Peace to All Who Enter Here

I’m back on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus after a few weeks on the road. I combined vacation, Priests of the Sacred Heart jubilees and assembly and my annual retreat.

One of the 60-year jubilarians was Fr. Bernie, who is retired and lives with us at St. Joseph’s. While retired, he is more active now than ever. With no administrative duties, he enjoys the freedom to read, study, pray and work on projects he is passionate about. I enjoyed meeting his relatives who made the journey to Wisconsin for the celebration. I also got to reconnect with some mutual friends of ours who also came to honor him.

On one of our continuing education days the staff from Guest House, a program that treats alcoholic priests, brothers and sisters, gave us a sobering (no pun intended) and excellent overview of what body, mind and spirit go through in the addiction process. We also spoke of intervention and how to help those we care about who suffer. In my years of parish work on the Indian reservation, that was constantly the biggest problem facing families. It’s also a factor in the lives of many of our students’ families, and we try to be supportive and help our young people through those rough spots.

Laughter is the best medicine, and a good balance to the heavy topics. A group from Comedy Sportz came to our Monastery and led us in an hour of improv that had me holding my side laughing. Two of our priests and one of the seminarians were called up on stage, and added so much of their wit and personality to make it a memorable evening.

My retreat was spent at Blue Cloud Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery in Northeastern South Dakota. I had arranged the retreat a while back, and a month ago the Abbey announced that due to aging membership and too few vocations, after 60 years of prayer and work (Ora et Labora), they will have to close in August.

There was an unexpected grace for me being with these monks at this time of transition. They all took a vow of stability, seeing themselves remaining on those ground until the end of their days. Now down to 13 members, they will be splitting up and joining at least six different Abbeys. During my days there are a steady stream of visitors stopped to make their last visit, recalling how retreats or workshops or the lives of the Monks made a lasting difference in their lives. A sign outside the church reads “Peace to All Who Enter Here.”  Their hospitality to me and to so many others was inspirational.

My life at St. Joseph’s Indian School can get hectic and busy. It was refreshing to go to chapel four times each day to partake in the sung chants of the psalms, and pray the liturgy of the hours. Sometimes I rush through prayers, but there the pace was measured, deliberately slow and reflective. At the end of each day, they voiced a prayer asking God to be their guide and helper during the time of such dramatic changes in their lives. While difficult, they are working through the closure with grace and dignity.

This Benedictine Abbey sent missionaries to four reservations in North and South Dakota. At the cemetery grounds I recalled many of the priests and brothers who dedicated so many years to serving the church in Indian Country. Many of them worked on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, where I later served as pastor, and I heard many parishioners stories of affection and appreciation from their presence.

Guest blogger: Claire

Today is the day!  After months of preparation, it is finally time to leave for the cultural trip with the 7th graders.  The boys and girls travel in separate groups, visiting significant cultural, spiritual and historical sites of the Lakota people.  I will be traveling with the girls, and we will be making a large loop through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.

The purpose of this trip is to introduce the students to places that are important to their Native American culture.  More than just reading about things in a book, they can experience the power of these places up close.   An important component of this trip is daily journaling, so they can record their feelings and impressions for later.  If there comes a time in their lives when they need spiritual strength, they will know some of the places and traditions that can sustain them.  And it’s not all just “serious stuff.”  We get to do goofy camping stuff too, like cook out, tell ghost stories and chuck rocks into the crick.  This is an amazing group of kids, and it is great to spend time with them.

Dan looks like george Custer!
We think Dan might resemble George Custer a bit!

My companions on this journey will be April, a counselor here and a Dakota elder, and Dan, a houseparent and forensic anthropologist.  We will be accompanying 6 teenage girls on a 7 day, thousand mile quasi-camping trip.  In a mini-bus.  For those of you already moaning in sympathy, it is ok. We are professionals.  We can handle this.  We will be mostly cabin camping, which removes the logistical nightmare of pitching tents in the dark, or in a flood plain, or other such creepy things, while still being close to the great outdoors.  (Let the boys sleep under the stars or pitch tents on the prairie, or whatever.)  We will be doing a lot of hiking.  Did I mention I used to be a Girl Scout?  That means I can use a compass.  Of course Dan has GPS on his phone, so that’s a moot point.

The trip covers a lot of territory, but I will share some of the highlights.  On Saturday we will be climbing Bear Butte in the Black Hills.  This is very sacred site for many Native American tribes, and is a place where people may go for a hanbleceyavision quest.  April will teach the girls how to make prayer ties for the climb, and will carry a canupe – sacred pipe for a ceremony at the summit.  Fr. Steve will be joining us for this part of the trip, and will celebrate Mass with us when we get back to town.

We will visit another sacred site, Devil’s Tower, on our way to see the Little Bighorn Battlefield.  Dan has done some analysis of artifacts from this site, and has lots of “really cool stuff” to share. (Normally, if Dan has “cool stuff” to share, you better not be eating, but this will probably be an exception.)  Other sites along the way are: Painted Canyons of North Dakota, On-a-Slant Village, Fort Abraham Lincoln, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Pipestone National Monument.

This is a big undertaking, and an incredible opportunity for these kids. All you campers out there know what I mean.   I am so grateful to have the support of donors and benefactors so that we can make this happen. I am also thankful for all the prayers from friends and supporters for our safe travels.  Pilamaya!  Doksa!


A group of Native American girls on the top of Bear Butte!
Here’s a picture of last year’s group on the top of Bear Butte!