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!

Fr. Steve’s updates

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Today’s mail included a stack of get well cards about 6 inches high from our supporters.

As with this blog, I can’t answer every one personally, but I do read the thoughtful and caring words that are sent my way and draw strength and inspiration from them.

Fr. Tom, the provincial superior of our Priests of the Sacred Heart community, is here for a visit. Primarily, he wanted to check on how I’m doing health wise and how I’m handling the cancer.

Physically, I feel a little stronger each day, at least until the next treatment. Emotionally, I’ve gotten lots of support to pull me through. Spiritually, I do have the occasional episode of “why me?” but overall it has deepened my trust and reliance on God.

When I start radiation March 16, I’ll be away for several weeks. Because my treatments will require me to be away from St. Joseph’s for some lengthy times, we also talked practically about who’s in charge when decisions need to be made.

Fortunately, I am blessed to work closely with a highly qualified and caring team of dedicated people. From our students and staff to our fundraising efforts, I know everyone will be taken care of and everything will be well run.

Knowing these daily bases are covered, frees me up to focus on healing and getting well. And, when I’m back on campus recuperating, the team spirit allows me to continue the healing process and give my attention to the students, staff and donors who need it.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One short nap before lunch and nodding off for a few minutes while watching the news – my energy level is climbing!

One of our long range strategic planning goals is to look at replacing the old and outdated storage for our museum, and in the process, adding space for a historical center on campus.

We hope our alumni would find it a natural gathering place to see pictures and artifacts from the past that they helped create, and visitors might enjoy also seeing how the school has changed and evolved over the years.

We’re still probably a couple years away, but we’re working with a group that is helping us plan. They were on campus today, and I was part of a brainstorming group most of the day. We also talked with an architect to get a lot of the practical questions in the mix.

Parts of our story are hard – children were punished for speaking Lakota in the early years. It was 1976 when St. Joseph’s started Lakota language classes.

Parts of our history inspire – when a fire destroyed the main building in 1931, despite the Depression, people had the faith to carry on and rebuild.

The children and people who have passed through our campus are the main characters in our story. As I learn more about the past, I’m grateful that I too am part of this story.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Monday, February 22, 2010

I still need my naps but am generally feeling pretty good.

The doctors ordered rest, but also told me to keep exercising as I’m able, so after supper, when I felt myself slowing down again, I kicked it up a notch with some light exercise instead. The more I can stay in shape now, the better it will help me bounce back after the ordeal I know surgery will be.

Exercise is also helpful in overcoming the blues that illness can cause.

Here at St. Joseph’s, we celebrate those occasions when the paint and dust quit flying, and we finish one of our many projects on campus.

In our business office, we knocked out some walls downstairs and utilized some hallway space to double the size of our Barger Room, which we use for a large meeting space. Today’s potluck luncheon was a chance to share not only tasty recipes but also share stories and camaraderie with all the development staff.

I joined the Ambrose Home (1st – 3rd grade boys) for supper tonight. When the table talk got to car crashes, two of the boys told us their dads were killed in car crashes, and a third boy had been in a bad wreck himself when he was still in a car seat.

In a group of 9 boys, I was sad to hear of that high incidence of tragedy.

I’m always encouraging our kids to read, and when I  arrived at the Ambrose Home, Jashon was flipping through a comic book, mostly looking at the pictures. When I asked about the story, he had drawn lots of wrong conclusions from not being able to comprehend the words.

I sat down with him and read some of the harder parts and let him try some of the sections he could handle. When new words came up, I let him guess what those might mean and filled in with explanation. The story gradually made sense and came to life for him.

Helping kids read opens whole new worlds to them. Even as a parish priest, I encouraged parents and grandparents to set aside time to be with their children in that way.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Sunday, February 21, 2010

At Mass today, I presided over the Rite of Enrollment for our students preparing for Baptism.

Having so many members of their families present gave it extra festivity.

It mostly went well, and was uplifting, but during the prayer of the faithful some of the younger students, enthralled with the new children’s Bible we gave them, quit paying attention to the prayers and kept flipping through the pictures.

The boys, in particular, were fascinated by the hero action stories of the Old Testament.

I wondered if we were going to have some David and Goliath slingshot action played out in front of me!

I felt great energy grow throughout the ceremony. These days, when I feel great energy, I know it’s soon to be followed with a crash, which meant a monster two-hour nap after church.

This evening, I visited the high school girls in the Hogebach home and stayed for some delicious homemade beef vegetable soup.

I like to visit and hang out and find out what’s going on in their lives. While my white blood cell counts are low, I don’t get over to the homes as I’d like to. The doctors want me to limit the chances of picking up a cold or virus.

The most pressing question about my treatment and recovery for the high school girls was, “ When are you going to start playing basketball with us on rec center nights again?”

That’s another incentive to press on toward full recovery!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

We had a retreat for the families of our students who are preparing for Baptism at Easter time.

One of the moms came 10 hours from Denver, and one set of Godparents drove 3 hours from Sioux City, Iowa to be here. It’s special for our students when their families can visit, and we try to make it welcoming and special for them.

We started with lunch, and then our high school girls took on babysitting duties for the younger children who came along.

Everyone laughed and enjoyed the lively “get to know you” icebreakers. Then, we began a series of prayers, presentations and activities to help the students learn about the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist they will soon receive. Many of our staff pitched in to make the day successful.

