Prayerful and refreshing

The big event in the life of our high school students this weekend was the school play – A Year in the Life of Frog and Toad. The production was whimsical and fun, with catchy songs and colorful sets. Two of our seniors, Chris and Erika, had supporting roles on stage. I laughed as they sang and hammed it up. Another half-dozen of our St. Joseph’s students took part behind the scenes, working lights and props and helping as student directors. The play was especially kid friendly, and space was reserved on the floor in front of the stage for any youngsters who wanted to sit on the floor close to the action. For a small school, Chamberlain has some talented and dedicated staff to work with students and put together quality performances.

On campus, basketball reigned as king. Saturday morning fourth, fifth and sixth grade girls played against cross town rivals Chamberlain. St. Joseph’s swept three very close games, two of which were decided in the last 15 seconds. Many of our staff were on hand not only to cheer on our students in blue and yellow, but their own kids wearing Cubs red and white. One of our counselors who has a daughter on Chamberlain said it’s too hard to root for both teams, but you have to! Sunday afternoon the boys played intercity, where Chamberlain and St. Joseph’s students played alongside each other. Again, you had to root for all the teams and players!

Because of the drought in our area, an earlier burning ban prevented us from opening the sweat lodge for inipi ceremonies during the fall months. Now that we’ve had a little moisture and the weather has turned colder, it’s safe to build a fire. An elder from the Rosebud Indian Reservation, grandfather to three of our students, came to campus to offer the opportunity for our junior high and our high school boys. For a few of the younger students it was their first time, and they were prepared and guided through the ceremony, which they found prayerful and refreshing, with good bonding as a result.

Sharing Sunday brunch in the Stevens Home (6th-8th grade girls) Frank and Wanda mentioned that this is their 25th year as houseparents at St. Joseph’s, and they are seeing a second generation of families they’ve had long ties with. They pulled out the yearbook from their first year here, and showed the moms of two families of girls they currently have with them. In residential care, such longevity is rare, but we have several long-timers who have built trust and relationships that are wonderful.

Hope and support

Four of our houseparents and I traveled two hours to Parmelee on the Rosebud Indian Reservation for the funeral of the mom of four of our students. All night wakes are still a tradition, and the boys spent most of Saturday and Sunday in the church hall keeping vigil with their mom, who was only 37 years old.

The pastor who led the services knew the family well, and was able to personalize his remarks. He was honest about the tough life and issues the family faced, yet offered hope and support. An elder in the community offered prayers in Lakota, and sang a traditional song. I offered my condolences and spoke about the Lakota concept Mitakuye Oyasin – We are all related and how in facing the loss of a mother how important the other relationships in life become.

We drove 10 miles out into the country, mostly on gravel roads, to reach the cemetery. Pall bearers used leather straps to lower the coffin into a rough wooden box at the bottom of the hand-dug opening.

The hammering of the nails echoed across the prairie as the box was closed and then the pallbearers began filling in the grave with shovelfuls of dirt. When I noticed the men tiring  I tapped one of them on the shoulder and helped for a while until I was relieved. When the grave was filled in, the family lovingly placed all the flowers on top of the dirt, and we headed back to the hall for a meal.

The soup pots were about 3 feet high and about as round as a circle with my arms. They were filled with delicious homemade soup on a chilly November day. The star quilts that decorated the walls around the room were taken down and gifted to people who had helped the family through these sad days. One of the boys lives in Speyer Home (6th– 8th grade) and since the whole home came in a show of support on Sunday the family wanted to make sure we took home a quilt for them. I was also honored with the gift of a quilt.

Talking over supper, the pastor told of a retired teacher in the community. He and his wife always have a big pot of soup on the stove, and if youngsters in the community don’t have anything to eat, or just need a safe or quiet place to be for a while, that was a place of refuge. Those are the kind of folks that so inspire me. Hopefully our work at St. Joseph’s can provide a respite and shelter for Lakota students when their lives at home get tough.

The aunts who are the boys’ guardians had been working nonstop three days to get everything ready for the wakes and funeral. They asked if we had room to take the boys back with us and we were glad to be able to help. On the trip back there were more tears, and alternating times of quiet. After we stopped half way for gas and a break, the boys seemed to put the grief on hold for a while and talk about sports and other things. Our staff will try to be especially attentive and supportive of their needs in the difficult days and times to come.

