Inspired by the vision of Vatican II, the Jesuits decided to encourage Native people to direct their own Church. In 1972 Michael Murray sj, Dan Hannin sj, James Farrell sj, and Lawrence Kroker sj began a training programme for the Deaconate.
Supported completely by Bishop Alexander Carter, a Vatican II Council Father, the native Deaconate Programme started with a resource team moving from village to village once a month for weekend workshops. Sisters Patricia Hassett csj and Dorothy Regan csj were key support members of the team. These sessions covered Scripture, theology and the pastoral practice of ministry. This itinerant leadership programme functioned from 1972-1979 but distances and fatigue called for a change. It was time for a place, a location.
Fr. Bill Ryan, Jesuit Provincial at the time, fully affirmed the development of the Centre. Through a process of discernment, the Native Peoples Apostolate was chosen for an endowment of $100,000. In addition Fr. Bill was instrumental in persuading Bishops Carter (Sault Ste. Marie), Despatie (Hearst) and O’Mara (Thunder Bay) to support the establishment of the Centre. Fr. Ryan and Fr. Murray met all three and were promised $25.000. from each Diocese.
After exploring various sites, a former resort property was purchased at Anderson Lake, just south of Espanola, Ontario. Fr. Mike Murray, working with master log and timber-frame builder Paul MacNab, spearheaded the task of constructing the present-day buildings. Lawrence Andrews of the Whitefish River First Nation did the stonework. White pine were cut a few miles down the highway at Lang Lake where the Knights of Columbus had operated a Summer Camp. The Centre had its own sawmill which Fr. Kroker and Henry Andrews operated. Volunteer labour came from the villages, sometimes families on building bees. The main building was completed in 1984 with the construction of the Chapel wing. Some of the small original cottages were demolished, others renovated. Other new cottages were built.
Henry Andrews, the Centre’s jack-of-all-trades handyman, working at carpentry, plastering, plumbing, maintenance, yardwork, snow-plowing… He has worked for the Centre right from the beginning. He operated the sawmill and assisted in the log and timber-frame construction. At the age of 65 he decided to retire. But then Fr. Murray asked him to come back. He did, but then retired again. And Sister Dorothy asked him to come back. In 2005 he retired again… seriously! R.I.P. 18 March ’09
Early November 2005 Marcella and Norman Jones retire. Marcella joined the Centre Staff for Housekeeping on January 7, 2000 and Norman for Groundskeeping on June 8, 2000. Their cheerful service has been very much appreciated.
Fr. Carl Starklof sj animated the monthly Ministries weekends for some eighteen years, coming from Toronto’s Regis College where he was a Professor. He accepted remuneration for only his expenses.
The original programme was for the training of Deacons. Their wives, who did the same programme, Bishop Carter mandated as DOW’s, Diocesan Order of Women. Gradually the formation broadened into the Ministries Programme, and today Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe mandates both men and women to the Diocesan Order of Service.
Capital and Operating funds for the project have come from a number of sources. At the time of the land purchase, Fr. Farrell was the Jesuit Mission Superior. He directed charitable donations to the Centre and also did fundraising specifically for this purpose. The Bishops have been generous. Catholic Church Extension (now Catholic Missions in Canada) has been supportive through the years with both grants and loans. Governments have given grants for log and timber-frame training by Paul MacNab… and buildings got built. There have also been government grants for ‘make work’ projects. The Centre itself has held fundraising events. Bishop Carter officially opened and blessed the Centre in June 1985.
The Directors have been Fr. Mike Murray SJ (1980-’85, ’90-’97), Fr. George Leach SJ (1985-’89), Fr. Bernard Carroll SJ (1989-’90), Sr. Dorothy Regan csj (l997-2001), Fr. Robert Folliot SJ (2001-2006), Fr. Mike Stogre SJ (2006-2010), Fr. David Shulist (2010- ).
The Centre is named WASSEAN-DIMI-KANING (The Place of Enlightening) by the Native People.