Courtesy Kim Oseira
Kim Oseira with her great grandsons Kaiden, 5, and Ethan, 7.

The Last Orphans of Holy Cross

Mary Annette Pember

Although the boarding school closed in 1956, Oseira and Della Mae stayed on for over a year until they could be reunited with their mother. The last orphans at Holy Cross slept alone in the mission library, a lonely experience that still haunts Oseira.

Once their mother, Ruth, was located, church officials dropped the girls off on her doorstep in Seattle.

Ruth was living in a small inner city apartment with her two infant daughters and a new man. She and the man were drinking heavily and soon abandoned all four of the girls for several days. Hungry and afraid, Oseira now 16, sought help from neighbors who called the sheriff. She and Della Mae were placed in jail for several weeks until police could find homes for them.

The infants were returned to Ruth.

The sisters, however were placed in separate foster homes. Oseira’s foster parents were kind but Della Mae ended up with a family who used her as an unpaid servant. Della Mae became pregnant during her stay and was pressured by the foster parents to give them custody of her baby daughter.

Over the following years, Oseira lost track of Della Mae. Free at last of the nuns, she threw herself into life, even changing her name from Pauline to Kim.  She blotted out her life at Holy Cross. Distancing herself further from her painful past, she moved often. Hard work and long hours kept the pain away. Married and divorced three times, she currently lives in Minneapolis near her two grown daughters.

“My daughters have complained that I was always married to my job. I didn’t really have any true knowledge of parenting skills,” she admits.

Recently, however, the sight of her 5 year-old grandson made the memories of Holy Cross especially poignant. As she tenderly watched him play during a family gathering, she realized she was the same age as the little boy when she was sent to Holy Cross.

“No child should ever be treated like we were treated,” she said chocking back tears.

A view of Holy Cross Mission from the river bank (Library of Congress)Oseira is telling her story to ensure it never happens again and she tells it for Della Mae, always for Della Mae who now lives on the streets of Seattle a prisoner of addiction and mental illness.“For true healing to happen, Catholics and the church need to admit their mistakes,” she said.

The only way to survive at the orphanage was to lie, so the truth holds a special significance for Oseira.

“I’ve promised myself to always tell the truth; that is what God really wants from us, she said.

“Maybe now those who have suffered can rest in peace; maybe by gaining some understanding of what happened, they can heal,” she said.

Like that beautiful solitary tree from her childhood vision, Oseira stands tall, bravely sharing her memories.

“I know in my heart that God is with me every step of the way,” she said.


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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
How many Natives who have been persecuted by religion have adopted the religion that persecuted them? I'm a devout Agnostic, but if I'm going to worship it won't be under the guidance of anyone who has done such horrible things.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
I am so sorry for what was done to you Kim. Know in your heart that the Creator can heal that pain in time even if it takes a lifetime. It says in the Christians Bible that at the end of time every tear will dry & all memories of this life will be no more. I hope that is so my friend. Sometimes our pasts are a painful thing even decades later. I know as I have listened to some of our elders older than myself I have seen their tears & the pain they feel even after almost a lifetime of those terrible events suffered at the hands of those some of us were sent to take care & educate us. I also believe that those monsters have a special place in Hell waiting for them. Our Creator is a loving, kind, gentle spirit who can take that pain away in time. Sometimes He sends special people into our lives who show us daily just how special we truly are, loving us, showing us the compassion of He who made us all. Take care my friend & may Man Above send a spirit of kindness your way this very day.

odawak66's picture
Submitted by odawak66 on
It took a lot of courage for this woman to share her story. So many are silent because of the degree of trauma they experienced. It has been proven though the more we can talk about it the more we can recover from the residual effects. There is a annual school that is conducted in Albuquerque, NM each year by the Native American Training Institute. The school is designed and conducted by Native people. This will be my sixth year (the school use to be conducted under the name "American Indian Training Institute." The school addresses some of the residuals of historical trauma effectively.

Stands on Hill's picture
Stands on Hill
Submitted by Stands on Hill on
This story made me want to cry. God bless you for stepping forward to share your story. And I hope that it touches and helps others who have gone through the horrors of being taken from family and put into a boarding school where they have had an abusive life. or perhaps even the children/grandchildren of those who have endured such trauma - and will help them understand what that person went through. Cannot understand what is WRONG with people who present themselves as "religious persons" and commit such acts against children! My prayers go out to you - yes, the Creator will come when you call Him - and he will touch and help you. My prayers also for your sister who struggles with the past. May God bless you and your entire family.

marten's picture
Submitted by marten on
I went to Holy Cross Mission, as an orphan. Many people from the Yukon River villages, did. To my knowledge, we never suffered physical abuse at the hands of the sisters, brothers and priests. We were allowed to visit the villagers in Holy Cross once in a while. We were allowed to run in the woods after the school day was over. We did have to work at the woodpile; we worked in the garden. We had different movies to watch. It wasn't a place for so much entertainment. There were all sorts of fun. We were in bunks, and kept warm. We celebrated holidays like Christmas. Above all, we were educated. We were told constantly, that we were equal to other people who happened to be rich. We were equal in the eyes of God. I never forgot this, ever.

marten's picture
Submitted by marten on
I went to Holy Cross Mission as an orphan. We were treated very well considering how poor we were. We were allowed to visit with the Holy Cross villagers, occasionally. We went on holiday trips to the beautiful meadow, by pickup. It was a hard life, but we had 3 meals a day. We were allowed to play in the woods in the hills above us after the school and work day. Most of all, we were told time and time again, that we were/are equal to everyone else. This served many of us very well when we entered the mainstream for a lifetime.

marten's picture
Submitted by marten on
I have to give a more complete report: I did witness abuse on very infrequent basis. The abuse was more mental, than physical. And it was based on the ignorance of the period. Always remember it was the times. And our people had no way of raising their orphans, adequately. So, Holy Cross Mission was a godsend. Our people were dirt-poor. Also, many of us had relatives who could come to visit their children. Even a trip like that was many times more than our families could afford. What was the abuse? Shame, for what we did. We were humiliated in front of our peers. This humiliation stemmed more from ignorance. How were these caucasian people to know that natives had innate intelligence, sensitivity, and vulnerability which were overlooked? After all, these men and women were highly educated in the formal ways. They just didn't realize what Will Rogers meant when he said: "We are all ignorant; except in different ways!"

Kathleen Reed
Kathleen Reed
Submitted by Kathleen Reed on
Misunderstanding This article uses an image from a Russian Orthodox Church, also called "Holy Cross"--a frequently used name--but the Roman Catholics split off from the Orthodox about a thousand years ago. They are not the same Church, though we all hope for reunion, which will bring reforms.

Kathleen Reed
Kathleen Reed
Submitted by Kathleen Reed on
Misunderstanding This article uses an image from a Russian Orthodox Church, also called "Holy Cross"--a frequently used name--but the Roman Catholics split off from the Orthodox about a thousand years ago. They are not the same Church, though we all hope for reunion, which will bring reforms.