The desert can be a dangerous and desolate place, but seven Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity are changing that. They’re bringing the love and joy of God to the Arizona desert through their work at the Gila River Indian Community at St. Peter Indian Mission School.The Franciscan friars of the Saint Barbara Province founded St. Peter’s in 1923 in Bapchule, a town about 30 miles southeast of Phoenix. Since 1935, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity (FSCC), whose motherhouse is Holy Family Convent in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, have been teaching the children at the mission. Bapchule, with a population of approximately 2,300, is located in one of the poorest areas in Arizona.
Almost all of the residents are Pima Native Americans.
“Service with love through the ministry of Catholic education is how we roll!” exclaims Sister Martha Mary Carpenter, who serves as a junior high teacher and the school’s principal.
Teaching is always a challenge, but even more so on a reservation.
“Our children come to us from about 12 villages spread throughout the reservation. Most villages are small—15 to 20 homes—and most of the villagers are related,” she explains. “Most of the parents of our children work, but they are still below the poverty level of income.”
The school has a little over 200 students. St. Peter’s is the only Catholic school on the reservation, and, over the past 10 years, has guided over 100 children through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Children program.
Many of these children have been baptized, and several have made a profession of faith to the Catholic Church. Sister Martha says that “as long as we have room, we accept anyone who wants to enroll.”
In addition to regular prayer and following the curriculum set by the Diocese of Phoenix, St. Peter’s acknowledges the children’s rich heritage. “We teach the children, in a formal way, their culture, traditions, songs, dances, and language,” says Sister Martha.
With the high rate of diabetes among the Pima people, the school also emphasizes the importance of health and fitness. “We have added an hour to our school day so that the children can run daily and have classes on culture, music, art, computer, and physical education,” she notes.
The sisters are an oasis of love and joy in what can be a harsh environment. “We live simply and enjoy every minute of it. We take no salary or benefits. We rely on the love and generosity of others for the energy, support, and material goods we need to serve God’s people—just like Saint Francis,” Sister Martha says.
Presently, the sisters are raising funds for a new school bus. “Our oldest bus is 20 years old, and we are kind of holding it together with duct tape!” she says. They hope to obtain a bus with air-conditioning, since temperatures there can soar into the 100s.
It is no wonder the community has embraced the sisters. “We are regarded as sisters of hope and prayer. People turn to us often in their struggles, in their sadness and indecision, and in their joys,” says Sister Martha.
“We pray with and for them as we teach and form their children in the image of Christ. We are treated with respect and gratitude. We are not treated as ‘outsiders’ but as Sisters who belong right where we are.”
—Janice Lane Palko
Stories from Our Readers: Saint Anthony Prevents a Workplace Drama
My husband, Greg, is a custodian at a local Catholic grade school.
Recently, the key ring with all the keys to the classrooms went missing. When the principal found out, he called Greg and the other custodian, William, into his office to see what happened.
Both said they had no idea where the keys were, but Greg knew he had given his coworker the keys the day before. Still, to avoid tension with William, he told the principal that he would take responsibility for losing them. That night, I encouraged Greg to pray to St. Anthony to help find the keys and resolve this work conflict.
The next day, William sheepishly admitted to Greg and the principal that he found the keys in the pocket of a pair of pants he wore earlier in the week. Thank you, St. Anthony, for helping my husband!
Saint Anthony of Padua: Importance of Confession
When we open ourselves more widely to God’s grace, we open ourselves to living
more truthfully. That requires naming God’s graces and acknowledging our sins. In
Anthony’s day, some Catholics refused to confess their sins because, in fact, priests are also sinners.
Anthony’s belief in the Incarnation and in the Eucharist reinforced his readiness to confess his sins in the Sacrament of Penance and receive absolution.
This sacrament was part of how he prepared to celebrate the feast of Christ’s birth. –P.M.