Reflecting on Red Cloud’s Spiritual Identity Brings New Life to its Mission

posted March 15, 2017



Red Cloud was founded during an intense time between the tribes of the Great Plains and the European settlers moving into what had been their tribal homeland. But in the midst of that turmoil, the Lakota people and Jesuit missionaries who came together to build a school developed a mutual respect and, over time, an irrevocable bond. When they had every reason not to trust each other, they recognized that they shared distinctive spiritual values—a deep belief in the sacredness of all creation and a loving and guiding Creator—that outweighed all that divided them. That long-standing spiritual connection has remained the foundation of Red Cloud’s work on the Pine Ridge Reservation since 1888.

For Fr. Peter Klink S.J., who has served at Red Cloud as an educator, administrator, and minister for over 40 years, the weaving together of Catholic and Lakota spiritualities is what makes Red Cloud truly special. Honoring both spiritual traditions in its approach to education and compassionate service is the very reason why Red Cloud has been able to make a significant impact in the lives of students, families, and community members across the reservation. And today he is leading a new Mission and Identity initiative designed to inspire a deeper, renewed commitment to Red Cloud’s unique spiritual character, heritage, and purpose.

“The Jesuits and Lakota people who came together in the mid-nineteenth century to create this place saw in one another a shared sense of life’s fundamental sacredness. That spiritual resonance—and the essential values that can be found in both the Lakota and Catholic spiritual traditions—has defined Red Cloud’s path and our purpose over the last 129 years,” said Fr. Peter.

“I believe all of us at Red Cloud are following one blessed walk—the one walk of the holy road, the Čhaŋkú Wakȟáŋ—that is informed by two spiritual traditions. And allowing ourselves to be enriched by both Lakota and Catholic spirituality will ensure we can be everything we need to be, in order to support the students in our schools and the families in our parishes.”

One of the primary goals of the Mission and Identity initiative is to spark dialogue and reflection on what Fr. Peter calls the distinctive “Lakota Catholic walk” traveled by everyone at Red Cloud. With support from across the organization, Fr. Peter is attempting to build  a range of opportunities to engage all staff members in that dialogue throughout the year—beginning with a mission orientation day for all staff in August and continuing with two additional days  of “Mission in Motion” professional development workshops during the academic year. Through these conversations and experiences, he hopes to create a shared understanding of the values that enrich all of the ministries at Red Cloud from both the Lakota and Catholic spiritualities—and to inspire staff to live those values in their daily work, regardless of the role they play on campus.

“Our Lakota Catholic spiritual identity has guided our work in educating youth in a way that emphasizes both competence and compassion—so that we can help our students pursue their own dreams while also living their lives in service to others. And it has also guided our work in our parishes to support and nourish families and communities across the reservation—and in honoring Lakota and other Native art through the work of The Heritage Center. It’s truly the reason why we do what we do, in the unique way that we do it,” said Fr. Peter.

“But if we lose touch with that spiritual depth, I believe we will be less loving and less caring in our daily work—and less committed to the mission that has guided us as a community throughout our history. If we want to continue to play a significant role in the lives of youth and families, we need to attend to that energy and let it inspire our work each and every day.”   

Several weeks ago, nearly all of Red Cloud’s 170 staff members came together for the initial “Mission in Motion” workshop. The day-long workshop gave the community a chance to explore some of the shared values held sacred in both the Lakota and Catholic spiritual traditions. Fr. Peter gave a talk describing four key virtues that help to define a “Lakota Catholic walk in an Ignatian and Jesuit tradition,” including: Wóyuonihaŋ, or “Finding God in All Things”; Wačháŋtognaka, or living generously as “Men and Women for Others”; Wóuŋšila or “Holistic Care for each Person”; and Wólakȟota, or always seeking the “Great Good”  of all. Through reflection and dialogue, staff members were encouraged to imagine how those virtues could deepen the impact of their work in the schools, in the parishes, and in the community.

Throughout the day, select members of Red Cloud’s staff spoke as reactors, sharing their own perspectives on Red Cloud’s unique spiritual identity and how they see it realized on campus. During the day the entire group gathered prayerfully in Red Cloud’s Holy Rosary Church for a sacred ceremony that honored both spiritual traditions. The Mass was carefully designed to blend in elements of Lakota ritual, including the deep, resounding drumming that could be heard even outside the church doors.

For Fr. Peter, the conversation that took place during this first “Mission in Motion” day is just the beginning. He, collaborating with others at Red Cloud, plans to keep the dialogue going—by sending staff regular emails about elements of Red Cloud’s mission and identity, by encouraging further discussion and reflection in small groups, and by preparing to dive deeper into Red Cloud’s dual spiritualities during the second “Mission in Motion” gathering in April.

By creating space and time for focused reflection, he believes Red Cloud’s staff will develop a stronger sense of purpose in their own day-to-day work—but also a stronger commitment to the holistic mission of the organization. That, he explains, is a key to deepening Red Cloud’s impact in the lives of youth and families, both now and into the future.

“Our challenge as we go forward is to allow the blessings of these two rich spiritual traditions to inform and infuse all we do in our work at Red Cloud,” said Fr. Peter. “The Lakota Catholic values we share can bridge the good work done in the curriculum of the schools, the projects of the parishes, and the ways in which we relate to one another, celebrate the beauty of artistic expression, and greet all visitors as brothers and sisters. Indeed, nourishing our spiritual identity will empower us to create the changes we want to see here on Pine Ridge, and in the world.”

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School


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