Interaction and pride of community

The weekend began with the Feast of the Sacred Heart  – a day of celebration for my religious order, the Priests of the Sacred Heart. St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus was somewhat quieter because it is a holiday for most of our employees. But since the work of child care goes on, we still saw plenty of activity on campus.

Our recent eighth-grade graduates wrapped up their three-week transition program preparing them for their fall entrance into Chamberlain High School. I joined the group in the school assembly room where their parents or guardians gathered for a meal, and to learn more about the High School Program. With the help of students as readers Shana (HS Director) reviewed the expectations and privileges which are different for our older students.  Freshman year is a crucial year in working toward student retention and success. Students who struggle and get behind in 9th grade dramatically increase their odds of dropping out of school. Shana and her staff have developed a Three Way Covenant with our parent partners. We lay out the promises and support of our staff, and ask for students and their families to each do their part to keep these young people on track.

In the evening, the other SCJs working on the Indian reservations in Lower Brule and Fort Thompson stopped by the house for a time of socializing, then we went out for dinner together to continue the fellowship. Fr. Guntoro, an Indonesian SCJ preparing for missionary work in China, is visiting for a couple of weeks. He has also worked in the Philippines and India.

Town was literally buzzing Saturday with the sound of hydroplane boats racing on the Missouri River. From the banks in front of St. Joseph’s we could see the racing boats traveling at speeds in excess of 100 mph. They kicked a spray of water high into the air, and the roar of the engines could be heard miles away. The river, also known as Lake Francis Case at Chamberlain, was filled with boaters enjoying the weather and the unique action, which has visited our city annually for the past three years.

I took Lauren, one of our summer interns for a tour of Crow Creek and Lower Brule Indian reservations, and was joined by two girls from our High School Program. Erica is a local from Fort Thompson, and was an excellent tour guide, pointing out many local things that even I didn’t know. She stood on the powwow grounds and described the pageantry, interaction and pride of community that takes place at powwows. Being a teenager, she was also honest in saying that it was a good place to check out the cute boys!

We drove out to the Crow Creek community, which is several miles off the already lonely highway. Lauren noticed that although there were houses, no stores and not even a gas station existed in the community. Some of the rural communities don’t have good access to the basics, and some families even lack reliable transportation.

She got an immediate idea of how problematic that can be.

In Lower Brule, we  stood in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark near a place called The Narrows, and looked out onto the majestic Missouri River. The tribe has reconstructed a Mandan earth lodge which gives visitors a sense of how some of the plains tribes who settled more permanently along the river lived.

Sunday was a sad day as we bid the final farewell to Al and Sue, two former St. Joseph’s houseparents who died together of carbon monoxide poisoning. They were on vacation on their houseboat and asleep when the boat engine apparently malfunctioned. The turnout for the memorial service was quite large and a good support to their children and grandchildren. Their kids took some consolation in that Al and Sue died peacefully, in their sleep, together and doing something that they love. At the same time it is intensely difficult to face the death of one parent, let alone both at the same time.

Several former students came back to town to say their farewells. Many alumni who live close by were there. Kami, Kayla and Gina made about a four-hour trip from the northern part of the state to be in attendance, which said a lot about the difference Al an Sue made for them. Houseparents at St. Joseph’s are very involved in the lives of the young people here, and alumni often call and keep in contact, asking for guidance and advice. The whole community grieves their loss.

Tours with family

Last year on my birthday I was in the hospital, still not eating solid food. When my brother Dan brought me a Twinkie with a candle in it, I could only eat about a third of it! Today Cathy baked a delicious cake and the rest of the development staff provided a festive atmosphere to help me celebrate in a little more style. The ad goes that what cancer patients wish for more than anything else is one more birthday. I’ve come a long way and am grateful for the caring folks who have supported me on the journey.

Fr. Steve and his family enjoy some birthday cake!
Fr. Steve and his family enjoy some birthday cake!

As we toured the Development Office, my brother John kept me humble in ways only a brother can, pointing out how our staff handles so much of the day-to-day work and teasing, “What do you do?”  As people explained their areas of responsibility, John remarked how much pride they took in their job, and he could see how much they really enjoyed their role here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

Our Rising Eagle Day Camp started today! 38 children rode the bus from Fort Thompson to take part in educational and recreational activities and enjoy a good breakfast and lunch.

After lunch, I took my family to visit the Indian Reservations. In Crow Creek, two of our High School students, Erika and Lucinda, helped give the tour. They are the same age as my niece Clare, who enjoyed their company. One stop in Fort Thompson was the pow wow grounds, where the girls talked about their dancing and the ritual and ceremony that pow wows entail.

In Lower Brule we hiked to the Narrows, a spot with a panoramic view of the Big Bend of the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark stood on that site during their exploration of the area. It was my first visit since the tribe constructed a Mandan Earth Lodge, reflecting the culture of one of the earliest tribes to inhabit the region. Reaching the top of the Hill called for some pictures, but also a shared silence just to contemplate while gazing over the vast horizon.