Fr. Steve’s updates

Saturday is a good day for me to be in the office, with few calls or interruptions. I spent the afternoon finishing up the weekend homily and lining up things for church tomorrow.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A former houseparent is now working at a school in Wisconsin, and led a group with eight sixth grade girls to St. Joseph’s for a cultural exchange.

Yesterday, they shadowed our sixth graders to see what a day at St. Joseph’s is like in school. I watched them learning how to make dream catchers. The girls ate supper in the homes and over the dinner table could talk about the differences and similarities in their lives.

Today, the Wisconsin visitors played in a four team basketball tourney at our Rec Center. We must have shown good hospitality, because they were relaxed and fresh and beat our St. Joseph’s team quite handily. But, they left definitely more friends than rivals.

Saturday is a good day for me to be in the office, with few calls or interruptions. I spent the afternoon finishing up the weekend homily and lining up things for church tomorrow.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Friday, March 5, 2010

Each Friday during Lent, different classes have been leading the stations of the cross.

Today, Peggy’s fourth grade class did a Living Stations of the Cross. The students dressed up as Pilate and King Herod, Jesus, Mary, Simon and Veronica and helped us imagine what happened on Good Friday on the way to Calvary.

King Herod made an impression on me, with a very stern finger wagging in Jesus’ face. Every time Jesus fell and was on the ground I could see the smaller kids craning their necks or standing up to look down and see what was going on. The visuals are a good learning tool and engaged the other students well.

This evening was the first weekend of our spring FAST (Families And Schools Together) program. My only official duty was to lead a meal prayer, but it gave me a chance to visit each of the seven families and help welcome them.

Most families live one to two hours away,  yet have committed to the four weekend program, which includes structured activities designed to help them communicate with their children.

Some of the activities are lively and loud and done with the whole group. We sang songs and circled around to learn everyone’s names. Other times are structured so parents or grandparents can spend quality one-on-one times with the children to talk and listen without interruptions.

A residential school where many of the families cannot be very involved in the day-to-day life of their children presents unique challenges. We believe the more we can strengthen families, the more we can help our students in the long run.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A doctor came to see me today – but not because anything was wrong.

Doctor C from North Dakota is one of our donors who was passing through and stopped at our Museum to pick up some books on Native American culture. He wanted to say hi and see how I’m doing.

I’d just finished a meeting and had some time, so I was delighted to be able to meet him, chat for a while and thank him for his many years of generosity to the school. We get lots of donors stopping by over the summer months, but not so many while the snow is still flying. When I’m available, I enjoy showing folks the campus and programs they help make possible.

I’ve heard from many other donors as the get well cards come flooding in. I’m not attempting to answer them all, but I have read each one, and the thoughts and prayers are heartfelt and touching. One 87 year old woman sent along a lap rug that came with “a prayer for every stitch.” One man thanked me for the “honor of asking me to pray for you.”

Today was a busy day with staff birthdays – four sharing the same day. I visited Marina and Jona in the Development Office during break time, and co-workers provided treats to celebrate. I stopped in the classroom to wish our Special Ed teacher Erin a good day. Robb, a houseparent, wasn’t  on duty until evening, and I didn’t make it to see him.

The sun was out, snow continues to melt and it’s good just to get around campus and check on projects and people. Somebody told me that I belong to the “management by walking around” school of thought.

It’s true – I find out both what’s going well and what needs attention when I’m not bound by my office walls.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

After several days of feeling stronger each day, I felt very tired today all through morning meetings.

After lunch, I hit one of those walls where the only response was to sleep for a couple of hours. I still dragged after that, but know there are going to be those kinds of days and hope for more energy tomorrow.

I joined our freshmen girls for supper in the Giles Home. Now that basketball season is complete, the discussion at the table turned to who might try out for the track team, and a few might try their hand at golf.

Many of the girls will forego spring sports and try to concentrate on keeping up on their homework and bringing their grades up.

The girls studied after we ate, and I was able to recall enough High School science to help Kelly figure out some questions about density.

