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!

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.