Night of Hope
When: 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5
Where: Xavier College Preparatory, 4710 N. Fifth St.
BAPCHULE — Here in the windswept desert of the Gila Indian Reservation stands a beacon of hope: St. Peter’s Mission School.
The seven Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity who live here and staff St. Peter’s rise early each morning and greet the 240 children bused in from a dozen villages that dot the reservation. More than 80 percent are from families whose income falls below the federal poverty guidelines.
The Franciscan Sisters are being honored at this year’s Night of Hope celebration as the recipients of the Guardian of Hope Award. Each year, the gala raises scholarship funds and endowment money for the 14,000 students who attend Catholic schools in the Diocese of Phoenix. The Guardian of Hope award honors those who have had a major impact on Catholic education.
“Last year we gave $125,000 out in scholarship assistance and the need requested was in excess of $450,000,” said MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of Catholic schools. “Donating to Night of Hope helps students and their parents have the opportunity to stay in Catholic schools.”
The Franciscan Sisters, living in poverty among the families they serve at St. Peter’s, bring hope to a community facing steep challenges. Sr. Martha Mary Carpenter, principal, waits for the kids at the track each morning where they begin the day by running a mile. Their tribe, the Pima, has the highest rate of diabetes in the world and fitness is emphasized. Often, the students turn to the Sisters for a word of hope.
Sr. Carol Mathe has been teaching at St. Peter’s 20 years. “They’ve got so much on their minds when they come to school in the morning. We put them all in His hands.”
“If something is going on in their families, if something bad happened or they want to talk out there, they shake it out,” Sr. Martha said of the morning laps. “Hope carries us forward. Hope gives us the courage to face each new day because it’s going to get better … and that’s what we teach our children — to become more like Jesus, to be people of hope, people of prayer and people of forgiveness.”
After their run, students head to the chapel for prayer. It’s where they end each day too. During October, they’ve been praying the Rosary in both English and their Native language, O’odham.
“We want our children to be grounded in their identities as people of Gila River, so that they can be contributing members of society, to be proud of the fact that they are Indian,” Sr. Martha said. It’s her 32nd year teaching at the school. “Many of the students in the school, I taught the parents,” she said.
Andrea Terry, who graduated from St. Peter’s and drove one of its buses for 25 years, is an ex-officio member of the school board. What would the school be like without the Franciscan Sisters? “I don’t think it would survive — they really make it work,” Terry said. “They are dedicated way beyond what they should be doing, all because they stay and live right here.”
Sr. Hannah Johnecheck is in her second year at the mission school and has 30 kindergarteners in her classroom. Soft-spoken and young, she said the most important value she is trying to instill in them is a love for Jesus. A deep faith and hope undergird that love.
“We are a consistent, solid force for them and no matter what happens around them, they know the Church, the Sisters are present here and that reminds them that Jesus is always there for them,” Sr. Hannah said.
“We’re teaching our children, that no failure, no mistake is fatal and that they always have to forgive one another as Jesus always forgives us,” Sr. Martha said.