Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel

Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel is a sacred place on the campus of St. Joseph’s Indian School, bridging the traditions of Catholicism and Lakota spirituality together. The chapel was dedicated in 1956 and refurbished in 1985.

The bell tower is made up of three ascending rectangles. These shapes are also echoed in the framing of the east-facing, sunburst window. These rectangles symbolize the Black Hills and the Holy Trinity, indicating to all who enter this is holy ground.

At the chapel’s entrance, an intricate, terrazzo floor design signifies the four Gospels. Arrows show the Four Directions in Lakota culture. Together, they indicate the spread of the Gospels to the ends of the earth.

Oscar Howe’s Indian Christ painting was replicated on a tapestry, which is the focal point behind the altar. At seven-feet by 10-feet, the tapestry honors Jesus and all He stands for. Beadwork arches over the tapestry.

At the front of the sanctuary are statues of two important saints. On the right is St. Joseph, our school’s patron. On the left is Our Lady of the Sioux. Both statues were hand-carved from a single piece of wood. Together, their presence brings a balance in honoring both the Catholic faith and Lakota culture.

Br. Bonaventure stenciled the woodwork on the arches and throughout the chapel.

A marvelous pipe organ, a gift from St. Aloysius parish in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was added in 1997.

The crowning jewels of the chapel are the stained glass windows, designed by Ron Zeilinger.

The Sacred Pipe

PtesáŋwiŋWhite Buffalo Calf Woman, who brought the sacred pipe to the Lakota (Sioux), was a messenger of the Great Spirit. The holy pipe is used in the seven sacred rites as a means of divine communication with Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋkathe Great Spirit.

InípiRite of Purification

This ceremony is used to summon strength and clarity. Utilizing the oínikaǧesweat lodge — all the forces of the universe (earth, water, fire, air) are united to purify the people to hear the Great Spirit.

HaŋbléčheyapiCrying for a Vision

The Vision Quest is an important way of praying and is at the center of Lakota ways. Men and women lament or cry for a vision. Men retreat to a high, lonely mountain, while women seek the protection of a valley.

Wiwáŋyaŋg WačhípiSundance

Held during the Moon of Good Berries (June) or the Moon of Chokecherries Blackening (July), it always takes place when the moon is full as a reminder of man’s ignorance, which comes and goes like the waxing and waning of the moon.

Wanáǧi YuhápiKeeping of the Soul

In this rite, family members continue to remember their loved one’s soul through prayer and sacred ceremonies. Usually after a year, the soul is released through rituals led by the keeper of the pipe. The soul is then sent on the sacred path to Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋkathe Great Spirit.

Tȟápa WaŋkáyeyapiThrowing of the Ball

This has become a game parallel to the course of an individual’s life. As teams try to obtain the ball to score, so the individual tries to attain understanding of the Great Spirit’s teachings. In today’s game, one or two of four teams are able to win. The significance of the original ritual depended upon the ability of all the people to have the ball and to learn to live a sacred life.

Išnáthi Awíčhalowaŋpi A Girl’s Coming of Age

This rite celebrates the sacred changing of a girl into a woman. At this time, she is instructed in the ways her life will change and about the responsibilities that will fall upon her as she assumes the duties performed by Uŋčí MakȟáMother Earth.

HuŋkálowaŋpiMaking of Relatives

This ceremony establishes an earthly relationship between individuals to extend the Great Spirit’s love to people of all nations.


As able lay leaders, Native Americans served to instruct, perform ceremonies and deliver the Gospel to their people. Their efforts gained many converts when a limited number of priests could not meet demands in distant communities. On October 6, 1906, Ivan Star performed the first recorded baptism by a catechist. Nicholas Black Elk, Sr. — perhaps better known as Black Elk of “Black Elk Speaks” — was a highly influential catechist for most of his life.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

Kateri, the first Native American to be canonized, became a saint on October 12, 2012. She was born in New York in 1656 to a Mohawk father and an Algonquin mother. Accepting the Gospel preached by the French “Blackrobes” (Jesuits), Kateri was baptized on Easter of 1676 and became a Christian in a non-Christian community. She resolved to dedicate her life completely to God. Faced with unbearable conditions, she (like Abraham) set out on a journey in faith to live among a Christian Indian community established by the Jesuits.


From the Church’s beginning in Dakota Territory, monks and nuns dedicated their lives to education and evangelization, exemplifying their motto: WORSHIP and WORK. The insignia and cross of St. Benedict are supported by two Benedictines in this window.

Bishop Martin Marty

A former abbot of St. Meinrad’s Abbey in Indiana, Bishop Marty came to work among the Plains people in 1876. Born in Switzerland in 1834, he traveled endlessly from mission to mission throughout the territory, building the Church with respect and regard for Native American people. He was responsible for the first Catholic Indian Congress in 1891. Marty Mission at Wagner, South Dakota and Mount Marty College in Yankton, South Dakota bear his name.

Native American Clergy

In 1975, two deacons were accorded permanent status and ordained in the Rapid City Diocese: Reno Richards of Allen, South Dakota and Steven Red Elk from Manderson, South Dakota. On June 12, 1985, in the same diocese, Fr. Collins Jordan was the first Lakota-speaking priest to be ordained.

Priests of the Sacred Heart

In 1923, Sacred Heart Fathers and Brothers officially arrived at Lower Brule, South Dakota. Their arrival is symbolized by the Lakota Morning Star design and the SCJ emblem. Fr. Mathias Fohrman, SCJ — a native of Luxembourg, Germany — is beckoned to the Church for the first time by its light from within. In 1927, the SCJs opened the doors to St. Joseph’s Indian School.

Oblate Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

The first Native American community of sisters in the United States, the order was established at Marty Mission in 1935 to offer Native American women an opportunity to live in a community close to their people, language and customs. Holding a banner depicting the symbol of the Eucharist, the sisters are portrayed in the original habit of the sisterhood. Yútapi Wakȟáŋ means “eating holy,” the Lakota phrase for the Eucharist.

Father De Smet, SJ

The first of many dedicated Jesuits to work among South Dakota’s native people, De Smet seems to have first encountered them in 1839. Father De Smet’s memoirs reveal his knowledge of gold in the Black Hills 30 to 40 years before its discovery. The gold nuggets at his feet serve as a reminder of his determination to maintain secrecy, knowing the Indian people would be subjected to the onslaught of white migration.

The East Window

Just before the sun rises, there is a star that stands alone in the sky and shines brightly in the east. This is called the Morning Star by the Lakota and announces the coming of sun and light on the earth. It is a fitting symbol for the chapel as it is the title given to Mary who appeared on the horizon announcing the coming of Christ.