We have a High School Learning Center on campus to help our students. Tutors are available after school and in the evening hours. Math and science are the subjects where our students seek the most help.

The Learning Center is also a resource room for information about college and vocational training, as we want all our students setting goals and having some dreams that go beyond high school.

The Learning Center is now in temporary quarters, housed in what used to be the rec room in the basement of the Kateri Homes.

After finishing the Fisher Home renovation, we can’t rest on our accomplishment, but will get ready to remodel the Carola Home, which necessitated the Learning Center move.

The new space is not as ideal as the old, but we have to make due for the rest of the school year, until we can get back to the usual space in the fall.

I stopped in for a while to see how staff and students were adjusting, and offer encouragement.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I spent much of the day in my pajamas, but not because I’m feeling poorly or overly tired.

Today was Doctor Seuss’ birthday. To celebrate “Read Across America Day,” it’s our tradition at St. Joseph’s to make it “Wear pajamas to school day,” which makes it fun and different.

After my morning of meetings where I needed to dress a bit more formally, I put on my wildest PJs for the afternoon and made the rounds at school. I got lots of giggles and smiles when the kids saw me.

For 45 minutes toward the end of the day, teachers brought out armloads of Doctor Seuss books and students sat on the hallway floor to read aloud. The older students partnered up with younger ones and took turns reading and listening.

I enjoyed watching older siblings proud to spend time with a younger brother or sister. One of the core values we try to instill is generosity, and having older students invest themselves in the lives of the littlest ones on campus is rewarding for everyone involved.

As far as my health goes, I feel about 85% of normal. I’m getting spoiled with a nap right after lunch, but really need one.

In the evenings, I no longer schedule many activities. I mostly slow down and read. Maybe not Doctor Seuss books, but texts that nurture my spirit and imagination. If it’s good for kids, then we adults probably need it even more.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Monday, March 1, 2010

It’s not exactly a heat wave, but after many gray days, the sun shone brightly and the temperatures climbed into the mid 30’s. You could hear the sound of water gently running towards the Missouri River as the melting slowly begins.

I ditched the car and walked around campus for meetings.

Sunshine not only brightens the day, but is good for the soul.

Sunshine not only brightens the day, but is good for the soul.

I made the rounds at school today. There were no big events, just the daily learning that develops skills students will need for later. Our second graders were working on vocabulary words relating to government.

Macey was having difficulty recognizing the  word “allegiance” until I hinted that she says the word every morning at the start of the school day! “Oh yeah,” she said. “I pledge allegiance. . .” 

The other second grade class was learning about pronouns and sixth grade about suffixes, while the fourth grade class was in the kitchen learning how to make popcorn balls for their Personal Living Skills class.

In the office I ran into Amber’s mom, who lives over two hours away. She was here for a Case Service Plan meeting.

Each quarter, every student and their family meets with their teacher, a houseparent and their counselor to talk about how they are doing, making sure everyone has the same goals for helping the student learn and succeed. It’s best when families can come in and join in person, but sometimes they join the conference by phone. We work hard to find ways to network with families, even at a distance.

After school the students were outside in force, shooting baskets, sledding, making snowmen from the slushy wet mix. One of our houseparents, Frank, remarked that when the students are able to spend more time outside, the incidents of arguing and conflict go down proportionally.

A little sunshine goes a long way!

Fr. Steve’s updates

Sunday, February 28, 2010

In the first three grades, most of our students want a hug almost every time they see you. As students get older, they become more reserved.

Today after church was finished, a high school girl wanted to give me a hug of support. After she broke the ice, all the other high school girls in her home gave me one as well. We’re never too old for a good hug!

I ate lunch in the Raphael Home (1st – 3rd grade boys). When I arrived, they were busy building trucks and spaceships with Legos  and letting their imaginations loose. Their crashes were complete with sound effects!

During the meal, this group was most energetic and talkative, each one vying to tell me about something that happened to them before the last boy got done talking. We worked on being polite and listening and letting everyone get a chance to be heard.

