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Red Cloud Indian School

Jesuit Superior General at Red Cloud Indian School.jpg

Red Cloud (Maȟpíya Lúta) was born in 1822 and passed on December 10, 1909.  He was an incredibly important leader to the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people.  He was a chief to the people that spanned through Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming and Nebraska.  His reputation was known amongst them all.  He was singly the first person to defeat the United States Army.  Red Cloud was instrumental in also transitioning his tribe from Nomadic life to reservation life.  What many people don't know is that Red Cloud was also Catholic and his legacy to continue to honor his people and reconcile these wounds continues to this day.

Superior General Father General Arturo Sosa visited Red Cloud Indian School in August of 2022.  Click here to see the events.

Red Cloud.jpg

A picture of Red Cloud towards the end of his life after being baptized Catholic.  He holds his Dakota Peace Pipe in his hands.

The Legacy of Red Cloud Indian School

In the year 1869, a year after Father Baraga's passing, the United States passed a policy called the "Peace Policy."  In the Peace Policy each reservation was assigned a specific denomination of the Christian religion to work with.  The United States then obtained feedback from these denominations to let the government know how well the Native Americans received Christianity.  During that time only the denominations that the government placed on the reservations were allowed.  All other denominations were escorted off the reservation.  The entirety of the region where Father Baraga worked was assigned the American Missionary Association with the exception of Grand River, MI (now Grand Rapids).  Red Clouds region was assigned the Episcopal denomination.  The Catholics were assigned missions primarily in Washington State.  Despite the Catholics success amongst the Natives, the Catholics were severely underrepresented throughout the whole of the missions allotted.  

The reputation of the Father Baraga and his missions along with the other missionaries who worked with the Natives had spread throughout the region where the Dakota natives lived as well.  Though many missionaries from other denominations proceeded to attempt to work with the Dakota, the Dakota refused the help of many of these missionaries instead claiming that they would only work with the Catholic missionaries.  The Dakota knew that the Catholic missionaries would learn their language, help them become literate, allow them to retain their cultures, and would work with the Natives to help them retain their lands and acclimate to life with the European populations.  

Red Cloud, seeing the changes that were sweeping over his land and regions, wished to have the Jesuits come to the reservation.  Red Cloud made his journey to Washington the first time and was denied.  The second time was denied.  Red Cloud went to Washington for the third time staunch in his resolve to have the Catholic faith represented.  On his third attempt to Washington in 1877 Red Cloud was granted permission to have the Catholic Faith on his reservation.

During this time frame as well the Catholics were also working to spread their work and create a work around for the Peace Policy until the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions was established in 1874.  This establishment was brought about by Bishop Ausutin Blanchet and Archbishop Francis Blanchet.  At first an attempt was made within the church to set up a representative to care for the Natives.  That did not receive the required response from within the church to make any movement.  Then Francis Blanchet decided to try and have a full-time representative in Washington which was pursued through 1872.  In 1873 a Commissioner was chosen and in 1874 the BCIM was officially established after the Secretary of Interior was officially notified.  At that time work began with a focused effort on maintaining their churches and schools on their assigned agencies and gaining access to agencies assigned to other denominations.  Over time it's focus changed to advocacy of Indian rights.  


When Red Cloud was granted permission to have the Jesuits on his reservation.  At this time a group of Jesuits and Franciscan Sisters came to the region and Red Cloud began building the Holy Rosary mission with them which would later be renamed to the Red Cloud Indian School.  The Red Cloud Indian School now is a forerunner in helping with the Truth and Healing initiative to not only help with the healing of their own histories, but the histories of other Boarding Schools as well.  Just recently the Superior General of the Jesuit Society visited this location to further help this healing to move forward and to further Pope Francis's mission to continue with these reconciliations after Pope Francis's pilgrimage to Canada in July of 2022.  To see Pope Francis's pilgrimage, click here.  To read about Superior General's Father Arturo Sosa's visit to the Red Cloud Indian School, click here.

Red Cloud Indian School Timeline
  • 1877: Chief Red Cloud implored President Rutherford B. Hayes to grant the Jesuits (known as the "black robes") permission to build a school for Lakota children

  • 1879-1884: Benedictines from Standing Rock Agency, ND attempted to visit Pine Ridge Agency

  • 1884: Black and Indian Mission Office was formed

  • 1884: Rev. JA Bushman baptized Chief Red Cloud who received "Peter" as his baptismal forename

  • 1884-1888: Rev. Francis M Craft (Mohawk) from Rosebud Agency attempted visits to Pine Ridge Agency

  • 1887: August 20: Jesuits and Lakota workers broke ground on the future site of the Holy Rosary Mission.

