The founding of St. Labre Indian School in 1884 was one of the first efforts to care for Native Americans who had been displaced as a result of homesteading. George Yoakam, a former soldier who had been stationed near Miles City, Montana, recognized the hard times experienced by the Northern Cheyenne. He contacted Montana Bishop John Brondel and told him of Indian people who were roaming the Tongue River Valley without homes or land – a reservation had not yet been set aside as their land. Land was purchased by the Bishop, and on March 29, 1884, St. Labre Indian School became a reality.
In response to a request by Bishop Brondel for priests and nuns to work among the Northern Cheyenne, three Ursuline nuns and their Superior arrived from Toledo, Ohio. The Mother Superior left after seeing the three to St. Labre and getting them settled. A three-room log cabin served as residence, school, dormitory, and even as a church.
The hardships during the years that followed were many. Due to lack of funds, the school was at times on the verge of closing. In 1954, only 64 children were enrolled. As a result of the generosity of many people who had learned of St. Labre, the school survived and began to grow.
In 1965, St. Labre Indian School was asked to extend its support to the Crow Indian Reservation. This resulted in the development of two additional campuses – Pretty Eagle Catholic School at St. Xavier and St. Charles Mission School at Pryor – which continue today.
Unfortunately, not all the children cared for by St. Labre come from nurturing homes. Often, the devastation of alcoholism or drug abuse in the home presents dangerous situations for children. St. Labre’s Youth and Family Services Program offers individual, group and family counseling to those in crisis. In addition, to instill respect and compassion in our children the Youth and Family Services Program engages our students in outreach programs to the elders and those most in need within our communities.
The St. Labre “miracle” does not end at the educational level. Mindful of our responsibility to serve as an important member of the community in which we exist, many other programs and services are provided.