In 2018 I became aware of St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School when former BVM Kathie Gedden (SM Joseph Catherine, Set of 1960) contacted me regarding the possibility of the school receiving a BVM Ministry Partnership Grant. I eagerly became their sponsor!
St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School is located at the southeastern edge of the Navajo Nation in Thoreau, N.M. Because over 49% of the Navajo live below the poverty line, the Mission has committed itself to address the needs of the Navajo, so they attain the basic human necessities: education, water, safe housing, food, and clothing.
In 1974 the Bishop of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, established a mission church in Thoreau. But since Gallup is the poorest diocese in the United States, it is no longer able to contribute financially to St. Bonaventure. Thus, donations from individuals and organizations fund the mission and school.
St. Bonaventure (a Pre-K–8, tuition-free, Catholic school) has received three BVM grants. In 2020, the grant advanced the STEM program through the purchase of microscopes, 3D printers and supplies, robotic kits, and math labs. The evaluation of this grant reported that “the 3D printers opened a world of imagination for the students . . . they were able to make drawings . . . and use them in a business competition. They placed first!”
In 2021 due to Covid-19, the school closed, and a distance learning program was started. The grant enabled the school to purchase flash drives and tablets for each student. When the school discovered that there was no internet coverage in the rural areas, part of the grant was used to create “hot-spots” for students to access the internet.
In 2022 grant money was used to purchase food for the Backpack Program, which ensured that students would have food to eat over the weekend. When school is in session, children are given a nutritious breakfast, lunch, and after-school snack.
On Fridays, students are sent home with food backpacks filled with breakfast items, canned or fresh fruits/vegetables and milk/juice, etc. Often families do not have enough food for their children. When Covid-19 forced the closing of the school, bus drivers delivered the backpacks to students’ homes. Christopher Halter, executive director of St. Bonaventure, confirmed that the Backpack Program is working “beautifully!”
In addition to the school, the Mission operates a food pantry, a thrift store, two mobile home parks with 150 homes, and a water-delivery program. The Eastern Navajo Nation is dry and nearly barren. The need for water is a huge concern. Shallow wells throughout the reservation are contaminated with various pollutants, especially radioactive uranium (due to past uranium mining in the area). The Mission delivers potable water directly to 200+ homes within a 50-mile radius. A new well has been dug and an old well is being refurbished, but still, water may have to be shipped from the East Coast to fill the need.
I’ve been a longtime fan of author Tony Hillerman’s mysteries—all set on the Navajo reservation. I was drawn to the Navajo concept of hozho: peace, balance, and harmony with creation. Presenting the needs of the Navajo to the BVM Ministry Focus Committee has been a sacred honor for me and brought me into hozho with my Navajo sisters and brothers.
This story was featured in:
FALL 2022: Together we participate in God’s creating action, transforming the earth. (BVM Constitution #11)
In this issue of Salt, we celebrate the legacy of our beloved Lou Anglin, BVM; the 103rd birthday of Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM; fifteen 70-year-Jubilarians, and our first in-person Assembly since COVID-19. We look to the future as we continue to adapt our mission, sponsor women in pursuit of education, support children in need, and advocate for justice in society and in the Catholic Church.