School News — Seton and St Peter’s

A Partnership of Faith and Culture

For students on the Gila River Reservation, a Catholic high school education could only be a dream. Established in 1935 St. Peter’s Indian Mission School on the Gila River Reservation in Bapchule provides a Catholic education for Kindergarten through eighth grade. The only Catholic high school in the east valley and the Catholic high school nearest to the reservation is only 18 miles apart — Seton Catholic Preparatory, established in 1954. But when a family lacks transportation, 18 miles, is an insurmountable obstacle. In other parts of the Valley, it is not unusual for students to travel 18 miles to attend a Catholic high school, but for these families, the 30-minute drive by car means that most students at St. Peter’s stay on the reservation for high school.

Seton and St. Peter’s have worked to make it possible for students on the Gila River Reservation to attend Catholic high school through an established bus route that is funded by Seton Catholic Prep.

“We had been talking about creating the bus route for years and finally just did it,” said Pat Brown, St. Peter’s business manager. The route was started in 2018 with just a few students. With stops in both Casa Grande and St. Peter’s, the bus brings them to Seton and home each day.

Seton sophomore Samaira Juan, who attended St. Peter’s from kindergarten to eighth grade, is among the students who have benefitted from the bus route. She first learned about Seton in seventh grade when the admissions team came visited St. Peter’s. She knew there would be challenges, but there were so many clubs, opportunities and college prep possibilities for her.

“Only two from my class came to Seton. I wish more students from Gila River would come,” she lamented. “There is an adjustment to the culture and the work is challenging, but Seton is a Catholic school.”

Juan, who enjoys community service and someday hopes to work in law enforcement, talked at length about her experience as Junior Miss Gila River 2018-19 when she was a freshman. “I represented my community, visited pageants and other tribes, helped with events and fundraisers, and spent time with the elderly.”

As part of her Junior Miss role, Juan served the community by visiting the elderly in Sacaton. “I smiled when they smiled, and I cried when they cried,” she recalled.

Katie Price, one of Juan’s freshman teachers, attended the farewell celebration at the end of her reign as Junior Miss. “I was beyond impressed with Sam’s perspective as Jr. Miss Gila River, said Price. “She spent her year with incredible dedication to serving her community. She is a fantastic role model!”

Juan remembers fondly the way she was able to celebrate her heritage and her faith at St. Peter’s. “One of my best memories is of All Souls Day. We would sing songs at the cemetery, leaving room around us so the spirits could dance and pray with us.”

Now that transportation is a possibility, more students from St. Peter’s can share their faith traditions and cultural influence with students in the East Valley. The influence of students with experiences and traditions like Juan’s offers opportunities for Seton students to learn about and appreciate their nearby Native American brothers and sisters.

“We hope to increase the number of students at Seton from St. Peter’s,” said Seton principal Victor Serna. “We would love to graduate more Gila River students in the future!”

Pictured: Victor Serna, Seton Catholic Principal; Samaira Juan; Robert Stone, Lt. Governor of Gila River Indian Community; Katie Price, Seton Catholic Teacher; Leah Kochis, Seton Catholic Counselor