I made one presentation, and stayed for about half the retreat. Then, I retired to my Sleeping Beauty (probably more like Rip Van Winkle) mode and spent the rest of the day taking it easy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday is my day off, and I often take off to see a movie or get in some entertainment and relaxing. Today, I mostly slept and rested with some reading in between.

Many people told me laughter and having fun is a real help to recovering from any illness, but especially cancer. For me, music is what’s most fun and enjoyable. This evening, I dusted off some of my favorite CDs let the music do its magic.

There’s a song (and a saying) that to enjoy life you’ve got to dance like nobody is watching. From Blues to Big Band, Country to Cha Cha, nobody was watching as I moved to the music and let it lift my spirits.

… to enjoy life you’ve go to dance like nobody is watching.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Since it’s been a week since the last chemo session, I had to visit the clinic for blood work. My white blood cell count is again very low. Last time, it took about two weeks to get back into the normal range.

I haven’t been running any chills or fever, which is positive. Just means I have to be careful to avoid picking up a bug while my resistance is low.

As I’m sure happens with lots of folks, it’s hard to get into the full and normal sleep rhythms. I got four hours of solid sleep, then was up in the wee hours of the morning.

Instead of tossing and fighting it, I used the time to read and pray and putter.

Though I wouldn’t want to do it every night, there’s a peaceful reassurance following the monastic practice of praying lauds at 3 a.m. Then, I emptied the dishwasher and sipped a cup of warm milk.

When I got tired again it was back to bed for round two, and everyone is understanding that I’m sleeping in as my body needs to.

One of our newer SCJ Brothers, Clay, joined our St. Joseph staff in January. He just graduated from college and is here for a year’s internship, acting as a support person in the homes. He helps supervise the high school students and does everything from dropping kids off at basketball practice or part-time jobs to helping out with homework.

We had our weekly supervisory meeting to help him adjust and reflect on the experiences here. Sometimes our students inspire him, sometimes they drive him nuts, but that’s pretty normal when working with teenagers.

On the frustrating side, some of the boys have gotten into a game of “chicken” where they dig fingernails into each other to see how long they can tough it out. In contrast, they all banded together and shoveled the sidewalk of one of our staff who just had a bad fall on the ice.

As Brother Clay earns their trust, he hears and understands more of the hardships they’ve faced and are working through. We brainstormed about ways to listen and ask the kind of open-ended, empathetic questions that allow people to share more of their stores as they are ready.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What I’d really like to give up for Lent is cancer!

Usually when Lent comes around, I take on some small sacrifice of doing good or giving up to remind me of the need to embrace the cross.

This year, the cross has embraced and chosen me, so my task is to bear the cross of cancer with hope and good will.

The first and second graders aren’t old enough to have received First Communion, and several of them come from other faith traditions, so I don’t often see them coming up to the front of church during services. But, Ash Wednesday is a great equalizer, as all our students and staff who wanted had the opportunity to receive the smudge of ashes.

With the littlest kids, some only 3-foot something tall, instead of bending over, I found it natural to squat down and face them at eye level. I understand others better not when I tower over them, but see life from their perspective.

As ashes trickled down their forehead onto their nose, a few got the giggles, but most were very serious as we were all reminded to turn away from our sins and turn toward the gospel.

All the students recognize daily how sinful actions cause hurts and tears, and we all have room to improve.

Today was about meetings, large and small, as we reviewed upcoming budgets and looked over building and remodeling plans, sorted out personnel issues and reviewed how outreach programs are going.

But, it’s life’s little joys that don’t get written into minutes that touch you the most: A note of support from “100 prayer warriors in Texas”; an email from my cousin saying he’s including me and another cousin in his Hail Mary’s for his own kids each night; the worn, but nostalgic, baseball cards my brother included in a get well card to celebrate the opening of Spring Training.

Hope springs eternal, and is renewed each day.

Hope springs eternal, and is renewed each day.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Mardi Gras party was not beads and revelry, but I rested long enough in the afternoon to see our last two home basketball games for the 7th and 8th graders.

Tonight, we played Chamberlain, so bragging rights for the city were at stake. It’s a spirited, but fun, rivalry for a couple of reasons.

Lots of students on the Chamberlain team have family who work at St. Joseph’s, so those Chamberlain students join us at school picnics and other events throughout the year.

Also, because we hope our students can make friends with town kids as they move into the High School Program, we run an intramural league in the off-season where these kids play with each other instead of always against each other.

They all know each other well. Still, there’s an intensity to win, and there weren’t many parking places near the Rec Center by tip off.

Chamberlain bested our 7th graders, but our 8th graders won. I think it was the first time since they started playing in 4th grade that St. Joseph’s beat that group, so they were feeling proud of their accomplishment. Both sides played hard and with good sportsmanship; they all gave us a lot to cheer for.

My “In” basket is still growing faster than my “Out” basket.

I write a lot of cards and brief notes – staff birthday cards, sympathy cards, get well cards, cards of prayers and cards of thanks. Hopefully a few sincere words can help lift someone’s day. But, I’m still getting more of them sent my way.

Today was also a day of phone calls as family and friends are starting to check in now that I’ve finished a few days of recoup time. People are surprised how upbeat I sound, without realizing that their calling connects me with that spiritual strength only family and friends can give.

One downside to my chemo is I get dehydrated and gravelly voiced. But, maybe today it’s not just from talking, but yelling and cheering at the basketball games!