There are many buildings on the campus of St. Joseph’s Indian School. But, one seems to shine brighter than all the rest, especially on Sunday mornings.
Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel, with its scrawling ivy that beams bright green in the summer and amber in the fall, stands as a beacon of light … of hope … of faith in a higher power. It’s also an illustration of the Lakota (Sioux) culture. The stained glass windows glisten in the sun with shimmering blues, greens, yellows and reds.
It’s not just a sight to behold. It’s an experience. The chiming song of the bells awakens the spirit to receive the message of The Lord from the pulpit at the west end of the building.
However, if one looks to the left, right or even down at their feet, more messages await them. Stories surrounding faith and the Lakota (Sioux) culture are told through symbols if the time is taken to truly explore.
The Bell Tower
The bell tower is made of three ascending rectangles. The rectangles symbolize the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Holy Trinity, indicating to all who enter that this is holy ground.
Oscar Howe’s Indian Christ painting was replicated in a tapestry, which is the focal point behind the altar. At seven-feet by 10-feet, the tapestry honors Jesus and all He stands for.
At the front of the sanctuary are statues of two important saints. To the right is St. Joseph, our school’s patron. On the left is Our Lady of the Sioux. Both statues were hand-carved from a single piece of wood. Together, they presence brings a balance in honoring the Catholic faith and Lakota culture.
The East Window
Just before the sun rises, there is a star that stands alone in the sky and shines very brightly in the East. This is called the Morning Star by the Lakota and announces the beginning of a new day. This picture in stained glass is a fitting symbol for the chapel, as it is the title given to Mary who appeared on the horizon of salvation history, announcing the coming of Christ.
Within the chapel, there are 17 stained glass windows. Some of them feature depictions of:
- Haŋbléčheyapi — Vision quest
- Wanáǧi Yuhápi — Keeping of the Soul
- Wiwáŋyaŋg Wačhípi — Sundance
- Huŋkálowaŋpi — Making of relatives
The Inside Floor
At the chapel’s entrance, an terrazzo floor design signifies the four Gospels. The arrows show the four Lakota directions. Together, they indicate the spread of the Gospels to the ends of the earth.
Sunday Mass and More
While primarily a church for Sunday Mass, the chapel plays hosts to a number of other campus events. Prayer services, graduation ceremonies, guest speakers and more are hosted in the enlightened space.
As people enter, they are able to purify themselves with both practices of azílya — smudging — with smoke from purifying sage, and sprinkles of Holy Water.