Big smiles at St. Joseph’s Indian School

Over the weekend I returned to one of my former parishes up the road in Stephan, South Dakota to officiate at the wedding of a young couple who both graduated from college last year. The small church was filled to capacity with family and friends.  We don’t have fancy reception halls in our area, so the family machine shop on the ranch was transformed first into a banquet hall, and then later in the evening a dance hall.

Congratulations to Augie and Dani!

After church today, as I sat down for brunch in the Fisher Home (6th – 8th grade boys), Fr. Anthony tracked me down to let me know a couple of donors from Philadelphia area were on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus hoping to meet me. I invited them to come over and meet the boys. On opening weekend of NFL football, Trenton had on a Philadelphia Eagle’s jersey, which brought a big grin to our guests’ faces. Trenton and Elliott gave them a good tour of the home. Carol said that they’ve been supporting St. Joseph’s for many years, but being here in person, and seeing all that is involved makes it come alive in a much more substantial way. Afterwards  I showed them a few more sights on campus before they headed out to explore the West.

The Native American children had so much fun!
The slip and slide was a huge hit for the kids at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

Outside my office, I heard squeals of delight. On a warm September day, I discovered that a couple of the homes had rolled a long plastic tarp onto the gentle slope between the picnic pavilion and the parking lot, and with soap and water had created a giant slip and slide. When I went outside to see the action for myself, a third grader came up and gave me a big soapy hug, and everyone laughed at the white suds on black clerical garb. Our kids and houseparents know how to have a good time.

The Giles Home (freshman boys) challenged the Carola Home (10th – 11th grade) to a basketball game for bragging rights on campus. Carola’s height and experience  proved too much for the freshman, but they played hard until the end. Afterwards they invited me along to a pizza party, where they resolved to keep practicing and try again.

My Christmas spirit is definitely building

I went over to the school and couldn’t find anybody!

I spent most of the day in my office,  answering mail, fielding phone calls and had a meeting about fundraising and strategic planning. About 3:00, I realized I hadn’t spent any time with the students, so I walked over to the school. That begins their normal study hall time and is a good time to make the rounds. With no formal classroom instruction going on, it’s a little more laid back and I can wander around and find out what the students have been learning. Because the students have some specialist classes and move around to different classrooms, I didn’t think anything was amiss when I found the first two classrooms empty. But after three and four empty rooms, I wondered what was going on. The 7th and 8th graders were away on a field trip. The rest of the classes were over in the chapel, practicing their songs for Wednesday’s Christmas program. As we wind down the semester, the excitement and Christmas spirit is definitely building.

Our girls 7th and 8th grade basketball teams had some fun time together to finish up the season. The girls played basketball and followed that with a pizza party. I shot around with the girls for a while. It’s a great ice breaker and while often you don’t talk about a lot significant, it builds up trust and rapport.

Personal renditions

December 6 is the Feast of St. Nicholas. When Fr. Guy came to the chapel for morning prayer, he brought us little red stockings filled with a few holiday treats. St. Nicholas is a nice reminder of being generous to others, and doing so in a fun and festive way. The St. Nicholas story I remember from childhood, was how he secretly put gold coins on a man’s doorstep so his three daughters, who couldn’t afford the dowry, could get married.

When I stopped by the Native American Studies Class, the Lakota (Sioux) youth were drawing their tribal flags. There are nine Sioux tribes in the state of South Dakota and this particular class had students from Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Crow Creek and Lower Brule Sioux tribes. I learned something about the symbolism and colors in each flag as the students meticulously worked on their personal renditions.

Mary Jane, our Alumni Director , was getting a care package ready to send out to Lolita, an alumni in the Navy stationed in Japan. I was glad to drop off a letter of encouragement and wish her well.

The Braves had a great basketball season!
The Braves had a great basketball season!

Some of our students have emotional struggles that may lead to acting out in self harmful ways. I stopped by one of the counselor’s offices and saw a student just back from a week long in patient treatment placement. Lots of times, I see our students coping so well, but I’m reminded that at times we have to go the extra mile to meet their needs. They did well with the program and are glad to be back on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus again.

Our 5th grade girls basketball team was back in action for their last home game of the year. After Christmas break, it will be the boys turn to play other schools and our girls will shift to the inter-city league, which is more like intramurals. Their weeks of practice paid of nicely and they played well as a team to hold on for a four point victory. After the game, the kids and coaches enjoyed a pizza party in the game room to celebrate the end of their season.