Declaration on Behalf of Congregations of Women Religious involved in the Indian Residential Schools of Canada

Rome, April 30, 2009: The Leadership of Women Religious involved in the Residential Schools had never given a collective statement about their involvement.  As we prepared for the 1st Nations/Catholic Church delegation to meet His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, at the end of April, 2009, it seemed this would be the appropriate time to make a brief collective statement regarding our experience.

We were also conscious that Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), had worked tirelessly to honour the role played by Religious Communities. It was through his efforts that the Residential Schools Agreement, with terms acceptable to Religious Communities, was finally accepted by the Federal Government. He consistently supported and articulated the desire of First Nations Communities to have a continuing presence of Religious in their midst. As he worked through his own healing, he also reached out to members of the Religious Communities who had been involved in the schools where he was a student. He continues to make himself available to speak with, affirm and encourage Religious Communities involved with the schools. This statement also provided the opportunity for us to express our appreciation to the National Chief.

Marie Zarowny, SSA
General House of Oblates of Mary Immaculate
Rome, April 30, 2009

Father Guillermo Steckling and Members of the Oblate General Council, thank you for welcoming us to your home and for providing me with this opportunity to say a few words.

National Chief Phil Fontaine, Elders, Chiefs and Representatives of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Metis, especially those of you who are former residents of the schools; Archbishop Pettipas and other representatives of the Catholic Entities; Ambassador Anne Leahy; other distinguished guests.

As I begin, I want to say, as I did earlier today, what an honour it has been for me to have shared the profound experiences of these last few days with you.  I will carry this experience with me for as long as I live and will speak of its various meanings, some already spoken today and others yet to be discovered as we continue to contemplate and ponder its significance.

As we draw to a close the formal part of these days together, It is a privilege for me to speak on behalf of the Congregations of Women Religious that provided, over a long period of time, hundreds of their members to teach and care for children in the Residential Schools.

Some of these institutions, especially in the far north were started to care for orphans when almost all the adults of entire villages died as a result of various flu epidemics. We were invited to help the children, at least, survive.  In these instances and in the schools themselves in other parts of the country, we were motivated by a sincere desire to further the education, health and Christian formation of the Aboriginal Peoples in such a way that they would be able to achieve their rightful place in an evolving Canadian Society. We wanted them to grow into personal fullness, to be proud of themselves and of their giftedness and to be able to live with a sense of innate dignity.  For many students, however, this was far from their experience. How could our good intentions have had such tragic consequences!

We were products of the times in which we lived, with the teaching methods, cultural misunderstandings, social attitudes and theology of those times. As well, some of our members suffered from emotional problems that they took out on the children.

We now know that the residential school system itself, initiated by the Federal Government and in which we participated, was racist and discriminatory, bringing about a form of cultural oppression and personal shame that has had a lasting effect not only on those who attended the schools but also on subsequent generations. We carry immense sorrow for having contributed to this tragedy, a sorrow that is not momentary but that stays within our hearts.

We also now know that many children in our care suffered unspeakable abuse and mistreatment.  Some Sisters have been accused of actual abuse; many others have been accused of not protecting those in their care. We are deeply grieved by all these revelations. Good intentions and genuine love on the part of many of our Sisters for the children in our care were not enough and in fact were often not experienced as such.

At the same time, many of our members formed lasting friendships with the children in their care; we have all have been enriched by these relationships and are grateful for them.

Our priorities in working on the settlement agreement were that suffering be acknowledged, justice be done through adequate compensation and that there be a way for us as women religious to both contribute to and to enter into a process of healing and reconciliation with you.

Throughout the last 150 years or so, our involvement in the Schools has not been our only ministry with 1st Nations. We have served as pastoral workers and counselors on reserves and other 1st Nations communities, teaching; providing health care; visiting families; helping with religious education; supporting those in leadership of various kinds; and participating in community events.  Although our numbers are small now and we have withdrawn from several communities, to the extent we are able and at your invitation, we commit ourselves to continue to live and serve in your midst.

Institutionally we commit ourselves to use what influence we have to continue to support your efforts to achieve justice within Canada, including adequate housing, education, health care, healing programs and land rights. We also commit ourselves to enhance our efforts to foster awareness and understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians and to diminish in some way persistent attitudes of racism and superiority.

Personally, I commit myself, to the extent I am able, to assist the continuing process of creating a new future in Canada and the Church, one in which all peoples are appreciated and live with dignity and mutual respect.

