From the Archives: “Jose Hobday Loves the Church, Tiptoes Around”

As part of an effort to communicate the history and mission of  Today’s American Catholic, we will be periodically sharing features from past issues in a series we call “From the Archives.” We begin with the following interview with Franciscan Sister Jose Hobday, a Seneca woman who infused her Catholic practice with the rituals and wisdom of her Native American heritage. The interview was originally published in our December 1993 edition, when our journal was known as The American Catholic. Readers interested in learning more about Sister Jose may wish to read John Dear’s 2009 profile in the National Catholic Reporter. Theologian and advocate of “Creation Spirituality” Matthew Fox has a brief but insightful meditation on Sister Jose’s vision of voluntary simplicity here, and following Sister Jose’s passing in April 2009, Kimberly Matas of the Arizona Daily Star wrote a tribute to her life available here—Ed.

BERLIN, Conn. – Franciscan Sister Jose Hobday was the keynote speaker at the 25th anniversary dinner for the Office of Urban Affairs of the Archdiocese of Hartford this past October.

The American Catholic – Northeast caught up with this teacher of ritual and spirituality at Holy Names College in Oakland, Calif., after the dinner. The interview follows this brief introduction.

A Native American, Hobday has worked on reservations in Montana and Arizona. She has taught on the high school and university levels. She holds degrees in American literature, architecture, engineering, theology, communication, inner-city planning, and world religions.

TAC: Tonight at the end of your talk here you talked about children. What is it that parents can do, what is that priests can do in parishes?

JH: What we have to do is find ways to extend the family a little more. See, it’s when the extended family broke down, when grandmas and grandpas, and aunts and uncles and cousins weren’t around much, children kind of got isolated. Then, when parents went to work, they kind of got put to one side, not because anybody wanted them to but if you are never here for them and they are coming home, if they’re a latchkey kid and they’re making all their own choices about television and then who their friends are, they’re so much more susceptible to peer pressure really. Because they don’t have the built-in correction system of a parent noticing what they’re doing. So one thing I think we have to do is, is really take seriously children. To not let them walk alone, to kind of reach out, to use the people in the parish to love the children, and to help care for the children.

TAC: Do you have examples of this in your own ministry where you see these things happening?

JH: Yeah, most of it with the Protestants. Well, the Protestants have always been looking after the children. They have always had a Sunday school and more people involved with them. And they bring them in and out of church. I would say, generally, because of their history of having Sunday school and having their children connected to the church, and taking them off to camps in the summer time. I’ve gone out to camps and given them spiritual leadership talks to the kids in the camps. Sleep in a bunk bed, do it all. So I see that and I think it has come out of this, extend the family and find a few people for children to be able to talk to, to love.

TAC: Now when I was growing up, my mother would send all of us kids off with goodies for older people, and she’d say, “Now, you be nice when you visit Mrs. Casey. Don’t just run in and run out, you sit down and talk to her a little bit. Learn something.” So we were always kind of being raised to be little hospitality kids, looking after other people. And I’m still like that. I never neglect the elderly. I’m always visiting and sitting with people and listening to five times over stories. They don’t bore me because I want people to feel welcome.

TAC: How about the importance of stories, both for our faith and our children?

JH: Absolutely essential. The reason stories are so essential is because you can remember them. They’re a way of remembering, they’re a way of reflection. My dad was a salesman, and wonderful storyteller. And my mother was a storyteller, in her tribe, officially. And when I was initiated when I was 12 into my tribe, I was initiated as a storyteller. So I was always trying to learn to tell stories.

To be a good storyteller you have a good memory, you have to notice what goes on, and then you have to know how to tell the story. My mom and dad would work on us so we’d learn to tell stories. When we came home from school, daddy would say, “What happened today, Jo?” And then I’d say, “La la la la.” Sometimes you don’t want to talk to your parents, you know. He’d say, “Boy, it sounds dully. Were you that dull everywhere you went today? I don’t think of you as a dull little girl. Were you that dull?”

