Fr. Steve’s updates

Fr. Steve reminds himself the need for patience as he prepares for five weeks of radiation.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

During school vacations, we keep one or two homes open for the students whose family situations make it better for them to stay here.

I had Mass for the 14 students and three staff – a more intimate gathering than usual. Later, I joined them for dinner.

Break Home is a lot more like family because you have boys and girls, and the age range is wider – 2nd through the 8th grade.

A lot of activities can be shared by kids of all ages – playing Uno or Guitar Hero, taking walks, reading a good book or helping out with chores around the house.

Tomorrow, I take off for five weeks of radiation, so I did laundry, packed and tried to tidy up my office as best I could.

What I think I’ll need more than anything is patience – to let the doctors and medicine and process unfold and take its course.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Fr. Steve shares the benefits of small-town living when his high school friend, Patrick, stops by for a visit and attends a fund-raising event for two local men with illnesses.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Patrick, a good friend from high school, was in the area for his work and stopped by for a delightful visit.

This evening I dragged him along to the small town of Reliance, 15 miles west of Chamberlain, where a fundraising dinner was held for two men in the community who have serious health problems and large medical bills.

I figured the event would give Patrick a taste of local color, and he was not disappointed. Tables were set up in the volunteer fire hall, and the line stretched out the door and down the block. For a free will donation, you could try all the mountain oysters, local wild game and side dishes you cared to eat.

Our part of South Dakota is known mostly for pheasants, but they also had venison, antelope, goose, wild turkey and turtle soup, which I’d never had but found very tasty. A big pot of chili awaited those who were not feeling so adventurous.

I used to be pastor at the parish in Reliance and enjoyed reconnecting with folks. But, in a small town, no one is really a stranger, and people made Patrick feel at home and animatedly told stories of life on the prairie weathering blizzards, helping birth calves and being good neighbors.

I know the families of the two men dealing with illness were inspired by their neighbors’ generosity.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Fr. Steve reflects on his parish days on the reservations of South Dakota as he says goodbye to staff and children as they head out for Spring Break.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring Break started today!

With the cold and gray weather we’ve had most of the winter, I’m not sure if it was students or staff who were most anxious to have a week off.

I had lunch in the dining hall where many of the families who came to pick up their children joined us for lunch. Some are folks I know well from my parish days on the rez. Others I’m meeting for the first time. I made the rounds and said hello and wished everyone a safe and fun break.

Our high school students go to the public school and have a different schedule, so they’re still around campus. While school may be out of session, our maintenance staff and business office are going full speed ahead, as the activity around campus never totally stops.

Fr. Steve’s updates

The Priests of Sacred Heart sponsor the Sacred Heart Center in Eagle Butte, SD. It includes a shelter for victims of domestic violence and a wide range of social outreach programs – so needed on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Priests of the Sacred Heart sponsor the Sacred Heart Center in Eagle Butte. It includes a shelter for victims of domestic violence and a wide range of social outreach programs – so needed on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

I’m on the Board of Directors and was scheduled to spend a good chunk of the day attending the board meeting via telephone. But, the cold rain we got today turned into a winter storm further north, and the meeting had to be postponed.

It gave me some extra time to catch up on things in the office.

Most of our 4th and 5th grade girls signed up for a two-week gymnastics camp after school. It was sponsored by the Chamberlain High School gymnastics coach and team to give the youngsters an introduction to the different apparatuses and pique their interest for the future.

My favorite was watching our girls on the uneven parallel bars, reaching on tip toes for the high bar (with two spotters to help of course) and learning to do a stomach roll. They were scared at first, but giggling with delight after the flip and ready to come back for more.

One of our high school girls was on the gymnastics team this year. It’s good to introduce our students to a variety of sports and activities they may never have tried before in case they find a passion for it.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Our H.R. Director came for our weekly meeting. She’s swamped with getting updated health plans and employee handbooks out, so she employed some of our high school students to sort, collate and staple. Students were grateful help and to earn some spending money.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Our Human Resources Director came in today for our weekly meeting. She’s swamped with getting updated health plans and employee handbooks out, so she employed some of our high school students to sort, collate and staple. The students were grateful both to help out and to earn some spending money.

We recently hired a new Family Service Counselor, who hopes to start in a month or so.

By starting before the close of the school year, she will be able to meet students before summer break and do some job shadowing before fall rolls around.

Now, we’re advertising for several houseparents to replace the ones who are retiring or moving on to other things.

One of St. Joseph’s strengths is that our houseparents stay far longer than the national average of a couple of years.

Steve in the Dennis Home, for instance, is in his 14th year here and his 11th year in the same home. To celebrate his birthday, he has the tradition of cooking up a big batch of his famous ribs and inviting all the students at St. Joseph’s that he’s had in his home to come to the feast.

While he works with 1st – 3rd grades now, 36 of his “alumni” from 1st through 11th grade gathered in the skate room to eat, laugh, and share stories. Steve told the juniors that next year he’ll have someone represented in all 12 grades.

I had it easy at the party – didn’t even have to lead the meal grace, since the eldest student was asked to do that honor.

All of the kids crowded around Steve for a group picture afterwards. Our staff form some lasting relationships with the children they’re entrusted to care for.

