Franciscan Sisters at St. Peter Indian Mission, Bapchule, AZ

by Sister Julie Ann on April 30, 2008

1935bapchule.jpg2008 marks the seventy third year of our Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity presence among the Gila River community at Bapchule, AZ. In December 1935 Fathers Antonine and Celestine, friars of the Santa Barbara Province of Friars Minor welcomed the first Franciscan Sisters to St. Peter Mission.  Shortly after their ministry began, Father Antonine wrote to Mother Generose: “The Sisters really love the Indians.”

2006_0623image0030.JPGThe Sisters’ experiences always included more than teaching at St. Peter Indian School. It was not unusual to find the first Sisters gardening, tending bee hives, raising turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, pigeons and goats. In 1945 a grape arbor eventually yielded about forty bushels of seedless grapes each summer. Sharing their life and talents in many ways, today’s Sisters continue to be enriched by the children and their families. Learn more about this desert place through the eyes of the seven Sisters who are blessed to be at St. Peter Mission at this time in its tender history.

20 thoughts on “Franciscan Sisters at St. Peter Indian Mission, Bapchule, AZ”

  1. Sister Carol Mathe says:

    Hello, my name is Sister Carol and I have been working here at St. Peter Mission since 1997. There is a community of 7 sisters working here who are truly dedicated to serving the Pima Indians on the Gila River Reservation. Everyone is very much in love with these children where we have a school of Kindergarten through 8th grade with 200 students who are coming to us from a 21 mile radius.
    The desert calls us daily to remind us of our calling to service for the Lord. Our lives are ones of simplicity and service to the poor.

  2. Sister Elaine Turba says:

    Greetings from St. Peter Indian Mission in Bapchule, AZ. I am Sister Elaine and this is my first year at St. Peter’s. It is a joy to be living and working here among the Pima Indians. I have felt very welcomed by the Sisters and the community of St. Peter’s.

    Life in the desert brings new experiences and new sights, allowing one to see with new eyes, the marvels of God’s creation. This is a beautiful corner of God’s world.

  3. A few questions: Sister Carol, just how do you see your life as simple? Sister Elaine, just what about the desert life is so beautiful?

    Sister Hilda shared with me your May Sacrament Preparation calendar. My, the Spirit is moving across the desert (along with the tumbleweed!) By the looks of the planning, you are offering various ways to learn about the Catholic faith in anticipation of Bishop Olmstead arriving for a Confirmation liturgy on May 31, 2008. I hope we hear more about this outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit among you.

  4. Sister Carol Mathe says:

    I see my life in the desert as simple because the needs and wants are so few. The beauty of the desert draws one close to our Creator and one can enjoy the Presence of God in His creation. When you work with the marginally poor, you appreciate and live in that Presence and you don’t need other things.

  5. Thanks, Sister Carol. Ah,the O.T. and N.T.(e.g. Psalm 63,Jesus’ 40 day desert retreat) reveal the desert as a profound place to meet God as well. Needs and wants…St. Francis would agree that simplicity does begin there.

  6. Sister Elaine Turba says:

    The beauty of the desert is evident in its contrasts – the sturdiness of the mountains that surround us and the daintiness of the flowers that bloom after the winter rains. Each day I am in awe of the brilliant sunrises/sunsets. Being away from the lights of the city the night sky is filled with many bright stars. All these aspects of the desert add the peacefulness that become part of life here, the touch of God’s creative hand at work.

  7. Sister Marie Bernadette Dorn says:

    You dear Sisters are jewels in the desert for the Lord! Your happiness comes through amidst the hardships of daily life. May the Lord reward all your efforts to serve His little ones with many blessings! You are loved and deserve to be loved!

  8. Sister Carol Mathe says:

    Today was a day of peace and the flowing of God’s love as we had 22 Baptisms. The faith is alive and well here as those baptized ranged in age from 2 to 18 years old. God’s children help us to believe and to have hope that is fully alive here in the desert. God’s peace filled us all with awe.

  9. Sister Marcolette Madden says:

    Sister Elaine, your description of the contrasts that make the natural beauty of the desert so striking reminded me of our community’s focus on the Rule of St. Francis, and how contemplation is at the heart of Franciscanism. Our discussion group (7 of us here at the college) decided to take note of beauty in whatever form we found it – spider webs, sunsets, fluffy clouds, wooded trails, etc. – as a way of connecting with the Divine. We found this to be a very refreshing practice. I wish we could have come to “your” desert that month for a star gazing party.

  10. srosangela says:

    Our Sisters who work in the desert seem to love life there and the people they serve. To me it seems a special calling as I’m sure there are hardships as well as joys. But I never have heard any complaints about life there, only the positive side. May God continue to bless each of you in your ministry.

