New St. Augustine Indian Mission School to bless students for generations
April 21, 2023
WINNEBAGO — The excited eyes of St. Augustine Indian Mission School students peered down at their big gym through the lunchroom windows in the newly dedicated $10 million school Tuesday.
“I can’t wait to get into it already,” said seventh-grader Arjan Vink.
Books will soon be transferred over to the new library, and use of the classroom trailers will sunset at the school year’s end.
Next fall, Vink and about 100 other students will begin classes in the new school next door to their current building, which opened in 1967 but had structural damage too costly to repair.
Fr. Mark Beran, the mission’s director, knew the floor-to-ceiling cracks on the second floor of the old school were bad, but an inspector stunned him in 2019 when he told him the school would only make it about seven years if nothing was done.
New to the mission then, Fr. Beran remembered feeling overwhelmed by the news he would need to build a new school and also overwhelmed by how the school could continue to carry on its important work teaching an underserved population. Nine of every 10 students at the school qualifies for free and reduced lunch – double the average for Nebraska schools, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.
With the help of the mission’s board and the Steier Group, the mission launched a capital campaign even in spite of some analysis that questioned the feasibility of such a campaign.
Fr. Beran felt overwhelmed, but during a weekend retreat soon after, he prayed and recalled St. Katharine Drexel’s work there.
The missionary Saint devoted her life to helping Native American and African American children receive an education and built 60 schools, including St. Augustine Indian Mission School in 1909.
“She can build one more,” Fr. Beran recalled hearing.
‘GOD WORKING BEHIND IT ALL’
Inspired, Fr. Beran wrote out a novena, put it in little prayerbooks and handed it out to anyone and everyone for a year.
Donors who had never supported the mission before contributed generously, he said.
Support from across the archdiocese and the nation helped the mission open the school debt free.
Ho-Chunk Incorporated Construction and Plan Architecture designed and built the new school under their initial estimates and navigated supply chain holdups.
“It was all God working behind it all,” Fr. Beran said at the dedication.
At the dedication, two students cut the ceremonial red ribbon to the applause of their classmates and more than 100 other people from the Winnebago community.
Archbishop George Lucas blessed the commons area with holy water, and alum Nate Merrick burned cedar and sang a song of appreciation to God during the ceremony.
Merrick, who attended in the 1954 when the mission was a boarding school, remembers how the mission brought together the children from the Omaha, Pottawattamie, Sioux, Ho-Chunk and Meskwakis tribes and not only gave them a good education but taught them about God.
“Throughout my life, I’ve had to rely on my Christian faith to keep me strong and healthy,” said the Omaha tribal member.
“Today is such a wonderful day that God has given us. Many, many students who came before me became doctors, lawyers, tribal council leaders, leaders of our communities and because of the education and the things they were given here at St. Augustine’s they have accomplished much for our people.”
At Mass before the school dedication, Archbishop Lucas told the students that while everyone was excited about the new school building, there’s equal excitement that they are a part of this community of learning.
He shared a special prayer for them, asking them to remember that on a day they might be sad or scared, they remember how much God cares for them.
“That’s a prayer that I’m confident will be answered here,” Archbishop Lucas said. “We’ve already seen it happy so beautifully in so many ways, and I think we can count on God answering it in the years ahead.”