What blessings are you most thankful for

Our Lakota (Sioux) students are streaming in this evening as Thanksgiving break comes to an end. Most are now at the Rec Center where the boys Inter City basketball games are in full swing. We now have just three more weeks of school before Christmas break and I’m sure the time is going to be filled with many activities and also fly by quickly.

Our weather remained sunny and dry this past week which made travel for the families and guardians worry free. On Wednesday, the “official” time for school to dismiss for Thanksgiving break was 2:00, but when I got to the school around 1:45 the largest classroom had just three students left. With so many of the students families spread across all of South Dakota, parents and guardians showed up throughout the day at the times that worked for them. We have a group of over 20 students from the Rosebud Indian reservation, which is two hours distant. The tribe sends a bus to transport them back and forth over the holidays. That bus showed up around 10:00. Many families came around noon and were invited to the dining hall to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey and all the trimmings.

Several students stayed on campus during the vacation. We have a couple of break homes for students who need to or prefer to be here these days – 9 students in the grade school break home and another half-dozen in the high school program. I stopped in every now and again to check if houseparents needed anything and see how the students were doing. The high school students were mostly involved with basketball practice. The grade school home had lots more fun activities, like a trip to Mitchell, South Dakota (70 miles away) to see a movie. There was also plenty of times for recreation in the home. Samantha and Aralyn taught me how to play Wii tennis on the TV screen – and thrashed me thoroughly of course.

Our homes are normally split between boys and girls homes. In the break home there’s a different dynamic as three families with brothers and sisters were together under one roof. They enjoyed sitting next to each other at table, and spending time with younger siblings.

On Thanksgiving Day, I drove 25 miles north to Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Indian reservation to go to mass. Afterward, Sr. Charles cooked a turkey and invited people from the community to bring what they could to add to a pot-luck celebration. It was especially nice for those elders who may have been on their own otherwise to have company to eat with, visit and celebrate.

This year I am most thankful that I’ve been able to resume my normal routine of work; I’m glad the cancer is still in remission. What blessings are you most thankful for?

Here I am with the St. Joseph's Indian School float in the background.
Here I am with the St. Joseph's Indian School float in the background.

On Black Friday, the city of Chamberlain sponsored a Parade of Lights downtown. The evening started with a free chili supper at the Fire Hall. Santa greeted us as we rolled in. With the parade theme, “The 12 Days of Christmas” St. Joseph sponsored a float of, “A partridge in a pear tree.” Our break home students rode on walked alongside the float. Instead of candies, they passed out dreamcatcher keychains. Maybe not as tasty, but practical and longer lasting.

My fingers are sore from writing staff Christmas cards, which I have spent significant time doing while the office and school have been closed. Instead of just signing my name I try to write a few personal words to each person who works here. I am so grateful for the dedicated staff here at St. Joseph’s Indian School who do so much for our students. While running a residential school with 200 students is a big job, when each do their part, it somehow–thanks be to God–all comes together.

Today’s guest blogger: Robyn

Today's guest blogger: Robyn
Today's guest blogger: Robyn

Good Morning!  My name is Robyn and I am a Family Service Counselor at St. Joseph’s Indian School.  I work with 6th-12th grade girls and have been a counselor here for the past 7 years.  The past few weeks have been quite busy.  I was able to visit some of the students that I work with down in Marty, South Dakota.  Marty is a little Native American Indian Reservation community about two hours south of Chamberlain, not too far from the Missouri River.  It was so good to see the students’ smiling faces.  I really enjoy having the opportunity to visit with families.  Next week I will be traveling to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Rosebud Indian Reservation, both located in South Dakota.  I have also been working on admission files for the upcoming school year.  We have been busy requesting school and medical records and conducting interviews with families.

We continue to get rain and the Missouri River continues to rise.  The flooding remains in the local area and people have been pulling together to help and support each other.  St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus is on the river, but has not flooded.  More than likely, the water will not reach any of our buildings or roadways.  It is quite a sight to see the waters continue to spread.

We appreciate your continued support and are very blessed to have such wonderful people invested in St. Joseph’s Indian School.  I am so fortunate to be part of an organization that is making a difference in the lives of American Indian children and families that we serve.  It is truly a gift to be able to follow your passion and calling from God.  Thank you for continuing to provide me with that opportunity.