Dialogue, Reconciliation and Friendship

On Visit to Regina, Saskatchewan, Jesuit Superior General Meets with Indigenous Elders, Students at Mother Teresa Middle School

May 29, 2018 — For nearly five centuries, Jesuits priests and brothers have ministered to Canada’s Indigenous people. This history and legacy was explored yesterday at a sharing circle in Regina, Saskatchewan, attended by the leader of the Jesuits, the largest order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church, Regina’s archbishop and Indigenous leaders. 

In a two-hour session, Jesuit Superior General Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, who is based at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, and Archbishop Donald Bolen met with Indigenous Elders and representatives of Jesuit ministries. The goal of the meeting was something increasingly uncommon in the world today: to listen.

The sharing circle began with a purification ceremony presided over by Rosella Kinoshameg, an Elder from Wikwemikong First Nation in Ontario. 

Each member of the group, which included 17 Jesuits and the Jesuits Provincials of English and French Canada, participated in the sharing. 

In 2013, Jesuits officially apologized for their role in a Canadian Residential School system that subjected students, primarily from Indigenous families, to harsh conditions, brutal punishment and incidents of sexual molestation. This dark and shameful chapter in Canadian history was fully exposed in 2015 when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its report. The Jesuits actively participated in the TRC and are focused on fulfilling its calls to action. 

Fr. Sosa with students at Mother Teresa Middle School.

When it was his turn to speak, Fr. Sosa talked about the Jesuits’ history with Indigenous people and the harmful connections between evangelization and colonialism. He asked Indigenous people to help Jesuits “decolonize” their way of thinking and feeling, “not only for our work of evangelization but to be more fully evangelized ourselves.” He recalled Jesuit martyr St. Jean de Brébeuf, who wisely advised Jesuits scholastics in 1536 to respect Indigenous languages, to listen more and talk less.

The session concluded with an eye to the future and a planned 2019 gathering that will bring together a large contingent of Jesuit Indigenous ministries in Canada and the U.S. Jesuits prioritize Indigenous relations; young Jesuits training for ministry in Canada work in Indigenous communities and receive some teaching and supervision from Elders.

Fr. Sosa meeting a student at Mother Teresa Middle School.

Fr. Sosa’s next stop was Mother Teresa Middle School, founded in 2011 to help underserved youth, many of whom are Indigenous. 

Fr. Sosa receives a cross at Mother Teresa Middle School.

The Jesuit leader smiled broadly as the students at Mother Teresa pulled out all the stops with lively Indigenous dance and drumming performances as well as a guided tour of classrooms and a student art installation. Fr. Sosa thanked students for the warm welcome and for bringing their own spiritual traditions to the school, while praising and thanking faculty and staff for their commitment to students. He offered prayers and a blessing for the school — the first Nativity School in Canada — before departing for his next stop, a visit to Campion College, also in Regina. 

Fr. John Meehan, SJ, (left) president of Campion College, welcomed Fr. Sosa to the school.

The only Jesuit undergraduate college in Canada, Campion College, founded in 1917, actively promotes reconciliation with Indigenous people through its courses, campus ministry, student activities and community connections.

Fr. Sosa preached the homily at a Mass on campus and, at a faculty reception, talked about the role of Jesuit higher education in the important mission of reconciliation. “You are standing on a frontier,” he said. “Not only the frontier of helping young people become wise and just adults, but also the frontier of the very deep and very old national wound of the gap between Indigenous people and settlers in Canada.”

At the beginning of Mass at Campion College, Rosella Kinoshameg smudged Fr. Sosa in a purification ceremony.

He thanked faculty and staff, particularly Campion’s outgoing President Fr. John Meehan, SJ, and incoming President Fr. Sami Helewa, SJ, who will share their work in the very important mission of reconciliation this summer at an international gathering of Jesuit institutions of higher education. 

Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.

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