Well, then I’d think it out. Well this happened and that happened and then I got to where I’d dress it up a little. Then, I had all these brothers so we went to the same school so they knew I was dressing it up. And my brother would say, “Daddy, it didn’t happen like that. She’s making a lot of that up.” And daddy would say, “Well, is it true, is it basically true?” My brother said, “Well, yeah, it’s basically true, but she’s added a lot of stuff.” My dad said, “That’s what makes it a good story, son. You have to decorate. You have to color things a little bit or they’re not interesting. You tell it to yourself first, decorate it to yourself; make sure it’s true, but then you tell it to yourself so it’s interesting. And then you’ll tell other people, and it’ll be interesting.”

TAC: Well, I’ve heard the story of how you got your name. [Her grandfather walked over to where the wealthy people lived and took for his own a name from one of the mailboxes.] Is that part of your tradition?

JH: Stole it. No, no. Our tradition would be to have your own name, but you couldn’t get a job. You know, you couldn’t get a job if nobody could spell your name or pronounce your name, so my great grandfather just was a smart man. He went looking for one.

TAC: Sounds like you had a great family.

JH: I did. We were large. See I had nine brothers and no sisters. Six of my brothers were blood brothers, three were different nationalities: one was a little red-haired, freckle-faced Irish kid, one was Mexican American, one was an Apache; so we were all half-breeds and we had these other kids mixed with us, and then we were tribally oriented. We lived next to the tribe in the southwest right off the Ute Mountain reservation. We couldn’t live on the reservation because the government wouldn’t let us. The tribe would let us. But the government, see, always has these sways over us and we can’t do all those things.

TAC: I can’t even begin to understand that.

JH: It’s because we’re wards in this country. We’re just little orphans in this country.

TAC: In Connecticut, I don’t know if you are aware of everything that has been going on with the gambling casinos? [The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation expanded their Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut, in 1992–93—Ed.]

JH: Why not? Let them go after Trump if they have a problem. Why run after the Indians? The Indians are making money to get their health centers and their schools done up and everything, and they don’t have all these prostitution problems and everything.

TAC: You can say that. You know that that’s the case.

JH: I was in Washington, D.C. See Indians have always loved to gamble. We have always loved to gamble. We’ve had more gambling games, you know. And I was in the state of Washington, and see, once we get native lawyers, they find out some of this stuff. Well, there was an area of three or four blocks, in the middle of the town of MacDonald, Washington, and it belonged to the Indians. And when the Indians found out, they said, gee, we can set up a casino there. People come and go. This is a kind of highway. People come and go. And the people of MacDonald said, we don’t want a casino here. That’s going to bring prostitution. And the Indians said, not with us. That is a white problem, you and your prostitution world. That’s not us.

TAC: How do you stay connected with church?

JH: I’m connected to church because I love it. It’s a life source for me. I love the sacramental system. I don’t like everything about it. And I don’t like the way people treat gays and things like that, I don’t like that stuff and I don’t back it up. But I love the church. There’s more right with it than wrong with it. And what’s really wrong, I just kind of tiptoe around it and keep right on going.

See, I’ve read the documents on the church, the church is not the hierarchy, and the church is not the institution; if you read Vatican II documents, you know what the church is: it’s the praying people, the serving people, the worshipping people, the suffering people, the community. See, I know what church is so I don’t let these other little things hang me up. I try to stay out of trouble.

TAC: What would you tell a little girl who wanted to be a priest?

JH: Well, I’d tell her what I told her. I was giving some evening talks in San Diego, all on prayer. First night, she came with her mother. She was 11. So I got to talking with her in between. Her name was Michelle. And then the next night, she’s back again. And the next night she’s back again. I’d had five nights of this, so the last night I said, hey, I know you don’t have to keep coming to these, that you got a babysitter, why do you keep coming? She said, I think I want to be a priest when I grow up and things like this. And I said, we are all, people my age are all working hard to make sure you can be a priest if possible. We’re trying to get the doors open. You see, it’s been this way a long time, honey, it takes time to get things changed, but we’re working hard for you.

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