Father Winston Rye, S.J.
The Jesuits in English Canada
Truth & Reconciliation Commission
Québec National Event
Montreal, April 25, 2013
Let me begin today by first acknowledging all Survivors of the Residential Schools and
their families, the Elders present, the Commissioners, Church and community leaders
and members of the wider communities. We thank you sincerely for the invitation to
share in this important event.
The Jesuits in English Canada want to take this special occasion to honour the Survivors.
It has taken great courage, strength and generosity for you to come forward and to
share your story with all of us here, a story of loss, grief, hardship, but also of resistance
We also greet the children and grandchildren of the Survivors, who suffered in turn
from their parent’s trauma in the Residential Schools and learned from their character
We come today to pay tribute to the individuals who attended the Spanish Residential
School; both boys and girls. We recognize and embrace the students who attended
the St. Peter Claver Residential School for Boys, St. Charles Garnier Collegiate and St.
Joseph’s School for Girls, some of whom are with us today in the audience.
This gathering is a symbol of hope and a reminder to all of us that such abuse must
I stand here on behalf of the Jesuits to say that we are truly, deep within our hearts,
sorry for what we did to injure individuals, families and communities by participating in
the Canadian Residential School system.
When the Jesuits first met with First Nations peoples 400 years ago, we recognized the
greatness of your traditional spiritual beliefs. That openness was lost in the 20
The legacy of the Residential Schools is a terrible cloud on our legacy of friendship.
Today, we are relearning how to trust each other in a deeper understanding of our own
faith through the lessons that your Elders have taught us.
It has been a struggle for the Jesuits to recognize that we became an active part of a
system aimed at the assimilation of your traditional culture. It was not until it was much
too late that we realized the harm that we had done.
The Jesuits are proud to still count many of our former students as friends and
colleagues. We are grateful for the forgiveness and understanding that you have
extended to us over the years. We humbly thank you for sticking with us and continuing
to welcome us in your homes and communities.
We come to celebrate the achievements of our students. We recognize that what they
achieved as professionals, athletes and community leaders was not because of our
efforts at the school – but through their own strength of character and love of
We also come to acknowledge the students who were brave enough to confront us
about our role in the Residential School system some thirty years ago. We treated you
as dissenters and malcontents rather than listening to what you had to tell us.
Through litigation and lawsuits, we learned about harsh conditions, poor food, brutal
punishment and horrible incidents of sexual molestation. You turned to the courts
because the Jesuits turned away from you.
As educators, we have been shocked by stories of bullying, inadequate clothing,
strapping and beatings for minor offences. Our School harbored individuals who
molested or abused students. Bed wetters were tormented by older students and staff
alike. The food was not fit for the needs of growing boys and girls.
Children who were much too young were taken from the love of their families and
placed under the guidance of men and women who had little training and less
Most of all, we have heard stories of the inherent unfairness of the system. Students
were given the strap for things that they did not do. Bullies were rewarded and victims
punished. Abuse was not disclosed because there was no one who would hear a
We are still struggling with how it could possibly have happened. We realize that the
abuse might have been uncovered and punished many years ago, if there had been
someone that the students could turn to. We failed in putting the needs and interests
of the Jesuit priests and brothers ahead of the welfare of our students.
We vow that this will never be “the way things are” ever again.
Amongst the heartache, we have delighted in stories about how students outwitted
their teachers and kept their spirit alive through practical jokes and ingenuity. Our
students understood their instructors and their human frailties so much better than
their teachers understood them. They fought against the unfairness of the system with
We have heard of brave students who were resourceful enough to set out for their
home communities. We are ashamed of the harsh punishments that they received
when they were brought back by the authorities.
We offer a sincere prayer of thankfulness that no young lives were lost at our school
because students ran away.
We have learned from these harsh lessons and have become stronger from your
example. To the students who have defended us and taken our part, we are truly
grateful. We will strive to prove ourselves worthy of the respect and love that you have
We are deeply grateful to the communities that have continued to welcome us as
pastors and as friends in the years since the Spanish Residential Schools closed. We are
humbled by your love and forgiveness. We have never had to beg for reconciliation;
you have offered it to us freely for so many years by your example.
We ask for your forgiveness for any role that our school may have played in sowing
distrust and division between Catholic and Protestant families. It is not enough to decry
the narrow mindedness of the times. By teaching intolerance in our schools, we sowed
division where it had never existed.
Many of you have asked when the reconciliation between the churches will occur. We
desire and pray that it is happening today as we move together in healing with our
friends in the Ecumenical Working Group.
Finally, we have learned of the terrible inequality that continues to exist between the
educational opportunities for white students and students from First Nations in Canada.
Young people are still being transported to white communities, to obtain an education
in an environment that is foreign to them. This is exactly what happened in the past
and we seem to be reliving it again.
We share Shannen Koostachin’s dream that in our lifetime we will see equal
opportunities for education in the home community of every Canadian. We will do
everything in our power and influence to ensure that this comes to pass and the
injustices of the past are not perpetuated.
You had the courage to stand up and speak out about the past. You can help us all to
open our minds and our hearts to understand and to stop the destruction now and not
have to go through this all over again.
Today we stand before you to pledge our support in the rebuilding of your language and
culture. We cannot undo the things that are done, but we can take positive and
meaningful steps to rebuild.
We have opened our Archives so that the whole picture of the Residential Schools can
be seen. We will unlock the doors to the ancient books that preserved the languages of
the First Nations and make copies available to people in their own communities. These
precious resources will never again be the exclusive property of white scholars and
We thank the Commissioners for challenging us to undertake this journey of selfexamination and reflection with them. We will work hand in hand with our students
past and present to bring all these things to pass.
May the Creator God who sees all and knows what is truly in our hearts, bring us
together. May the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha guide us that we can learn from each
other, for she is a model for us all.
May we come once again to call each other “friend”.