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 program for the Deaconate.
Supported completely by Vatican II Council Father, Bishop Alexander Carter, the native Deaconate Program started. Once a month, a resource team moved from village to village for weekend workshops. Sisters Patricia Hassett csj and Dorothy Regan csj were key support members of the team. They facilitated these sessions that covered scripture, theology and the pastoral practice of ministry. This continued from 1972-1979 but distances and fatigue called for a change and so it was time to build a more permanent location.
Jesuit Provincial, Fr. Bill Ryan, fully affirmed the development of the Centre through a process of discernment. After much exploration, the former resort property at Anderson Lake just south of Espanola, Ontario was finally purchased and the building of the Centre could begin. Fr. Mike Murray, working with master log and timber-frame builder Paul MacNab, spearheaded the task of constructing the present-day buildings while Lawrence Andrews of the Whitefish River First Nation mastered the stonework. White Pine trees were cut a few miles down the highway at Lang Lake where the Knights of Columbus’ Summer Camp was located. The Centre had its own sawmill manned by Fr. Kroker and Henry Andrews. Volunteer labour came from the villages and sometimes families on building bees. The main building was completed in 1984 with the construction of the Chapel wing. Some small, original cottages were either demolished or renovated while other new cottages were built.
Once the Ministries weekends commenced Fr. Carl Starklof sj animated the monthly weekends for eighteen years, coming from Toronto’s Regis College where he was a Professor. He accepted remuneration for only his expenses, which allowed the Centre to continue the program, cost effectively.
Capital and Operating funds for the Anishinabe Project came from a number of sources. At the time of the land purchase, Fr. Farrell was the Jesuit Mission Superior who directed charitable donations to the Centre and also fundraised specifically for this purpose. Generosity in the form of both grants and loans was extended from the area Bishops and the Catholic Church Extension (aka Catholic Missions in Canada). The successful appeal to Government grants was also a key factor for the training of log and timber-frame building by Paul MacNab. All these components resulted in the erecting of the buildings. Further government grants and fundraising events supported ‘make work’ projects on an as-needed basis throughout the process. The Anishinabe Spiritual Centre officially opened its doors in June 1985 with a ceremony and blessing from Bishop Carter.
The Place of Enlightening