Excerpts from the Sisters’ Diary 1929-1938 shed light on what the earliest days of St. Joseph’s Indian School were like – a destructive fire, the Great Depression, tuberculosis – trials and joys.
November 28, 1929: Thanksgiving week was a busy one at St. Joseph’s. Two government doctors and a nurse paid us a visit to look after the health of the children. Six had their tonsils removed and five had their eyes operated on for Trachoma. All operations proved successful even though the little patients could not see what they were eating and the tonsil patients were not able to swallow.
January 3, 1930: Our laundry building was destroyed by fire. Today is washday and since it has been rather cold for a long time, all the water lines leading to the building are frozen. The big boys are busy thawing them out with blow torches.
1934-1935: The Depression is at its peak and times are hard. In the spring Sr. Pauline took sick and had to be taken to the Pierre Hospital. She recovered somewhat, but before the new school year opened the Lord called His faithful handmaid home. Sr. Cecilia and Helen Durkin were quarantined for several weeks after contracting scarlet fever.
Many of the children were undernourished and sickly. In November we sent one little girl away because her condition was a danger to the other children with whom she associated. She had neither parents nor home. An old Indian lady took her, but she was very poor and had not much herself. We tried everything to get the child into a hospital or sanitarium. We had no success. The girl developed tuberculosis and died three months later.
December 25, 1935: At midnight Mass, the crib with baby Jesus greets the children and makes them happy. Brother Mathias spent many an hour building it. The Sisters and the older girls knew how to make it look real. The cave in Bethlehem is there, the shepherds and their flock and in the distance the mountains of the Holy Land. Father explained to the children that the first and best Christmas gift is Our Lord, who became our Brother. From Him all other gifts take their meaning.
March 28, 1937: Easter joy reigned everywhere on the mission. The hard days seemed to be over. Our electricity has been connected again and the sun did its best to melt the huge drifts of snow.
May 1937: The results of the examinations are in. Evelyn, one of our Indian children, was highest in the county among 99 eighth-grade graduates. Besides holding the first place in the county, two others made the Honor Roll. The achievement is more outstanding when one considers that the children spend only half a day in class, the other half is taken up with manual training and work in the different departments of the school.