Sunday, May 10, 2009

Inside St. Boniface

It was shortly before 6:15 a.m. on a day in May 1898. All 125 children at St. Boniface Indian Industrial School filed into the chapel for their morning prayers and daily Roman Catholic Mass. Their teachers, nuns, sang with them. At 7:15 a.m. a bell rang. To the beat of a drum, the children marched by rank and in single file, to breakfast.

This, according to a write-up in the school newspaper 110 years ago, was how each school day started for the schoolchildren from the region’s Cahuilla, Serrano, LuiseƱo, Kumeyaay, and other American Indian nations. St. Boniface first opened its doors in Banning on Sept. 1, 1890. Although the school closed years ago and only its cemetery remains, memories of St. Boniface live on, especially in the families of many area Native American people who attended school there.

How the day went
Once breakfast ended, the school’s Mission Indian newspaper reported in 1898, work began: cleaning, sweeping, dusting, helping in the kitchen (girls), cutting and carrying wood (boys). At 9 a.m. another bell rang and it was time for classes. The girls on Monday would wash and iron all the school laundry, then often go to the sewing room for mending and their instruction in “plain sewing and fancy work.” Other girls worked in the kitchen, learning how to prepare meals and serve people. This, after all, was an industrial school. No one in that era foresaw women or nonwhite men as scientists, engineers or the United States President. “Baker boys” learned the art of baking bread by making it for the school (in 1905 the school boasted that 600 lbs. of flour were used each week). Other boys worked on the school farm, and learned shoemaking, carpentry, and other trades.

Three times a week all children received religious instruction and every evening at 6 p.m. they broke from work to recite prayers. At 7 p.m. they assembled in the chapel for more instruction and religious ceremony. Between were sandwiched classes and other lessons. The boys also did military drills and calisthenics. Being idle was not an option at St. Boniface.

In Diocese of San Bernardino records compiled in 1994 by diocese archivist R. Bruce Harley, we catch a glimpse of some school activities. In the June 27, 1898, “annual entertainment” program for the public, students Patricio Lugo, Peter Salvadeo, and Stephen Saubel performed a dialogue called “The Base Ball Enthusiast.” More than 30 pupils did a “Columbia” march and drill, and 21 treated the crowd to a “patriotic exercise.” The audience applauded more dialogues, recitations, and skits. The school chorus sang, “The Heavens Speak Forth the Lord’s Mighty Power,” and, “Viva L’America.” The entire school closed the program by singing in Latin, “Haec Dies Quam Fecit Dominus.”

St. Boniface and other schools taught American Indian children how to cope and work in the non-Indian world. But there also was a devastating loss. The schools were among social pressures that pushed Indian people to forget their languages, which hold their history in stories and songs. Indian children were separated from their families and were discouraged from learning their cultural traditions and knowledge. Now, Indian schools, such as Sherman Indian School in Riverside, encourage those working to recover and revive languages and cultural knowledge.

Dragonfly Lecture
In Dorothy Ramon Learning Center’s next Dragonfly Lecture on May 11, Tanya Sorrell will share some of her UC Riverside graduate research and discoveries, “Inside St. Boniface.” People are invited to share their own St. Boniface memories. The Dragonfly Lecture is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. May 11 at the Learning Center at 17 W. Hays. Organizers said donations at the door will help the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Learning Center save and share Southern California’s American Indian cultures, languages, history, and traditional arts. — Pat Murkland


justinking97 said...

My Grandfather, Raymond Paul Velasquez attented St. Bontiface.
I have a picture of him in the boys band class of 1905-1906, He was born August 8, 1893.
I am trying to find out more information regarding his records , How long he attended and what Indian tribe he is from?
The Rev. B. Florian Hahn MA was the Director at the time...
Any information would be greatly appreciated.
Linda King

Dorothy Ramon Learning Center said...

thank you! we have e-mailed you.

Erika said...

I am trying to find information about my grandmother. I know that her sister Ruby Ruiz and her brother Arthur Patrick Ruiz both graduated from this school approximately 1933-1935. I am looking for information on Rosie Ruiz. 1926-1965. I am reachable at 971-208-2314. or 1457 Arabian Ave. SE Salem Oregon 97317
Thank You
Michael Aranda

Erika said...

I am looking for information concerning my grandmother: Rosie Ruiz. I know that her brother Arthur Patrick Ruiz and her sister Ruby Ruiz both graduated from this school approx. 1933-1935.
If you can give me any information on tribal name(s) or inrollment numbers?
Thank You
Michael Aranda
1457 Ariabian Ave. SE
Salem Oregon 97317

sarah said...

I am looking for information on my grandfather Larry Lalo Cordova who attended St Boniface from approxamately 1921-1931? His birthdate was February 13, 1916. I am reachable via

D Salazar said...

I am trying to gather info on my ancestors that attended St. Boniface from 1901-1906. Their names are Elizabeth(Lizzie), Ida, Rafael or Raphael, Joseph or Jose,and Gabriel. I would like to know what tribe they were associated with name of parents and any other info you might have if any. I can reached at

Cecilia Garcia said...

I'm looking for information or documents on my grandfather Richard John Trujillo who attended in the 1930's or 40's with his brother Ralph. I can be reached at 760-468-3706., Thank you!!

Cecilia Garcia

Emilio Reyes said...

Anyone knows in which repository are the records for St Boniface? Email:

Thanks - Emilio Reyes

Emilio Reyes said...

Anyone knows in which repository are the records for St Boniface? Email:

Thanks - Emilio Reyes

Olivia Luck said...

I am trying to get information on my paternal grandmother. Only thing I have found is that she attended St. Boniface. 1920 census shows she was ten at that time. Last name Collazo, looks like maybe her sister as well.

Olivia Luck said...

I am looking for information and records for my grandmother Mary Collazo. She attended St. Boniface, shows on 1920 census as age 10. I can't find exact birthdate, parents names, etc. or 7855 Treasure Cove Ct Reno NV 89506. Much thanks