Reflection on Orange Shirt Day

I've been thinking a lot over the weekend about Orange Shirt Day and how to talk to the students about it without disparaging the Church. Our Catholic Church played a major role in the administration of residential schools and its ministers were often among those who heinously abused children. How do we properly teach students about residential schools? A bigger question is, how do we maintain our loyalty and faith in an institution with such a history of abuse, scandal, and cover-ups? A story from my past may help me relate how I feel.

I went to St. Thomas More Collegiate starting in the autumn of 1989. In the summer of 1989, the Principal was charged with and convicted of several counts of child sexual abuse. The scandal involved several of the Christian Brothers from STM and Vancouver College and there had been a cover-up that went back decades. My parents, who had sent my much older brothers to STM, tried to switch schools at the last minute and get me into Holy Cross High School, to protect me from the scandal and more possible predation.

Fortunately, Holy Cross had no space for me and contrary to my parents’ wishes, I went to St. Thomas More after all. My experience there was so positive. Had I never gone to the school, my impression of the school and the Christian Brothers would have been based solely on the news media and the scandal. I would likely have thought it was full of perverts looking to cover up their sins. My lived experience taught me that the Christian Brothers who remained there were some of my greatest role models. They were wonderful examples of patience, chastity, fidelity to Jesus, and self-sacrifice. If I were a direct victim of the abuse I know it would be a lot more difficult, perhaps nearly impossible, to accept this truth; the Christian Brothers were not evil, but the acts committed by some of their members were.

While we need to remember and acknowledge the sins of the past, we also need to focus on the goodness and faithfulness of the church across the ages and into eternity. When talking to the students we need to be honest and transparent. We can talk about how people did bad things, but we also need to focus on reconciliation, hope, and the good being done today. Orange Shirt Day is a positive step to improve our understanding and awareness of the past so that we build a better future. Our activities on Orange Shirt Day will focus on the hope contained in truth and reconciliation.