Fr. Stephen Huffstetter recently hosted Fr. Luca Zottoli, general treasurer, along with his assistant, Aldo Ivaldi, and Fr. Jesús Valdezate (a member of the General Finance Commission), for a visit to the United States. Fr. Steve shares his journal from the visit:
Monday, June 20
Last night I felt privileged to welcome three members of our SCJ General Finance Commission to the States. They are here to learn about how the US Province approaches finance and investment, development and fundraising, and forming relationships with donors. Mr. Aldo Ivaldi has made the trip before, but for Fr. Luca, the general treasurer from Italy, and Fr. Jesús from Spain, this was their first time in the States. Their plane into Chicago was four hours late, and by the time we finally arrived in Hales Corners, the three travelers were very tired. We started early today meeting with two representatives from a company that specializes in direct mail in the US and many other countries.
In the afternoon we sat with the management of the Province Development office in Hales Corners. Fr. Dominic Peluse, Deacon David Nagel, Sid Liebenson, Pam Milczarski and Tim LaFavor spoke of their work and philosophy. Besides raising money to support the mission of the Congregation, the materials mailed also aim to promote spirituality and deepen people’s faith: prayer and mass cards, spiritual reading and inspirational artwork. Fr. Luca remarked that the afternoon gave him a better sense of the spirituality of the program.
After supper the visitors got a look at Lake Michigan. To European eyes it reminded them of the ocean, since the water stretches all the way to the horizon. And of course, no visit to Milwaukee would be complete without frozen custard, different from gelato, but just as tasty.
Tuesday, June 21
Today was a long travel day, a 500-mile drive to Sioux Falls, SD. This crew has proven fun to travel with, and the eight hours of drive time passed quickly. They tease and joke with each other like excited school kids on a field trip. They were amazed at all the open spaces, and we really haven’t gotten to the west yet. Their cameras clicked away as we crossed the Mighty Mississippi River at LaCrosse, WI, with tree-lined hills and bluffs sloping down to the waters. They told me they wanted to eat local foods and experience local color, so we ate lunch at a truck stop just off the interstate, which they called an experience of the “Real America” like they’d seen in the movies.
After we stopped for the night they were in the mood for “American beefsteak”. We headed to the small town of Tea, and the steakhouse that serves huge and tasty hunks of grass-fed South Dakota beef. They joked that “Everything is big in America”
A favorite spot of mine are the actual waterfalls that the city is named after. The night was mild and the sound of rushing water quite calming. We watched a flock of baby ducklings learning to swim against the current, and families out for an evening walk. After hours in the car, the movement and outdoor time was a fitting end to the day. One of the guys remarked that the terraced rocks of the falls seemed as perfect as if Disney had created it. But it was all Mother Nature’s work.
Wednesday, June 22
Our tour of the St. Joseph’s Indian School Donor Care Center absolutely amazed our guests. They could not believe the vast numbers of people the school can reach personally, and were impressed with the philosophy of relationship building with the donors. Kody Christianson, the center’s director, gave us a history of the center and an overview of how it is developing. Geri Beck, who leads planned giving and major gifts, spoke of how her staff hosts visitors and meets with individuals across the country. The staff makes many calls each day, the majority to say “thank you,” and speak with new donors to provide basic information about the school and programs. They also try to call donors to wish them a happy birthday, or follow up on prayer requests to see how folks are faring. While our visitors put on earphones and listened in on some of the conversations staff have with donors, I wandered around the office talking and reconnecting with our staff. We ate lunch with them. Besides the chance to update them on our work in Rome, I took the opportunity to thank the staff for their dedication and service to our donors.
We left the big city behind, crossed the Missouri River, and headed to the prairie and reservations. Lower Brule was the first SCJ mission in the US and three SCJ priests live in the community there and serve the needs of six small parishes. Two of the priests are originally from our Indonesian Province, making it a truly international mission. They have been on the reservation long enough to build trust and establish good pastoral relationships. Driving around the area gave our visitors an initial experience of the difficulties and challenges people face on the reservation. I didn’t need to comment on the housing and infrastructure. I just drove around and let the guys take in the sights and form their own impressions. Afterwards one commented that he had seen more absolute poverty in other parts of the world, but the atmosphere was heavy with sadness and he could tell the mission was needed but difficult.
Wednesday evenings mean Mass at Fort Thompson, across the river on the Crow Creek Reservation. Several families are regulars, and afterwards, we had a chance to chat with tribal members over coffee and Kool-Aid.
