Catholics want to be part of the residential school solution

B. C. Catholic [Archdiocese of Vancouver, British Columbia]

July 21, 2021

By Jody Garneau

It’s hard to express the feelings I had when I heard about the remains of 215 children that were found at the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops. As a mom, my heart sank as I reflected about those children and their parents and grandparents and communities who grieved their loss. As a therapist, I knew this would expose and deepen the pain for those who already carried the wound. When I visited a memorial of children’s shoes and toys on the steps of the provincial courthouse in Chilliwack, I prayed and felt helpless. As a Catholic I felt guilty by association.

I was aware of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and how few of the Calls to Action had been completed. I worried how the Canadian bishops would respond to this development. I feared there would be tone-deaf statements or deflection of responsibility. I was pained but not surprised when I saw the hatred toward Catholics expressed on social media and media comboxes. I was hoping that the bishops could come together in a unified voice and say the words that were needed. I love God and I love the Church, but it pains me that we have not lived up to what we should be. 

I thought there must be somewhere that Catholics can come together to promote truth and reconciliation. Was there a safe place to talk about the pain and how to bring healing as Catholics? With COVID restrictions in place, we were not even gathering as parishes and communities. 

When I couldn’t find that space, I started a Facebook group and invited some friends. We called it simply: Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation. Friends invited other friends and now there are more than 2,000 members. I have been encouraged by the thoughtful and compassionate conversations. We have networked with Catholics from coast to coast to coast and beyond. There is a mixture of lay Catholics, educators, and leaders all seeking direction and solutions. Members are willing to be listeners and learners and they want to work for reconciliation. 

Reconciliation is not a moment. It is a process. It is breaking down the us versus them dynamic. It means avoiding deflection of responsibility and sitting in uncomfortable spaces. It starts by being small and being willing to listen. Reconciliation brings us as Catholics alongside our Indigenous brothers and sisters as compassionate allies. We are willing to listen, to hold space, and to take direction for next steps from their communities. 

I never intended to create a large group of Catholics, but the Holy Spirit had other ideas. This has led to the opportunity to talk to the media and show that Catholics care about the pain and want to be part of the solution. The group has allowed Catholics who felt despair, to find hope and encouragement. 

Through the connections in the group, beautiful things are happening. People collaborated to write letters expressing how we feel so that the bishops understand that we support a heartfelt apology, vulnerable transparency, and a willingness to put money and actions at the service of reconciliation. People are setting up study groups and book clubs and other means of helping Catholics understand the length and breadth and depth of the wound left by Indian Residential Schools.

Members of the group have formulated a means of raising funds on behalf of Catholics in Canada to be a sign that we can do better than our best-efforts collection when we were excused from paying $21 million of the $25 million allocated for the Indian Residential School Survivor Agreement.

We have launched a website Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation at to invite Catholics to commit to action and to consider making donations to national Indigenous-led organizations committed to the Calls to Action (Reconciliation Canada, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, and Returning to Spirit) and to diocesan, provincial, or national campaigns. In addition to funds, the campaign also asks people to choose a commitment to action.

While residential schools were the mandate of the Canadian government, Catholic organizations cooperated in operating the majority of schools. The degree to which I as a Catholic in 2021 can do anything to relieve the pain that still lives on in the survivors and the families of those who suffer, I want to do that. How can I compensate for the abuse of individuals and the dismantling of family and culture? I honestly don’t know. But instead of feeling helpless, I now feel hopeful.

Jody Garneau is a registered clinical counsellor based in Maple Ridge and a member of the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s registry of Catholic and Christian counsellors