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Restoring trust is key mission

It has now been two months since the Northwest Province of Jesuits emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. With the approval of the court, we have financially compensated those who were abused by Jesuits.

I want to express our sincere sorrow and apology for the pain and suffering Jesuits caused the people they were called to serve.  Why they violated their vows to God, and their commitment to serve others in his name, will remain a troubling mystery for us all.

Today, we are working to repair the trust the early Jesuits established with the people we serve and work with in Spokane, the surrounding area, and the entire Oregon Province, including Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

Our efforts toward financial compensation are an important step toward healing for the men and women who have been harmed, but we need to do much more.  Through our works and witness we must demonstrate our sincere commitment to serve others in order to earn forgiveness from those whom we have hurt.  

I have often said that contrition is but a beginning. I pray that in the future we will experience the reconciliation we believe comes from repentance.

Nearly every Jesuit in the Province spends time in the Spokane area in studies, education, parish work or serving on tribal reservations. Before being appointed provincial in 2008, I spent many wonderful years here, including a span as vice president for mission at Gonzaga University. These deep roots in the area are what give me hope for the future.

Jesuits have had a long history in the Pacific Northwest. In 1831, we were invited by the Salish Flatheads and Nez Perce Indians to bring faith to the region. By 1841, Fr. Peter Desmet, S.J., established the Rocky Mountain Mission. His relationship with the people he served was based on trust built with God’s endless love, peace and hope.

One of Desmet’s successors was Fr. Joseph Mary Cataldo, S.J. An Italian, he became superior for the Rocky Mountain Mission in 1877. He was single-minded about his dedication to Native Americans in the region. It has been reported that he learned more than a dozen Native American languages and, according to one account, was accused by the federal government of being an accomplice to Chief Joseph during the Nez Perce War. He is credited with leading early efforts to establish missions throughout the Spokane region to serve Native Americans.

Cataldo also believed education was important for Indian and white settlers alike. He established boarding schools that he believed would send students to college. He even purchased the land to build a college for those students. Gonzaga University stands there today.

Because of his tireless commitment to Native Americans, Cataldo is an inspiration to all Jesuits in the Northwest.

Today, in the spirit of Desmet and Cataldo, we continue to work in the region. We founded many institutions that have become synonymous with the community, including nationally recognized Gonzaga University and Gonzaga Preparatory School, both established in 1887.  

We founded and staff many parishes and missions throughout the area, including St. Aloysius parish in Spokane and Sacred Heart Mission, Desmet, Idaho, as well as missions on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Spokane Indian Reservation and Colville Indian Reservation.

Northwest Jesuits also live and serve in many professional capacities, including hospital and military chaplains, spiritual advisers, social advocates, educators, physicians and lawyers.

A Northwest Jesuit is the chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives. Several even take time from their work to act in local theater groups, including in Spokane.

The Jesuits have lived and served the people of Spokane and the region for 150 years. We have become part of the rich heritage that is woven throughout the Inland Northwest.

That is why when I have been asked if the Jesuits will abandon our work in the Northwest, the answer is “no.”

We will not leave the people and land we have come to know and love. To leave now would be wrong. We will continue to work to earn back the trust that we have lost from the people we have been called on by God to serve.

I am sincerely sorry for the misdeeds of the past. We will never be able to say that enough to make the pain and suffering go away completely.

I hope my apology, and that the Jesuit commitment to learn from our misdeeds, helps begin the healing process for all.

The Rev. Patrick J. Lee, S.J., is the provincial for the Northwest Jesuits.


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