And now a more personal word to National Chief, Phil Fontaine: You have been a brother to us, Phil, working with us each step of the way to first help us understand the depths of hurt experienced by you and your people and then to walk with us to new understandings. This has not been an easy journey for you or for us but we have traveled it together. As a result our bonds with you and your people have deepened. You have also consistently expressed the desire of many of your people that we continue to be in relationship with you, and you have helped that to happen.  We thank you for all the ways you have assisted in this process and we pray our Creator’s abundant blessing upon you.

In closing, I return to an earlier comment.  Each of our involvements, whether educational, political, spiritual or other …has resulted in deep and lasting friendships between our Sisters and many First Nations people. We treasure these friendships and look forward to them deepening in the years to come.

Refoundation as an expression of creative fidelity

Conference given by father Josè Maria Guerrero, SJ, in Cali, Columbia. The event was organized by the Columbian Religious Conference.

Refounding is not a fashionable slogan without depth, nor is it a matter that is dependent on the suspect will of a few discontents within an Institute. What is at stake is an imperative of the historic times in which we are living. Click here to open the document.

Formation in Time of Refoundation

Father José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, was asked to give a conference on formation in times of refoundation in the light of the UISG Congress which was held in November 2004. In his conference, Caballo presents some challenges with which religious formation is faced today.

The development of these challenges is preceded by the pointing out of some basic principles of Formation. Caballo ends his presentation by referring to some methodological notes which he believe are important when responding to the above mentioned challenges. PDF Document.

The Call to Reconciliation: Implications for Leadership

At the 2006 CRC General Assembly, Elizabeth Davis, RSM, addressed the challenges for Major Superiors in leading their congregations and the ongoing process of reconciliation that must always be present in guiding their members, working both in the Church and in the world around them.

Once reconciliation is in place, then religious can be more compassionate and open to healing the brokenness within their own communities, the Church and in society at large, thus becoming the prophetic witnesses they are called to be.

Sister Elizabeth's presentation was given in the form of two Power Point documents: View Power Point 1 - Power Point 2.

The CRC will purchase greenhouse gas credits through Planetair

The Administrative Council of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) has committed itself to purchasing greenhouse gas credits at the end of each year to compendate for the travel of CRC Council members and staff.  The greenhouse gas credits will be purchased through Planetair.  Religious communities are invited to take part in this effort.

Uniting to reduce the CRC environmental footprint
Last December, the Administrative Council of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) made the decision to purchase credits, at the end of each year, to offset the non-reducible carbon emissions released by CRC Council and staff members’ travel. This decision is in line with the CRC’s commitment to promote concern for the environment and exercise stewardship over the integrity of Creation, as set out in its Mission Statement *1  and priorities *2.

We are not talking about an astronomical sum, but combined with the amounts the CRC member communities would choose to pay to neutralize their environmental footprint, it could become truly significant and most certainly be a prophetic gesture which may well have a snowball effect.

Obviously, many people believe that industries are the largest polluters and that the responsibility to repair the damage should rest mainly with them. We, on the contrary, believe that we all share in this responsibility. The millions of citizens, including ourselves, who drive cars, heat their homes, buy goods shipped over long distances, etc., are in fact at the root of the very existence of industries and the pollution that they generate.

What to do?
After having prepared an estimate of travel by plane and by car (based on the average community vehicle) that the members of the provincial and/or corporate administration will make, we add plane and car travel as well as the impact of home-related emissions. We then go to the Planetair organization’s Web site, where a small calculation table is available. The table gives the Canadian dollar equivalent of our footprint.

N.B.: Trains and buses are not listed, because public transportation minimizes our environmental footprint.

One can then use the services of Planetair *3 - – or any other offsets provider – to purchase offsets that are used to finance renewable energy and energy efficiency projects elsewhere in the world, mostly in developing countries. Thus, the emissions we produce can be offset by the reductions achieved by the project, which yields a zero-emission net balance.

Join the CRC in this initiative and be among those who care about passing on to future generations a planet that is healthy, where it is good to be alive. It is a question of justice for all, but also a question of survival!


1. “For the love of Christ urges us” (2 Cor 5,14) to show our solidarity with the poor, to denounce injustice, to promote concern for the environment, to work towards peace and the advent of God’s Kingdom.
2. 2006 Declaration: Expressing renewed relationship with the earth in significant and appropriate liturgies.
3. To find out more about Planetair, see the PDF document posted on the CRC’s web site: “Offsetting our greenhouse gas emissions”.