An update from Fr. Steve

This week I was reminded of the scripture passage where Jesus told Peter that he would give him the keys to the kingdom. Because we changed the locks around St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus, I received a new set of keys. When you think about 19 homes, offices, classrooms, storage sheds and supply closets, there are hundreds of locks to change. While it is an expensive and time-consuming task to re-key all the locks, occasionally it has to be done to keep the campus secure and our most precious resource, our students, safe.

We keep chemicals and cleaning supplies that might be harmful to a child under lock and key. Prescriptions have to be in locked medicine cabinets. We also have alarms on all the homes that serve a dual purpose. We don’t want intruders to come in, and we also don’t want children leaving the homes after bedtime.

Some staff who didn’t check their email were mystified when they came to their office and the old key wouldn’t turn the nob. Not all the locks are changed out, and there has been some inconvenience and confusion as happens with any change. Folks are understanding and make the trek down to Facilities to get their shiny new keys. And more than one employee has remarked that it was time to update and upgrade.

Wednesday I traveled to Eagle Butte for the Board Meeting at the Sacred Heart Center. This year marks their 30th anniversary. To celebrate, after our meeting the staff organized a lunch celebration and invited past employees. Sr. Ruth Gareats, PBVM served as the 2nd director of the center. She remembers the day when all the services were cramped into one small building, with rummage spilling out into the soup kitchen and the women in the shelter waiting for their turn. Sr. Ruth brought along pictures to share that brought back so many memories.

Fr. Joe shared the trip’s driving. He is pastor of the parishes we serve on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation and Lower Brule Indian Reservation. Two of the sisters, Elaine and Mary Clement, had lovely and heartfelt farewell celebrations at the beginning of summer. The parishes are awaiting the arrival of two Sisters of Christian Charity to join the pastoral team in August.

The construction site of the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center.
The Akta Lakota Museum renovations continue to make progress.

We continue to make progress on the Akta Lakota Museum expansion and met with the architects and contractors to keep up with the projected timeline. A crew has also been pouring a lot of concrete in an effort to rebuild the road and tunnel caps and improve drainage across campus.

Two high school girls finished up their summer jobs, one as a nurses aid at the nursing home, and the other busy with maintenance on campus. LaToya loved visiting with the patients, and gained a lot more confidence driving (she just got her license) back and forth to work. Erica’s supervisor praised her thoroughness, and she said she liked dusting – probably my least favorite household chores. They will spend a few weeks home before school begins in mid-August. For the next two weeks we have no students on campus.

When we pulled up the old Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel carpet for replacement, we uncovered a nice floor mosaic on the tile below. We decided to polish it up and not carpet that area since it adds to the chapel decor.

The classrooms also got new carpet, the first in about 25 years of steady footsteps. The rooms also received a new coat of paint. That meant everything had to be moved, and it made for lots of rearranging. Teachers have been coming in early putting things back in order, and to recycle old and outdated materials. We have two new pastoral care/religious education teachers this year, and both were in the room going through many boxes and shelves of material to reorganize and see what they have to work with.

Friday night was the area Relay for Life event. As a cancer survivor myself, I found a lot of support from the group gathered to walk, celebrate another year of life, remember those who have died and celebrate the goodness of people who care. The event was held on campus, in Wisdom Circle. We had bands playing from a flatbed trailer, matching shirts for all the survivors and caretakers, and a wonderful community spirit.

Serving those who have been hurt

Friday I was in Eagle Butte for a Cheyenne River Indian Outreach (Sacred Heart Center) Board meeting. The adolescent program seems stable, and is gaining the confidence of tribal and state placement agencies so it has been running close to capacity. Some youth in need of services have had to be put on a waiting list until a bed opens up, or referred on to other programs. The question we started discussing was keeping the program running as it is, or working at licensing for a greater number of children to meet the need. The tough issue is training and retaining enough reliable staff to keep up a good quality of service. The needs are great, and I applaud the Center’s mission of working to eradicate violence and serve those who have been hurt.

I traveled up and back with Fr. Joe, who is pastor of six parishes on the two reservations the SCJs serve. Personnel is an issue for him as well. The two religious sisters who have worked for many years among the people are both being called back to their community. It may be hard to find replacements, in which case the Pastoral team will have to work closely with the parishes to encourage local leadership to come forward to a greater degree.

Saturday morning I met with a young couple I’ve enjoyed working with for marriage preparation, and spent a couple of hours answering letters. With the previous days’ travel and meetings, I took the afternoon off for some rest and relaxation.

President’s Day weekend is an extra long one for our high school students, who were free of classes on Friday, and again on Monday. Many of them are checked out for the weekend with family. The Sheehy boys are on their annual ski trip to the Black Hills, and the Hogebach girls went to Sioux Falls on a shopping expedition. With so many away, we had a noticeably smaller crowd in church.

Today after mass, I visited the Rooney Home (6th-8th grade boys). I try to have a meal in each of the homes at least once a quarter, to be in touch with what students and houseparents are up to. Today’s visit meant I completed a round of all 18 homes, and will start the rotation all over again. What I noticed about the Rooney boys was that they have hearty appetites. Brunch consisted of waffles, sausage, eggs and hash browns. In some of the homes the kids eat and run. This group ate and talked and ate some more and told a few stories and ate some more . . . luckily they have a little more for food in their budget than the 1st– 3rd graders do!

Our local SCJ group gathers at least once a month, and this afternoon we met to go over budgets for the year. At the evening meal, it was our turn to eat and talk and tell stories. With everyone finished with church for the weekend, there was no hurry to rush off, but rather a leisurely time together for catching up and fellowship. Living as part of a religious order, that mutual support is not just appreciated, but necessary to keep a vocation healthy and alive.

Bringing Gospel values to Indian reservations

Social services is such a concrete way of embodying gospel values; therefore I want to be as supportive of this work as I can.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A youth group from Mequon, WI is here in the parish. One crew is running a Jesus mini camp/ Bible school for area children. Another is building a handicap accessible ramp for the church in Red Scaffold. It’s inspirational to see these young people living out their faith and  taking the time to learn about the Lakota culture.

Last night Young Nation, a local high school Lakota drum group, explained and demonstrated their singing and drumming to their counterparts from Wisconsin. They got the reluctant teens to try their hand (or feet) at a round dance and a two-step.

Most interesting was the demonstration of courtship songs the young men sang. I saw many of the Wisconsin girls listening quite intently! It was a good evening of cultural exchange.

Besides the visiting, one piece of work on my schedule while here in Eagle Butte was a Board of Directors meeting for the Sacred Heart Center, one of the outreach programs of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. It provides many valuable services to families experiencing the crisis of domestic violence. It gives young people in need of a safe place to stay. It also offers a variety of educational and outreach services to the community and area.

While St. Joseph’s Indian School provides excellent programs for children who are away from their families, it’s so important to try to strengthen families on the Indian reservations. Social services is such a concrete way of embodying Gospel values; therefore I want to be as supportive of this work as I can.