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Toronto’s Native Peoples’ Mission: Serving, Learning, Accompanying

Posted : Jul-29-2021

Fr. Wilson Andrade is the administrator of the Native Peoples' Mission in Toronto.

Personal Story

I have been part of the ministry at the Native Peoples’ Mission since I arrived in Canada from India, in 2007, as a student of theology. I stayed with the mission after my ordination, in 2010, as an associate pastor of St. Ann Parish (where the Native Peoples’ Mission is housed) and from 2013 to the present, as the mission’s administrator.

Working with the Native people became part of my daily ministry and part of my growth in my formation. As a student of theology, a young priest and now a pastor, these years have been a grace-filled time of finding fulfillment in my ministry.

I have learnt a lot from the Elders and the people who are served here; they are great teachers of life experience. It is a blessing to learn from the Elders – listening to their story of faith, childhood memories, their cultural experiences, social life, their struggles, their deep respect for nature and tradition, as well as their beliefs about Native spirituality.

As a priest, I take care of their pastoral and sacramental needs: Native Masses on Fridays and Sundays, baptisms, weddings, funerals, Anointing of the Sick, etc.

We work together to bring healing through many initiatives, such as: journeying with them with compassionate, listening as individuals and as a community, participating in listening circles led by the Elders and joining healing conferences like St. Kateri Healing Ministry in Ottawa.

We also help in the process of reconciliation with non-Indigenous people, as all are welcome for Native Mass. We have also held Native Teaching Circles for teachers, chaplains and lay groups, like the Catholic Women’s League.

When St. Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized in 2012, we organized a group to go to Rome to be part of the celebration. Every April 17 we organize a St. Kateri Day and we always have a festive Mass in honour our Native saint.

I believe our church is on this path of healing and reconciliation together, as we see from the integration of liturgy and mutual collaboration between the Native Peoples’ Mission and St. Ann Parish. This is especially appropriate since St. Ann, the grandmother of Jesus, has a special place of honour in Native culture.

Personally, when I heard the news of the discovery of graves at the Kamloops Residential School, it was heartbreaking. I was deeply sadden and I continue to grieve in solidarity with all those people who are feeling sorrow and hurt. We join together in mutual respect to continue on the path of healing in the direction of God, our creator.

Our Background:

  • In 1972, the Native Peoples’ Mission began as a chaplaincy when Fr. Barney Mayhew was asked by the Archdiocese of Toronto to serve the increasing number of First Nations people leaving reserves for urban residences. He had worked with Ojibway and Odawa people in the Sault Ste. Marie diocese. He began weekly celebrations of the Eucharist in one of the Jesuit houses on West St. before moving to St. Ann Parish.

  • In 1979, Wigwamen Terrace was opened for Native residents. Fr. Mayhew had come to live with them and made a chapel for community prayer.

  • From 1983 to 1985, the Native Peoples’ Mission was administered by both Oblate and Jesuit priests. Fr. Jack Davis, OMI, began to celebrate Sunday Mass for the Indigenous people at St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

  • From 1985 to 1995, the Oblate fathers administered the Native Peoples’ Mission at St. Vincent de Paul Church.

  • On the Christmas Eve 1996, after searching for an appropriate place for worship, the Native Peoples’ Mission moved back to St. Ann Parish, coming full circle.

  • The Oblate fathers continue to administer the mission under Fr. Vaughan Quinn, OMI, until 2007, when the mission was taken over by the Holy Cross Fathers. Fr. Frank Wagner became the administrator of Native Peoples’ Mission.

  • From 2013 to the present, Fr. Wilson Andrade, CSC, has been the administrator of the Native Peoples’ Mission.

How Do We Help the Healing Process in the Archdiocese of Toronto?

  1. Visible Native Identity: Since the beginning, St. Ann Parish has welcomed Native people to worship together in their traditional ways. There are many visible cultural symbols of the Native people throughout the church. This is important to make Indigenous people feel culturally at home here. In front of the altar, we have the medicine wheel where the Elder leads the traditional ceremony, we have large banners of the four colours hanging from the pillars of the church, there is a shrine to St. Kateri and a stained glass window featuring Native symbols. The first step in healing is respecting the traditional cultural heritage of the Native people.

  2. Native Mass: Every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and every Friday at 10:30 a.m. (at Wigwamen), we celebrate the Native Mass with a traditional purification ceremony, prayers to the six directions, offering prayers with the smudge and honour songs (some of the songs and prayers are recited in a Native language). We join the larger parish community during the big solemnities, so all can take part, learn and respect the Native Mass. We also conduct baptisms and funerals in the traditional way.

  3. Native Listening Circles: Before COVID, we promoted monthly listening circles led by Elders. We had listening circles at Wigwamen Terrace to help the seniors speak about their life, family and faith. Every year, we send nearly 15 members of our Mission to the annual St. Kateri Healing Conference. In 2020, with the instruction of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, we had a listening circle with the theme of healing. We need to approach healing at all levels: personal, seniors’ small groups, parish and at the archdiocesan level.

  4. Native Education: We promote Native education wherever we can. Our Elders have been invited to teach in schools, at CWL groups, during training sessions for new chaplains serving at Toronto hospitals and before the 400th anniversary celebration of Congregation of Notre Dame. Every year, we attend the Indigenous Pastoral Leadership program held at St. Paul University in Ottawa where we are able to meet the Elders from all over Canada.

  5. Native Saints: We have much to learn from the saints. The canonization of St. Kateri was great moment for us. We celebrated then and continue to hold sessions on saints like St. Kateri and St. Marguerite d’Youville and Black Elk, who is currently a servant of God. For me, St. Kateri is a healer and we need her during this time of crisis. We need to promote her as the model of reconciliation and the model for Canadian youth. We also need to learn from Canadian saints as well as holy men like Black Elk, and many others faith leaders, who, in their own way, became prophets of our times in helping us promote Gospel values.

In my personal reflection, consultations with the Elders and prayer, I believe that the discovery of these graves of the children touches the core of our hearts, we ask the Creator God for healing with forgiveness from all, to be grounded in our faith, to stand together in listening and learning, to hold each other in mutual respect and to continue walking with care and love. Meegwetch.

Photo courtesy of Dieterkaupp via WikiMedia Commons.