Fort Belknap Honors Departing Sisters with Farewell Celebration
July 8, 2020
After 40 years of service at the St. Paul's Mission Grade School, Sister Helen, Sister Chris and Sister Nora will head back to New York to be with friends and family in their hometown. The trio arrive at the school in 1980 and will head back to New York on July 6, 2020 after 40 years of service to the school and the community.
The St. Paul Mission Church was first established in 1887 by the Bureau of Catholic Missions. The Church now serves as a kindergarten through eighth grade school. The Mission School has become ingrained in the community and very much a part of its landscape.
This past week the community of Hays and the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation held a celebration to honor the service and dedication of Sisters Helen, Chris and Nora with a parade through town and a meal in a farewell celebration.
Robert Fox and Barbara Longknife spearheaded the organization of the event but in the end the whole community came together to put it on. The day began with a welcome in from of the Mission School by Robert Fox followed by an opening prayer from Father Jose. A Tribal presentation by President Andrew Werk Jr. followed. Sid Goes Ahead performed the honor song and the line up for the parade began.
The parade procession was led by a horse drawn carriage that Sister Helen, Sister Nora and Sister Chris rode on as they got to waive goodbye to the community. Following the route through Hays and back to the school where guests were fed a meal as they drove by the three sisters in their cars and received their meal through their window to ensure social distancing protocols were met.
"We had a unique gathering that could only happen during a pandemic," said Sister Chris. "The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation has strict guideline in place to keep everyone safe during this COVID-19 Pandemic. We take this very seriously and didn't want to put anyone at risk. They (Fort Belknap Tribal Government) didn't want to put us at risk either."
So in planning the celebration, the welcome, the parade route and the dinner all social distancing protocols were strictly followed per Tribal mandate as well as orders and recommendations by Governor Steve Bullock and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
"They planned a parade and we got to ride in a horse drawn carriage. We left from the from the front of the Mission Grade School and headed to Hays where drove through town. It was a nice way to say goodbye, waving to the kids and their families and we handed out candy along the way," added Sister Chris. The parade caravan was a unique setup with a line of vehicles trailing the carriage. "Lots of cars followed us during the parade and when we got back to the school the staff had a prepared meal ready for us," added Chris. "It's very important to keep everyone safe and we followed social distancing guidelines. We were in front of the school where we stepped back and let the cars behind pass in front where they received meals through their windows as they waived and passed by. It was very strong community organized event."
"The three of us arrived in 1980 and we have been here for the forty years since. We've been through are fair number of ups and downs in forty years, but our time here will always be part of who we are. The community is engrained in us and will always have a special place in our hearts," said Sister Chris. "It's hard for us to leave and after much prayer and thought we know it's time for us to turn the page on our life's journey and return to our families and our community back in New York. It's bittersweet for sure. Robert Fox and Barbara Longknife led the organization of the gathering and for that we are extremely grateful."
During their time at the school Sister Nora and Sister Helen taught at the Mission School for all 40 years. Sister Chris taught at the high school in Hays for the first 12 and the Mission School for the 28 years following. As for the continued stability of the school, it's in good hands, "We are very blessed because we have Jesuit volunteers and five Nigerian sisters at the school to help ensure everything continues in the future," concluded Sister Chris.
The Blaine County Journal/News ~ Opinion wish Sister Chris, Sister Nora and Sister Helen the very best as they return home to their families and communities in New York.