  11. Sister Martha Mary Carpenter says:

    Many WARM greetings to your from Bapchule!
    My name is Sister Martha and I have been blessed to be missioned at St Peter’s for 20+ years. St. Peter School is best described as an
    ‘intergenerational school’. Many of our children can say that their parents, grandparents and great grandparetns were students at St. Peter Indian Mission School. Sometimes I feel like “Grandma Martha’,
    because the children and sometimes the grandchildren of my earlier classes are current students!! Now a little about life at the Mission…
    ‘Twas 110 deg. yesterday but today it is cooling down, only a 109 deg. day is expected!! Because the heat is here, our school track almost looks like a crowded freeway at 8:45 a.m….as we try to get our ‘laps’ in before the temps spike to 100 deg…usually by 10:00 a.m.
    It is very important to us that our children run/walk at least 1 mile a day to kick in their metabolism and give them the energy to learn! Our people, the Gila River Pima, have the highest incidence of diabetes of any ethnic group in the WORLD. Knowing this, we are proactive in giving our children the skills they need to offset the onset of that disease. Through good nutrition and a great running program and P.E. program we are succeeding. Our children are the healthiest children on the entire Reservation and the happiest!!! Many of the Sisters daily ‘do laps’ too…and it keeps the children going!
    Please come out and visit and experience the JOY of the Lord as seen and heard in the lives of our children and of our Sisters! In coming, please make sure you have good tennis shoes and drink lots of water!
    We are busy preparing our children and their parents and our high school kids to receive the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Our Confirmation Class is so large, that we have had to divide the class into 2 Confirmation Masses. Our first Confirmation Mass is Wednesday, May 28th at 7:00 p.m. and our second is Saturday, May 31st at 11:00 a.m.
    The Spirit is alive and well in the Desert….

  12. Sister Marcolette Madden says:

    Sister Carol, what are some culturally responsive instructional strategies you would recommend for today’s classroom? Our SLC Teacher Education Program focuses on diverse learners, and we are constantly examining practices for pre-service teachers so that they build an inclusive learning community. Are ALL of your students Pima? Is there a mix of other ethnic groups? Is there diversity regarding socio-economic status?

    In some cultures, proximity is an issue, as well as eye contact. How do the Pima view competition versus cooperative learning modes? Would a Spelling Bee, for example, be a culturally responsive mode of learning – or a denial of their values?

    Thanks for letting me “pick your brain” and “mine” the wisdom you have gained from working with the Pima.

    Sister Marcolette

  13. Sister Carol Mathe says:

    Sister Marcolette:
    Some instructional strategies that I would recommend is that one has to work with the children in learning to speak up in front of the class (proximity). There is the tendency to speak softly and not to look directly at you. One of the ways we have used to help the children learn to speak out is to have them act out the Gospel stories in our weekly liturgies. The other strategy you have to work with is that the students need concrete and tactile experiences; it is difficult for them to work in the non-tactile. Retaining information is a very real problem we face with our many of our Pima children. (They may know it today and a week later there is no recall.)

    All of our students have some Pima culture in them, but there are many inter-racial families including Mexican, Navajo, Hopi, Apache, Tohono O’odham and White. I am sure that there are probably a few more that I may have missed. The socio-economic status is pretty much on the poverty level. Yes, we have some middle class and even a few that are well to do, but the majority struggle for a decent living.

    Because of the diversity of cultures we have some students who are very much into competition, but the majority are content with the status quo. We are working with the students in cooperative groups to learn how to share information and just to work with one another. Spelling Bees are a difficulty because so many find it difficult to recall.

    One very positive value we find among many of our children is an artistic ability. Their ability to draw is highly honed within their culture and they love doing it. So we use that aability in many ways. Overall all of our children are happy children who know tht when they come to our school they will be safe and that they are loved.

    Sister Carol

  14. Sister Martha, it was good to have you here as Sister Thereselle’s jubilee hostess! May the Holy Spirit continue to move deeply among you and the people of God as you all prepare for Confirmation liturgies. Your stories were proof once again that the power of the sacraments can never be over rated! Peace and all good.

  15. I have enjoyed reading all the comments and was particularly interested in the discussion of learning strategies in various cultures. We are always working on adult learning strategies and it is helpful for me to “listen in” in the discussion.

    Blessings on all Confirmandi!

  16. Nana Pat says:

    Thank you for your wonderful work.

    Please include in your prayers our children, Paul, Laura, Peter, and Zea Barbara, for return to their faith, health, safety, and properity.

  17. Tony Ortiz says:

    Good morning Sisters, I would like to say thank you for showing me kindness and accepting my volunteer work at the mission. I am having a battle with alcoholism but i have been sober for three years.I think back on all the hard work the sisters and staff do for the children. I have learned by your example (also by my uncle Melvin and aunts Irene and Francis) that only good things are created by hard work, perseverance, and faith. I thank the lord for you Sister Martha and all the Sisters. Mr. Tony Ortiz

  18. Bboy says:

    hello sister martha my name is brenden morago i hope and would lov to visit you and the school again

  19. Lil' Deezy says:

    hey sisi martha itz abriel jst want to say update your comment on here 3 years ago whoa just missed you guys just wanted to c wat yall sisters were doing but sister martha your a good teacher and princpal 🙂 write me back at i would love to add you as my bf ?! muchh lovee ?! <3 :):):):):) to : sister martha  aka “grandma martha” but your more like an mama 2 mee and my cousin brendan morago says he wants to come byy i d know when ever please tommarow pray for mee on the liturugy tommaroww okk gudd nite God bless

  20. VIKRAM says:



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