Thursday, June 23
We spent the day in Chamberlain at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Jona Ohm, who handles many roles including public relations, led our tour of the development office. Clare Wilrodt, Religious Education Coordinator and Mission Animator, helped translate into Spanish for Fr. Jesús, and Emily Swanson followed us with a camera to capture the images. Our visitors saw mailings from start to finish – ideas and design, printing press, outgoing mail warehouse, and the staff that opens and answers the volume of letters that arrive every day. For me the great part was reconnecting with staff along the way.
After the tour, we sat with Kory Christianson, director of Development, and Neoma Harris, who is in-charge of Marketing. Its impossible to understand the whole structure in one short visit, but our guys got a broad overview, and plenty of chances to ask questions and learn.
Summer also brings the Rising Eagle summer day camp. We visited the dining hall where a nutritious hot lunch is provided for the kids coming each day by school bus from the reservation. This week’s group was from Lower Brule. Even after three years away I recognized several students. St. Joe’s High School students were also working as camp counselors, giving back, and learning responsibility.
We joined the three Chamberlain SCJs for lunch. There is a bond across cultures and languages when we get together and share prayer and food. The ministry is a joint effort, and each member of the community has an important role to play.
St. Joseph’s has a Thrift Store off campus on the Main Street Business District. After seeing where the donations come in, the three visitors went on a shopping spree. They came away with some shirts and hats but more importantly, a broader sense of the mission. Sales support the school. Children have nice clothes to wear, and many loads of household goods and clothes for infants and elderly are taken where they are needed on the reservation.
We visited the Personal Care Representatives, who care for smaller groups of donors. Lilly will be a senior next year and she is helping in the office for the summer. She spoke about the exchange program with our sister school in Handrup, Germany, that she and three classmates participated in during the first part of June. Native Hope is a new project trying to tell positive stories about Native culture, and providing meeting space for people to come together in sharing and reconciliation.
We took a break at the museum to shop. It gave me the chance to say goodbye to Mary Jane Alexander, who is retiring after 45 years of working in the school and with our alumni. So many of the staff have been committed to the mission for many, many years.
Fr. Anthony Kluckman gave a tour of the school, which strives to give a high quality education in a way that also takes into account Lakota culture.
For supper we ate pizza with the high school boys, then visited the Speyer Home, where the younger summer break students are staying. That filled in the picture. The school is so much more than a school because it is also a home for much of the year, and houseparents who live with the children are the biggest single group of staff. The kids greeted the visitors at the door, shook hands in welcome, and introduced themselves. They were excited and proud about give a tour of the home.
Friday June 24
Friday was a day of pure tourism and fun. We started in the Badlands National Park, where the guys were fascinated by every twist and turn in the road. After driving over rolling grasslands for two hours, the peaks of the hills stand out like mountains on the moon.
When I stopped for gas, an adjacent prairie dog town captured their imagination. They got as close as the critters would let them to take pictures and watch their antics.
Temperatures were in the upper 90s, (or 40 if counting by their usual Centigrade degrees). Still we walked some of the paths and trails, with photos at every turn. At the visitor center we watched a good quality orientation video that gave a look at how the Badlands were formed and the types of wildlife you can discover there. The Badlands are also a treasure trove for fossils, and we saw researchers cleaning dirt and rock away from the latest batch of discoveries.
An event called the “Great Race” featured vintage cars driving across country, and the classic models passing by throughout the drive added another layer of interest.
Fr. Luca kept asking me if we were going to eat buffalo meat, and finally he got his chance at Wall Drug. Through advertising over the years, a small family pharmacy has evolved into a gigantic tourist stop, with about every kind of souvenir imaginable, and entertainment besides. And yes, there still is a real drug store, almost hidden by the roaring dinosaurs and rows of gift shops. When we pulled into the massive parking area, Aldo exclaimed, “Only in America!”
Mount Rushmore was a must, and I wondered what it would mean to visitors from a foreign land. They commented on how in the US we try to build a positive sense of nationalism, freedom and democracy, which they appreciated. I have seen the monument many times, but it is a treat to see it through the eyes of a first timer.
We ended the evening at the Fort Hayes Cowboy Chuckwagon show. Aldo was wearing a St. Joseph’s Indian School shirt that was a gift from the Donor Care Center. While we were looking at some of the old time activities like blacksmithing, a woman on a bus tour noticed the symbol and asked if he worked at the school. She had never been to St. Joseph’s, and only knew the school from many years of mail correspondence. The small world part was that she and her friend were from the Milwaukee area and have taken workshops at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.
We dined on fine beef, beans and fixings cowboy style, slapped onto a tin plate. The evening ended with a wonderful live music show that featured such a variety from old time country to rock and roll.
Saturday, June 25
I dropped Luca, Aldo and Jesús at the Rapid City Airport for their return to Milwaukee, where they will meet with our investment and finance people. So much of my life was spent in South Dakota; it is a treat to share it with visitors and see it again fresh through their eyes and experiences.