One of the staff made me grin by saying that with my new hairdo, (or lack-of-hair-do) I now look like Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek. I always admired his leadership abilities anyway. Make it so!

Steve's group photo

Fr. Steve’s updates

The next cycle of treatments is going to cause me to be away from school for several weeks, so this week has included lots of wrap up meetings and contingency planning.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The next cycle of treatments is going to cause me to be away from school for several weeks, so this week has included lots of wrap up meetings and contingency planning.

At our Child Service Team meeting all the department heads went around the table to give updates – School, Residential, Clinical, Pastoral Care, High School and Admissions/ Alumni. There are always setbacks and student issues, but together we find ways to meet these challenges. These team members do a great job working together to keep our programs running, if not always smoothly, at least in the right direction.

The health care center on campus takes care of the children’s daily needs, but our students also come down with illnesses that require hospital care from time to time.

Erin, one of our high school students, had surgery today to remove gall stones. When I stopped in to see how she was doing, Erin’s grandmother held up a jar with gall stones the size of shooter marbles. Erin will have to take it easy for a few days but says she feels a lot better already.

Leahanna and Angela are the two junior high girls selected to represent St. Joseph’s at the April donor luncheons in Scranton, PA. To start their preparation, we met in the chapel to get used to speaking in a larger space with a microphone. They talked of their daily routines in the school and homes and shared about their culture and their goals for the future.

The winter sports awards were handed out after school at the rec center. It’s usually obvious who’s going to get the Team Leader/ MVP award, but just as important to me are the awards for Best Attitude and Most Improved.

In life, those are the qualities you need to keep trying to better yourself and find ways to encourage and bring out the best in your teammates.

Our first through third graders are all invited to take part in Pep Club, almost everyone joins. Our youngest students enthusiastically lead cheers and add lots of spirit to the games. After the awards, they showed off the Pep Club medallions they proudly wore around their necks during the year.

First grader Pearl got most improved since she didn’t know any of the cheers at the beginning of the year and has since learned them all. Not too many students get rewarded for being loud and boisterous, but those qualities earned Devon the spirit award, as you could definitely hear his cheers.

The junior high Fisher boys moved into their newly remodeled home ahead of schedule. When I stopped in, they were at the dining room tables, doing their homework. The new floor plan brings much more light into the rooms and brightens up the common areas. They still have some unpacking and settling in to do, but are well on their way to making the house their home.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Monday, March 8, 2010

Today was a Day of Recollection for our local SCJ priests and brothers.

To help us enter into this season of Lent more deeply, we invited Fr. John, one of our confreres from Milwaukee, to give us a series of reflections.

He chose the beatitudes as found in Matthew’s gospel to remind us how we’re supposed to model our lives.

In the places he’s lived and worked, Fr. John showed a poverty of spirit by taking time with people who were poor and overlooked. We lived and worked together in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

When hungry people came to the door asking for a sandwich, he fed them, but also gave them some quality time and tried to get to know them as people. He’s still very fondly remembered there and in the other places he’s been.

I can get busy with many activities and accomplish many things. But, it’s still so important not to lose sight of the people whose path crosses mine.

Those I meet might be struggling, mourning, sick or afraid. I won’t know that unless I’m willing to give them my time, and listen and get to know who they really are.

Having a day to pray, and leave work behind, is always a blessing, but often a mixed blessing. I say that because sometimes keeping busy helps me to forget about the cancer, and I don’t want to be thinking about it constantly.

The times of quiet prayer increased my awareness of the fear and anxiety that is still within me. But prayer is also a place to find strength and trust and the invitation by God to turn it all over.

… prayer is also a place to find strength and trust
and the invitation by God to turn it all over

That’s an ongoing process I keep working at.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Sunday, March 7, 2010

We had a smaller than usual crowd in church today.

Each of the homes has enough recreation money budgeted to take an occasional trip to one of the bigger cities in South Dakota like Sioux Falls or Rapid City. The children and houseparents attend church somewhere along the way and take part in fun, educational activities.

With a hint of spring in the air, a few homes took advantage of the improved weather and hit the road.

One of the homes still had some gift cards they got for Christmas, and the girls were looking forward to shopping for clothes and toys.

I spent the afternoon with Robert, the student I’m matched with as a mentor.

First, we went to the gym to cheer on our 7th and 8th grade girls who were playing in the championship weekend of our inter-city basketball league. About half the girls involved are St. Joseph’s students; the other half of the girls are from Chamberlain. It’s good seeing them play together while building trust and friendships.

Then, we went to Chamberlain’s bowling alley to join with others in the mentor program for a couple of hours on the lanes. At such gatherings there’s a lot more cheering on than competing. There’s little pressure and just a good time to be had by all. Maybe when I have the surgery I will see if the doctor can adjust my hook so I get more strikes instead of my usual 8 or 9 on the first ball!

On the weekends, I don’t have to get up as early as on school days. With the chance to sleep longer, my energy level has improved.

I’ve made it through the last couple of days without needing any naps. I have a few minor side effects from the medications, but for now, I’m feeling closer to normal. I start back up with treatments in about a week.

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.