Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rutherford B. Hayes, Chief Red Cloud, St. Katharine Drexel and the Black Robes

The heading of this post is designed to make one think, "What do these people have in common?"  But, one could not be faulted for thinking, "These people have nothing in common."  What they do have in common is a mission to the Lakota people, the Lakota (Sioux) tribe of the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota.

More years ago than I care to remember, I worked as a staff member on the Select Committee for Indian Affairs in the United States Senate.  That position made me more aware than ever of some of the incredible poverty and hardship on the Native American reservations.  One of the most impoverished was the Rosebud reservation of the Lakota Sioux people.  One group that stuck by the tribe in its difficulties was the Catholic church, in particular the priests of the Society of Jesus and the Sisters of St. Francis.  Despite some common misconceptions about Church involvement on Indian land, it was the Lakota themselves who petitioned the U.S. government to send the Jesuits to them.  That request was granted and the "black robes" continue their ministry through the St. Francis Mission to the Lakota to this very day.

Hopefully, this short post will make the St. Francis Mission better known and, perhaps, induce others to support their work.   It is truly a worthwhile cause and one that helps a people who have struggled with poverty and isolation within the borders of our own country for well over a century.

 One aspect of that struggle is revealed by a startling statistic from the Mission's website. Between October 2006 and October 2007 there were 210 suicide attempts on the reservation, 27 of which were successful.  If the work of the Mission was only to address suicide prevention, it would be a huge and worthwhile undertaking.  But, in addition to that work, the Mission also staffs 6 parishes, runs substance abuse programs and offers counseling, hosts after school religious education, and operates its own radio station. 

To give you a little bit more of the very interesting history, here's an excerpt from their website:

On September 26-27, 1877 Chief Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail), leader of the Sicangu Lakota and Chief Red Cloud, leader of the Ogalala, met with President Rutherford B. Hayes and formally requested that the Black Robes come to their lands to educate their people. Sinte Gleska told the President, “I would like to say something about a teacher. My children, all of them, would like to learn how to talk English. They would like to learn how to read and write. We have teachers there, but all they teach us is to talk Sioux, and to write Sioux, and that is not necessary. I would like to get Catholic priests. Those who wear black dresses. These men will teach us how to read and write English.”
With the death of Sinte Gleska in 1881, Chief Two Strike invited the Jesuits to enter the Rosebud Reservation and begin a school. The site was located near camps of Two Strike’s band called Hinhansunwapa (Owl Feather Bonnet). Father Jutz and Brother Nunlist finished a large frame building financed by American born St. Katharine Drexel (whose feast day is March 3rd) and dedicated it in 1886. Father Florentine Digmann arrived in 1888 bringing with him Franciscan Sisters Kostka, Rosalia, and Alcantara. Together they established the Mission School that was named after St. Francis Assisi, who founded the Franciscan order, but was commonly referred to as Sapa Un Ti (“where the Black Robes live”) by the Sicangu.  Father Digmann also established 37 Mission stations throughout the Rosebud Reservation and is considered the founder of St. Francis Mission.
The Sapa Un school offered the people in the area a place where they felt safe. The school taught them the Catholic faith and how to function in white society. The Mission School was turned over to the tribe in 1974 and is now independent of the Mission.
So,  when you have a chance, go over to the website of the St. Francis Mission at , and take a look at the good work that they are doing, and  see if you can help.  (And now you know what Rutherford B. Hayes, Chief Red Cloud, St. Katharine Drexel and the "Black Robes" have in common!)

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Men of The Catholic Jedi Academy are also Men Of Saint Joseph!

Men of The Catholic Jedi Academy are also Men Of Saint Joseph!
Take a moment and visit the MOSJ website.