repeated over and over again, gradually adds up. One day at a time!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I hear from many people around the country who have never actually gotten to visit St. Joseph, yet it holds such a special place in their hearts.

One of the more enjoyable activities I get to take part in is our donor appreciation luncheons that we hold in different parts of the country. Meeting people face-to-face, saying thanks and answering their questions about our school is memorable for me and for them.

Next weekend, I was scheduled to go to Naples, Florida. This morning’s thermometer reading of 2 degrees certainly made me long for warmer weather.  But with my treatments and recovery, I’m going to have to curtail my travels for a few months, and other staff will have to carry on the St. Joseph’s message.

Kelsey and Erin, our  two high school girls who are traveling to Florida, got together with me today for some practice time.

Fear of public speaking is a hurdle, but with encouragement and practice, our students usually do a good job. I emphasize that if they can relax, be themselves and talk from the heart, people will be very interested while they respect and value what our students have to say.

When we really listen to our young people, we open doors of self-confidence and self-awareness for them.

Besides asking Kelsey and Erin to represent St. Joseph’s well, I also made them promise to have a fun time and enjoy the wonders in a new part of the world they’ll encounter.

Fr. Steve’s updates

I went to the hospital yesterday for a blood draw to check my platelet count. While it’s not as high as they’d ideally like, I’m not running a fever and have so far avoided infection.  I’m tired, and need several naps throughout the day.

One of the little vices in my life that I freely admit to is using too much hot water in the shower. It’s one of my thinking times where I run over all I hope to accomplish in the day and daydream about what’s possible.

By day’s end, there’s always several things on my “to do” list that don’t get finished, and when I lay down at night I resolve to go at it strong tomorrow.

Now that I’m running about 70% of my usual energy level, that list of unfinished business gets longer and longer.

Staff has been great about handling what they can. The on-going challenge for me is accepting not what I want to do, but what I am able to do.

I must learn to let go with acceptance and patience. I have a tendency to want to accomplish great things, but at times like this, I’m reminded of the example set by St. Therese, the Little Flower.

It’s not the size of the deed, but the amount of love you put into it. Small things done for God are what are most beautiful and important.

            Small things done for God are what are most beautiful and important.


If I can only do a few things, but do them with great love, that’s what God asks today.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Wednesday afternoon, January 27, 2010

I took an afternoon nap so I’d be ready to celebrate with our A and B honor roll students at a special banquet in the dining hall.

All the students who made A and B honor roll got to invite a favorite teacher, counselor or houseparent to the festive meal. The theme was “Superheroes,” and I smiled at the staff dressed like Superman, Zorro, Wonder Woman and the like. Really, our staff are the heroes who brighten the lives of the young people we’re entrusted to serve.

Besides a certificate, we had the T-shirt shop in town make a batch of colorful “SuperStudent” shirts for the honor roll students. A nice cultural tradition we started years ago is that each student who makes honor roll is also honored with a feather inscribed with their name and date. It’s our hope all the students will earn many feathers for honorable achievements throughout their lives.

Academic Banquet 2010

As I walked to the office to put my things away and call it an early evening, I ran into our group of high school boys getting ready to start their “Sons of Tradition” class, which will help them learn more about their Lakota cultural heritage.

They asked me if I could spare a few minutes and join them in their opening prayer circle. We stepped outside onto patch of ground partially cleared of snow, and in the brisk night, a bundle of sage was lit.

Each of us purified ourselves and placed ourselves in a prayerful space. Each person offered prayers for their family and friends; the young men also offered prayers for me, that I will continue to heal and get well and beat this cancer.

I got a bit emotional, but in a good and healing way. It was overwhelming to feel their power and support. I want to be a strong witness and role model for each of them as they start to make important choices about their own lives.

Wednesday morning, January 27, 2010

We published the blog yesterday, and so many life-giving messages have already come streaming in.

I recognized names of friends I’ve met at our powwows, while dropping by for a campus visits or at donor appreciation luncheons. Yet, there are so many more folks I’ve never met personally who are such an important part of St. Joseph’s tiyospayeextended family.

Some messages inspire; some offer hope, while others give advice and encouragement. Many of you have been caretakers for a loved one and others are survivors with great hope. Some messages are fun and bring a needed smile. Thank you for all your care!

One of the hidden blessings of being ill may be a greater awareness of the many people around us who suffer daily. It prompted me to call a friend who recently lost his mom and see how he’s doing.

There is so much love and good will around; yet, there are always people who suffer alone and would so appreciate the outstretched arm of friendship. I’ll try to be more aware of people that may be alone and not have the people and resources I’ve been blessed with.

As I have energy, I’m trying to do what I can around campus.

I stopped in with the first graders, who were playing a game of bingo using long and soft vowel sounds rather than numbers so they can learn their phonics. I sat to play a round myself, and Sasha wanted to share some of her prizes with me. I didn’t win but came home with two Tinkerbell stickers to put on my notebook. It’s heartwarming to be the recipient of a child’s generosity.

I also got to some overdue paperwork. One pile I was happy to sign was the pile of grants submitted for our winter college scholarship awards. We have 19 alumni in college right now in fields such as business, nursing, law enforcement, electronics and education. It’s satisfying to share their journey and encourage them to dream and achieve.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I came home to Chamberlain from my first round of chemotherapy on Saturday, and return for another cycle in 3 weeks. The challenge now is to keep eating and not lose weight when I don’t feel all that hungry. I’m not in any pain, but I feel tired, and try to pay attention to when my body tells me to rest. On Sunday Fr. Anthony led the mass, and I was able to concelebrate. Just being with the students and staff during that time of prayer, and getting a big pile of homemade get well cards at the end of church was a great boost to my spirits.

We have very talented and committed staff at St. Joseph’s. I know that when I am not able to be here for periods of time, the important things always get done. And now that I’ve been with them for 5 years, we have a shared vision of where we’re trying to take the school. Beyond the meetings and paperwork, one of the best parts of my job is just walking around campus and offering encouragement, and checking on how plans and projects are going. Monday morning I spent about an hour at the office, visiting staff, and in the afternoon I made rounds at the school to see what the students have been up to. While the doctors can prescribe the drugs, the children’s’ hugs and greetings were even more therapeutic. As always, there are many activities on the schedule each day. As my energy allows, I’ll be involved with what I can.
Monday, January 25, 2010

Ever since I joined religious life 28 years ago I have been a faithful daily journaler. I reflect on the blessings each day brings, what I learn about life, God and myself, and also pay close attention to the struggles and difficulties I need to work through. When I finish one volume and open the pages of a new one, I pause and wonder what God will write in the next chapter of my life?

When I finish one volume and open the pages of a new one, I pause and wonder what God will write in the next chapter of my life?


Cancer! – Mxyoid Liposarcoma. Discovering I have cancer just a month ago marks one of those big life turning points. When illness strikes you wonder how that’s part of God’s plan, or where that difficult journey will take you. Yet it’s part of the human condition we all share in. I was very sad and scared when I first heard. I’m hopeful now because the doctors believe we’re headed toward a cure, but it will take several months of chemo, radiation, and eventually surgery to treat this right.
Here at St. Joseph’s, I get letters every day from people asking the children and I to pray for healing, comfort, patience, and hope that so many people need when faced with health concerns and personal problems.  As I continually pray for those needs, I ask for your prayers in return.  I know my recent illness has already deepened my sense of compassion and solidarity.
I won’t be able to answer everyone’s notes personally, but with this space, I, or staff, can give you updates, and also give you a chance to write anything you may wish to share.