After lunch came time for reading. Most of the boys favored books about nature and animals. Nathaniel was reading the children’s Bible we presented him with last weekend, especially interested in the story of Moses going to Pharaoh.

I walked home past Carola, one of our temporary housing units while other homes are being remodeled. Our maintenance staff has finished the Fisher Home remodeling ahead of schedule. The houseparents and students were packing excess staples, laundry soap, canned goods and the like, and starting the first stages of the move back in.

Spring Break is just two weeks away, and their goal is to get everything moved by then so they can enjoy the benefits of the new space when they return.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Saturday, February 27, 2010

While walking around campus today, I saw a truck driving slowly and stopping every so often to point and look at buildings.

I went over to say hello and found out the driver was an alumnus who went to school here in the early 80s and wanted to show his wife and son where he spent a lot of his growing up years.

I offered to let them in and show them around, but they didn’t have a whole lot of time. Just wanted to stop quick and remember. I enjoyed the brief visit and shared recollections.

While I enjoy the work at school with young people, I do miss parish life from time to time.

Before I came to St. Joseph’s, I worked just 30 miles away in churches on the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Reservations.

Today, a couple from Lower Brule celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and had a reception in town. I joined in the festivities and reconnected with the extended family. I knew many of the friends and neighbors and just spent time working my way around the tables and catching up with folks about their lives.

Some folks knew I’m battling cancer and asked how I was doing. Others saw my balding head and remarked that school must be much more demanding than parish life!

Besides campus staff, I’ve heard from lots of former parishioners who are offering their prayers and support these days.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Friday, February 26, 2010

I seem to get a little more zip and energy back each day. I have two weeks until my next treatment and appreciate the reprieve in between.

As I look at prayer requests coming in to the office, I am very aware of the many people who suffer from chronic illness, and don’t get breaks or periods where they feel close to normal. They are in my prayers and thoughts in a deeper way during this Lenten season.

I decided to visit one of the homes for supper and got turned down on the first two I called!

Actually, houseparents are looking out for me. We have strep throat and colds going around campus, and the first two homes had sick kids. They’re looking out for me and said I shouldn’t risk catching an illness.

I ended up in Cyr Home with the 4th and 5th grade boys. Since Friday meant no homework, the crew was engrossed in cartoons when I arrived – Sponge Bob Squarepants. I’ve never gotten into that show, but watch once in a while just to be able to speak the same cultural language of a 10 year old.

There is another, more important, cultural language we’re stressing here at St. Joseph’s, and Jay wanted to show me a project they’ve been working on in Native American Studies. They’ve learned the importance of the pipe in Lakota tradition.

Pipe bowls are carved out of pipestone, or catlinite, a soft red stone that can be cut with a saw or filed into whatever shape the artist wants to create. Our students were each given a bar of Ivory Soap and asked to carve their own bowls as an artistic exercise.

Jay told me respecting the pipe and what it stands for means living in a sacred manner and treating other people well.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Thursday, February 25, 2010

One of the dreaded parts of administration is when a staff member isn’t living up to expectations and has to be written up so they can attend to the areas they need to improve.

We have very high standards at St. Joseph’s, so improvement plans are put in place occasionally.

But today, I enjoyed a more joyful kind of write up! I wrote letters of congratulations to the winners of this year’s service awards.

We had a large number of nominations to look over. Staff are nominated by their peers for going above and beyond the ordinary effort and seting a good example for others.

So many of our team members have invested all of themselves in their efforts to serve our children well, and they are passionate about what we do at St. Joseph’s.

People from several different areas won – houseparents, teachers, development staff, a cook in the dining hall.

It takes all of us working together to meet the needs of our students. Some staff have added responsibilities of supervision, but we’re in this together. The custodian cleaning classrooms can do as much to contribute to morale and success as I can.

We need each other. And it’s good to stop once in a while and say thank you and congratulations to those who go the extra mile!