St. Francis Mission

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St. Francis Mission
Lakota Chief Spotted Tail
requested Jesuit educators
Established1886; 133 years ago (1886)
Board of
Fr. John Hatcher, S.J.
34 acres (14 ha)
AffiliationsJesuit, Catholic
WebsiteSF Mission
St. Francis Mission
St. Charles Borromeo church (St. Francis SD) from S 1.JPG
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church
LocationRosebud Indian Reservation
NRHP reference #75001723[1]
Added to NRHPJune 20, 1975
Kateri Tekakwitha

St. Francis Mission is a Roman Catholic mission complex on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in St. Francis, South Dakota, among the Lakota-Sioux Native Americans. The mission was founded in 1886 by the Jesuits who were welcomed by Bishop Martin Marty, and it soon grew to a large collection of buildings. Most of these were destroyed by a fire in 1916, but many were soon rebuilt. The mission complex includes 26 buildings, the most prominent of which are St. Charles Borromeo Church and the 1916 Drexall Hall, the latter a multifunction structure providing classrooms, meeting spaces, and residential spaces. The complex also includes one of two known copies of a statue of Kateri Tekakwitha by Joseph-Émile Brunet.[2] The complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.[1]


The Jesuit presence in this area goes back to the 1840s when Fr. Peter DeSmet, S.J., was welcomed by the plains Indians and had contacts with the Lakota. Based on his reputation as a man who could be trusted, and on the Jesuit reputation as educators, in 1877 Chief Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail), leader of the Sicangu Lakota, and Chief Red Cloud, leader of the Oglala, obtained permission from President Rutherford B. Hayes "to get Catholic priests. Those who wear black dresses. These men will teach us how to read and write English." This led to the arrival of a Jesuit Father and brother soon after 1881 and, with financial help from St. Katherine Drexel, the completion of a large building in 1886.[3] In 1888 Franciscan Sisters Kostka, Rosalia, and Alcantara came to teach in the school which they named after St. Francis. Jesuit Fr. Florentine Digmann who had come with the sisters went on to establish 37 mission stations on the Rosebud Reservation. Since 1974 the school, locally called Sapa Un Ti ("where the Black Robes live"), has been run by the tribe, independently from the Jesuit mission. The many chapels have been replaced by six parishes on the reservation.[4]

Current programs[edit]

In 2016 three Jesuit priests along with Jesuit Volunteer Corps members[5] were serving the Mission, with assistance from Lakota – a deacon, several commissioned lay ministers, and numerous volunteers – working among the 20,000 who remain on the reservation. The Mission supports high school equivalency (GED) and adult education, Icimani Ya Waste Recovery Center, the White River Recovery Center, the CYO Religious Education Center in Rosebud, and the Wiwila Wakpala after-school center in Spring Creek, along with the following works at the Center:[6]

  • Sapa Un Catholic Academy, based on the Jesuit Nativity model of schools, began in 2013 teaching both English and Lakota to 10-12 students a year in grades K through 5. The express purpose of the school is to enable more Lakota to graduate from colleges and universities and become leaders among their people. Open to students of all religions, its tuition is low and it offers scholarships. Cultural enhancement opportunities include a month-long summer camp.[7]
  • Lakota Studies is an effort to preserve the Lakota language and cultural heritage, with a view especially to its spiritual richness. In pursuit of this purpose Deacon Ben Black Bear, Jr., is translating the New Testament into Lakota, along with prayers and catechism instructions. In 2008 the program produced a new, more complete Lakota dictionary.[8][9]
  • Family Recovery program, funded by the Betty Ford Institute, addresses the family dynamics behind addiction problems, in a 12-hour program that would facilitate recovery in the context of the whole family situation. The program is conducted by a trained staff in a different community on the reservation each month. Many have gone on to participate in other Mission programs such as Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous.[10]
  • Suicide prevention: In a single year beginning in October 2007, over 1% of the 20,000 on the reservation attempted suicide and 27 succeeded, compared to a national rate of 11.26 suicides.[11] In hearings before the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, more leadership activities were called for to address the problem,[12] warranting an emphasis on the mission's Academy program. In line with testimony before the same committee, the Mission provides a crisis hotline 24/7.[13][14]
  • KINI 96.1 FM radio is a work of the Mission and covers south central South Dakota and north central Nebraska. offering a complete spectrum of news on the reservation and national scenes, along with weather, music, local sports, and religious education.[15] It reaches over 20,000 listeners.[16]
  • A dental clinic with volunteer dentists has been running since 2012.[17]
  • Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum is named for the noted linguist and ethnologist Fr. Eugene Buechel, S.J., who came to the Mission in 1902 and died there in 1954. It houses a collection of over 2000 items related to ethnography and over 42,000 photos.[18][19] The Mission is also represented in a Special Collection in the Marquette University archives.[20]

See also[edit]

  • The Blackrobe in the land of the wigwam : St. Francis Mission, St. Francis, South Dakota. Quincy, IL: Jost & Kiefer. 1920. Retrieved May 27, 2016.
  • Inculturation project. Accessed 26 April 2016
  • National Register of Historic Places listings in Todd County, South Dakota


  1. ^ a b National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. ^ "NRHP nomination for St. Francis Mission". National Park Service. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  3. ^ "Life with the Lakota: A Jesuit mission on the rez". America Magazine. 2012-07-30. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  4. ^ "St. Francis Mission | Mission History". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  5. ^ "St. Francis Mission | Jesuit Volunteers". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  6. ^ "St. Francis Mission | About". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  7. ^ "St. Francis Mission | Sapa Un Academy". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  8. ^ "St. Francis Mission | Lakota Studies". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  9. ^ "Land of the Burnt Thigh". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  10. ^ "St. Francis Mission | Recovery". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  11. ^ "NIMH » Suicide". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  12. ^ "More Mental Health Resources Needed to Battle Teen Suicides in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities : U.S. Medicine". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  13. ^ "St. Francis Mission | Suicide Prevention". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  14. ^ Catholic News Service, April 7, 2016.
  15. ^ "St. Francis Mission | KINI Radio". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  16. ^ says, St Francis Mission Online Donation Campaign | The Practicing Catholic (2011-02-08). "The St. Francis Mission Among the Lakota". The Practicing Catholic. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  17. ^ "St. Francis Mission | Dental Clinic". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  18. ^ "St. Francis Mission | Museum". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  19. ^ "Rosebud Sioux Tribe". 2014-12-01. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  20. ^ "St. Francis Mission Records Catholic Jesuits Sisters of St Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity Lakota Sioux Sicangu Brule Indians Rosebud Reservation South Dakota | Marquette Archives | Raynor Memorial Libraries | Marquette University". Retrieved 2017-02-20.

Coordinates: 43°8′18.74″N 100°54′16″W / 43.1385389°N 100.90444°W / 43.1385389; -100.90444