On two Thursdays in February, an exuberant mix of over 80 parishioners from St. Ignatius Parish and St. Kateri Aboriginal Catholic Parish met in each other’s sacred spaces to begin a journey towards reconciliation as called for in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action report. Sponsored by a group of six nuns from three orders, an Oblate brother, two priests and two laywomen, the event was inspired by their desire to see that the TRC report, released in June 2016, did not sit and gather dust on a shelf.
The first evening, held at St. Ignatius, focused on truth and presented the personal stories of Residential School survivors Ted Fontaine and Florence Paynter. Their stories transfixed the audience in silence as they each traced their personal histories from their first day of Residential Schools to the present.
Ted Fontaine wondered who would bring the kindling and water to his parents and grandparents when he was taken at age seven. He recounted four chapters in his life: at home until the age of seven; the 12 years at Residential School, where he suffered sexual abuse and alienation from his family; the third chapter when he re-entered society and fell into drinking, nightmares, depression, and suicidal tendencies; and finally, his coming to terms with his life, which he attributes to his return to church and to going within himself to find reconciliation. In the process, he made peace with one of the priests who abused him. Ted explained that the hardest part of his life was the third chapter. Ted Fontaine even wrote a book about his life journey, Broken Circle, which is available in libraries, schools, and bookstores.
Florence Paynter’s ten years at a Residential School began at age six. A remarkably peace-filled and radiant woman, she traced her story of loneliness and physical abuse through the school years which also included a touching account of meeting her husband at a weekly dance in the school hall. She was six and he was eight and he had been there since he was five. Her journey after school took her through difficult times and, like Ted, her salvation came from finding reconciliation within herself, and in her case, from finding her Creator in the traditions of her people.
Participants remarked on how uplifting and inspiring the personal stories were and there was a great spirit of joy and fellowship in the room as the sessions ended.