St. Francis Mission is a ministry of the of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) among the 20,000 Lakota (Sioux) people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota. It is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1886. The purpose of the Mission is to re-evangelize Catholic Lakota people and bring the Gospel of Jesus the Christ to those who have not heard it. We respect the traditions of the Lakota people as we collaborate with them to meet the spiritual, educational, social, and physical needs of the community.
Our ministry is supported by gifts from those who share our mission. A team of Jesuits works in collaboration with a Lakota deacon, several commissioned Lakota lay ministers, and numerous Lakota lay men and women who make the work of the Church possible.
St. Francis Mission is the largest not-for-profit organization on the Rosebud Reservation that is not a governmental controlled or funded program. Currently it supports work in five parishes, Icimani Ya Waste Recovery Center, the White River Recovery Center, the CYO Religious Education Center in Rosebud, the Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum, a Dental Clinic and the Sapa Un Catholic Academy. All work is done in cooperation with Bishop Peter M. Muhich of the Diocese of Rapid City.
Rodney Bordeaux, President, is the current administrator of the Mission, which has been continuing its educational mission by offering release time religious education, Lakota language enhancement, and recreation
In the 1840′s Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, SJ, at the invitation of the Flathead Indians in Idaho, traveled extensively in the northern plains. On his journeys he brought the Gospel to Lakota people but he did not settle among them. He had a reputation among plains Indians as a holy man and a man who could be trusted.
During President Grant’s administration the government decided to assign different religions to specific reservations. Catholics were generally excluded from participating in reservation life. Several of the Lakota chiefs who had had contact with Fr. De Smet – or at least knew of his and the Jesuit’s reputation for running schools – went to Washington to see if the Jesuits (known by the Lakota as “Black Robes”) could be allowed to enter the reservation to teach their children.
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 built 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 which 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 Mission school offered the people both elementary and secondary education, along with Catholic formation, as well as trade skills to help people function in the wider world which had enveloped the tribe. In 1974 St. Francis Indian School was turned over to the tribe and is now independent of the Mission.
St. Francis Mission continues its educational mission by offering release time religious education programs and an after school program that offers religious education, Lakota language enhancement, and recreation. In 2013 St. Francis Mission started Sapa Un Catholic Academy, a K-8 school which in a short time has raised the standardized testing scores of the students far above their peers in other reservation schools.