  • 1888: Jesuits established Holy Rosary Mission with Chief Red Cloud.  The school opened and 100 students were enrolled by the end of the year

  • 1888: Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity from Buffalo, NY staffed the Holy Rosary Mission Office

  • 1889: Wounded Knee Massacre took place not more than 10 miles from Holy Rosary

  • 1890: Following the massacred at Wounded Knee, Chief Red Cloud offered Holy Rosary protection from further violence

  • 1891: Pine Ridge Reservation delegates attended their first annual Catholic Sioux Congress at Standing Rock Reservation.  The catechetical ministry and the St. Mary and St. Joseph Societies were then organized within the reservation parishes

  • 1896: Holy Rosary Mission hosted its first Catholic Sioux Congress

  • 1898: Construction of the Holy Rosary Church, which served as the school's chapel, was completed

  • 1902: The Diocese of Lead was established and included all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. Bishop Stariha was consecrated as bishop and offered help to the Holy Rosary Mission. 

  • 1903: A Kindergarten was established at the Holy Rosary mission school.

  • 1904-1905: The school enrollment exceeded 200 students for the first time

  • 1904: Dec 6: Holy man [Nicholas] Black Elk was baptized on St. Nicholas Day.  Black Elk is up for the possibility of being canonized.  

  • 1906: Nearly 4000 Lakota Catholics traveled to Holy Rosary Mission to attend the 1906 Catholic Sioux Congress.  Participants sang hymns in the Lakota Language and mass was said in Lakota through interpreters.  

  • 1909: Holy Rosary's enrollment surpassed 200.  Chief Red Cloud passed and asked to be buried in a Jesuit Black Robe.  He was granted his wish

  • 1969: Holy Rosary was renamed Red Cloud Indian School

Superior General Father Sosa
Red Cloud Indian School's Role in Truth & Healing

Red Cloud Indian School has been a leader in advocating for Truth & Healing of Boarding Schools.  Not only do they provide the classroom space to help the re-establishment of the cultures that were lost during the era of the boarding schools, they also actively engage in the forward momentum to bring forward Truth & Healing.  The Jesuits have also actively been working with the Red Cloud Indian School to help bring forward the work of understanding and discovering their past histories in regards to the boarding schools themselves.  

The Superior General of the Jesuits visits Red Cloud Indian School

Having Father Arturo Sosa who is the Superior General of the Jesuit Society, the society to which Pope Francis belongs, visit Red Cloud Indian School from August 14 - August 17, 2022 is no small event.  Father Arturo Sosa is the Superior General or considered the leader of the Jesuit Society itself.  To read the article from the Jesuit website, click here.

On this journey Father Arturo continued the work of Pope Francis when visiting the Red Cloud Indian School.  He held many listening sessions and activities spending time talking with teachers and students.  He viewed an art show at the Red Cloud Heritage Center.  He learned of the current ways in which the school helps the students learn their language and connect Catholicism with their traditional roots.  He also spoke into ways in which the culture of the Catholic Church can shift again back into caring for those that are in need and demanding that the governmental systems ensure the welfare of those who are poor and vulnerable instead of creating oppression.  Father Arturo also continued his work in apologizing for the acts of the past and he read aloud a blessing that came directly from Pope Francis who he visited just prior to his visit in South Dakota.  Father Sosa promised to take what he had learned from the Red Cloud Indian School back to Pope Francis as well as the demands to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery after further understanding the impact that this doctrine had on the Native people. 

Wounded Knee.jpg

Superior General Sosa reads the sign at the site of Wounded Knee which took place in 1890, not more than two years after the Holy Rosary Mission was established.  Red Cloud protected the Holy Rosary Mission from harm from the Massacre which happened only about 10 miles from the mission.  

Learn more about Father Sosa's Visit to Red Cloud Indian School

"We want very much to walk together with you toward wholeness and healing" - The Jesuits News - September 30, 2022

"Jesuit Fr. General Offers Remarks at Red Cloud Indian School" - Jesuits Midwest - August 16, 2022

"Father Arturo Sosa's Visit" - Red Cloud Indian School - Shows pictures of his time at the school

"Can'te Ma'sica, I am sorry." - Lakota Times - September 14, 2022

"Top Jesuit says he will hand deliver a letter to Pope Francis on the doctrine of discovery from Indigenous people of South Dakota" - American Magazine - September 12, 2022


  1. - From the Marquette Archives

  2. - From the Red Cloud Indian School

  3. - Honoring Tim Giago - Student who was at Red Cloud Indian School and worked towards Truth & Healing of boarding school histories.  Tim passed in July 2022.

  4. They followed him to America: Slovenian Missionaries to the Upper Midwest - by John P Vidmar & Simona Štavbar

  5. - Nicholas Black Elk as possible Saint

  6. - Marquette Archives

  7. - Marquette Archives - Indian Sentinal - St. Kateri Tekakwitha Issue

  8. - Additional volumes of the Indian Sentinal

  9. - Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions

  10. - The History of Red Cloud Indian School

  11. - Red Cloud Indian Schools Histories with Truth & Healing

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