By Rebecca Borman
Recently a good friend invited me to go with her to tour St. Peter’s Mission, a Catholic K-8 school on the nearby Gila River Indian Reservation. She worked with the school for many years and talks about it often. I was happy to take her up on her invitation.
We were there for about an hour; it isn’t a large campus, and school was in session, so students and teachers were busy. It was an hour well-spent. As we were driving onto the Reservation, Kathleen gave me a little background about the school. It’s staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and has many lay teachers, as well. And it has a lot of local financial and moral support. Kathleen said the teachers have the opportunity to see baseball and football games, because both the Diamondbacks and the Cardinals are big supporters. In fact, Larry Fitzgerald sends tickets to the school any time there’s a home Cardinals game. “And,” she said, “Joe Garagiola was a big supporter, too.” Sure enough, as soon as we drove onto the campus, I spotted the Joe Garagiola Learning Center. It houses the school’s library and computer center, and several classrooms. I asked how he got involved with the school, and Kathleen said she didn’t know for sure, but she suspected one of the sisters wrote him a letter and he became a supporter…..
As we walked around the campus we peeked into the library. On one wall were two giant comic strips from The Family Circus and Peanuts, along with autographed pictures of Bil Keene and Charles Schultz. I have no idea what the back story is, except that two rather famous men were obviously generous supporters of a small mission school in Bapchule Village, Arizona…..
The church on campus is small but beautiful. I stopped to take a picture of the doors and noticed a sign thanking the Nelles family for the pews, floor and doors for the church. I asked Kathleen how this family became involved. It seems that they attended a service at the church and noticed that the floors and pews were in bad shape. They offered to replace the floors, pews, and doors, even though they had no real connection with the school…..
As we finished our tour, my friend talked about Shea Construction. Some years ago, one of the sisters wrote to Shea and described their need for more classrooms. The company responded, donating building materials. Sister wrote and thanked them and asked if they could kindly construct the buildings. Shea responded that their charitable foundation was set up only to donate materials, not to do the actual construction. Sister wrote back reminding them that they WERE a construction company, and the students really needed classrooms. Shea responded that they wished they could do more, but rules were rules. Sister responded that their students really, really needed buildings for their classes. And Shea responded by building their classrooms.
Here’s where I’m going with this: We live in a troubling time. Politicians and their supporters are polarized, and it seems as if no one is interested in anything but his or her own agenda. But, out in the desert is this school, whose Himdag (the Tohono O’odham term for cultural values) is Respect, Reverence, Responsibility. Its students are smiling and friendly, probably because they are in an environment in which they feel loved and respected. They feel a sense of hope, and as a result, many go on to high school and even college. The school thrives because generous people, wealthy and not, famous and not, donate their support, sometimes a few dollars and sometimes substantial amounts. It isn’t about power or politics; donors simply know these students deserve their help, and they step up.