September 30th, Inspiring a Deeper Sense of Responsibility
A Message from St. Jerome’s President and Vice Chancellor, Peter Meehan
The Government of Canada recently passed legislation making September 30th the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. As a day of recognition and commemoration of the tragic history and ongoing legacy of residential schools, it will be observed in different ways, including quiet reflection and participation in a variety of community events. As the president and vice chancellor of a university founded on the Catholic educational truths of intellectual development and human formation in body, spirit, and mind, September 30th will be one of many days that serves as a painful reminder of the past. It also serves as inspiration for St. Jerome’s University to have a deeper sense of responsibility in the Truth and Reconciliation process.
The participation of Catholic entities in the Residential Schools represents a turning away from the message of the Gospel that has resulted in one of the most tragic chapters in the histories of both Canada and the Canadian Catholic church. Jesuit Provincial Superior Peter Bisson, SJ, addressed the involvement of his own community in the Residential School at Spanish, Ontario, stating “If Canada wants reconciliation with its Indigenous citizens, Canada has to change. If the Church wants reconciliation with the Indigenous people it has harmed, the Church has to become more deeply, more truly, more fully what it is.”
These concepts extend naturally from St. Jerome’s University’s mission and identity. It is time to advance what we need to be as a Catholic university and as a federated partner in the University of Waterloo. We need to recognize our place holding a deeper sense of responsibility in the Truth and Reconciliation process, and to continue to advance our commitment with action.
The members of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Canada (ACCUC) were unified in their response to the national revelation this past May, of the atrocities that befell the Tk'emlups te Secwépemc First Nation at the Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia. The ACCUC partnership committed our institutions to addressing the suffering and loss of life experienced in the Residential Schools; the importance of Indigenous education; and to listening and working with our Indigenous communities towards the goals of conscientization, reconciliation and healing.
The ACCUC wrote to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. It formally requested “that the complete records of the residential schools be preserved and made available to all those who seek to learn from this horrific chapter in history”. It urged the bishops “to request Pope Francis formally apologize to the survivors, their families, and to all of the Indigenous communities of Canada” in order to address “the Church’s reprehensible involvement in the federal residential school system, as well as serving as a critical start for the process of healing the multiple wounds of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
St. Jerome’s University has already begun the work of Reconciliation. We look forward to the recommendations of our Advisory Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, which will help to guide how our educational and formational mission can engage with processes of Indigenization and decolonization in the course of responding to the imperatives of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. We honoured the memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada, with an on campus display on Red Dress Day this past spring. On October 2nd, the Hon. Graydon Nicholas, the first Indigenous judge and Lieutenant Governor in New Brunswick, and currently the Chancellor of St. Thomas University in Fredericton, is our guest speaker at our annual Feast of St. Jerome celebration. We welcome his insights into the vital roles Catholic universities have in the important work of Reconciliation. These are just the beginning steps of what I know will be a difficult journey.
It is my hope that September 30th is a day that we all take time to reflect. Befitting the liberal arts and Catholic intellectual tradition that we embody on this campus, we know that journeys represent periods of trial, hardship, learning and discovery. However, in their most hopeful sense, they lead to healing, learning and human growth. We should want that for ourselves, for our students, and for our university.
President and Vice Chancellor
St. Jerome's University
St. Jerome’s University is pleased to support University of Waterloo National Day for Truth and Reconciliation activities including:
- The W Store, in partnership with the Indigenous Initiatives Office is commemorating the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (formerly Orange Shirt Day) by selling Indigenous-designed and -sourced Every Child Matters t-shirts - $10 from every t-shirt purchased to support the Indigenous Student Success Fund on campus.
- September 29 – The Indigenous Initiatives Office and the President's Anti-Racism Taskforce (PART) are sponsoring a special keynote presentation with Dr. Kathy Absolon on “Truth & Reconciliation, Indian Residential Schools”.
- September 30 - Healing of The Seven Generations is hosting “Remember me, remember us,” a community walk to spread awareness of and reflect on the tragedies experienced by Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island as a result of the country’s former residential school system.
- September 30 - Dr. Michael Dan will offer “A brief history of colonialism, intergenerational trauma, and genocide of Indigenous peoples living in Canada”.