The St. Charles Mission School campus of St. Labre located in Pryor, Montana on the western edge of the Crow Indian Reservation will celebrate 125 years of service to the community and surrounding area on October 15, 2016. According to Bambi Van Dyke, Principal, the day will be filled with feasting, festivities and a Mass led by Bishop Michael Warfel. Everyone ever affiliated with the school is invited to join the celebration.
Following are excerpts from a history of the school researched and written by Father Randolph Graczyk, OFM Cap, the current pastor of the church who celebrated 40 years of service there in 2015.
Beginning in 1880, Jesuit missionaries began visiting the Crow camps, and by 1887, a permanent mission had been established at St. Xavier in Montana territory. On March 14, 1890, Chief Plenty Coups sent a petition to the Secretary of the Interior asking that the Jesuits be allowed to build a schoolhouse and church at Pryor:
I, Plenty-Coos, head of Pryor Creek Indians in the Crow Reservation, having known by my own experience, as well as by my people’s how good is the heart of Rev. J.M. Cataldo, S.J. and his companions love our children, how nicely they treat them and teach them, have decided with my friends and counsel to call, as I did, on the same Rev. J.M. Cataldo, S.J. and companions for the purpose to induce them to accept my proposal, to come and to attend to my children in Pryor Creek; they kindly receive my petition and consented to.
Hoping that you will grant, Great Father, this permission as soon as possible and they make good our hearts, I remain
The petition met with success and in October, 1891, Father Peter Paul Prando, S.J. built the first chapel at Pryor on land donated by the Crows through Chief Plenty Coups. In February, 1892, three Ursuline Sisters traveled from St. Xavier to Pryor to open the school. When their wagon broke down on the 46 mile journey across the wilderness, they were forced to spend the night in the open, walking up and down through the snow to keep warm. In the meantime their Indian guide found help at a ranch, and they finally arrived in Pryor in a borrowed wagon.
There was only one building at the mission, a newly built chapel 50 by 24 feet, which served as school, church and living quarters. On March 18, three little boys arrived, and the school was opened.
Over the years, the school thrived but also fell on hard times, even to the point of closing briefly, but in 1965, Bishop Condon asked the Capuchin priests and brothers to take over the parishes on the Crow Reservation, including Pryor. From that point, the school has grown and thrived until the present.