The Anishinabe Spiritual Centre is an important part of the Northern Ontario communities in the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie. Opened in 1981, the Centre is offered as a place of peace and welcome, where anyone may come to deepen their spirituality. It is a place of natural beauty located in Espanola, at the edge of Anderson Lake in the Manitoulin Island-North Shore region.
The Centre is run by Jesuit priests who not only provide religious education and lay formation at the Centre but also go out to minister to the people of the Manitoulin Island and the Great Lakes Region. Over 75% of the population in the area is Indigenous, primarily Anishinabe people, and while some people live a traditional way of life through hunting and fishing, most of them have occupations in health care, education, social services, police services, mining, construction, business, and domestic work.
Given the vast distance between the communities, the diocese could not possible care for the parishes without the Jesuit missionaries. “The Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie is indebted and grateful to the Jesuit Community for their continued leadership and dedicated service to Indigenous parishes and facilities in the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie” writes Msgr. Roch Martin, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, “the Jesuit community cares for eight parishes. They provide not only ministerial services and faith facilities but also a social safety net of care for youth, end of life journeys and family support through presence and dedicated daily availability, accommodating any crises at any time.”
This past year, Catholic Missions In Canada supported religious education, lay formation, and church/building repairs at the Centre. Next year, support is renewed for the same religious education and lay formation programs, with more funding going towards new repairs. In 2022, with the help of CMIC supporters, the Centre upgraded their pantry and serving area to meet health Canada guidelines. They repaired their walk-in fridge and freezer and replaced the hot water tank in the kitchen. In addition, they were also able to replace the roofs on one cabin and storage building.
There are two religious education and two lay formation programs at the Centre supported by CMIC. The School Encounter Program is an experiential learning program for youth guided by Indigenous Elders and Jesuits that promotes the Church’s commitment to cultural inclusion and reconciliation. Living with Creation is a leadership course for youth that involves living off the land and making connections between Catholic and Indigenous spirituality. The Diocesan Order of Service is a lay formation program for adults established by the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie to form those wishing to make a lasting commitment to the Church, especially in ministry to Catholic faith communities amongst Indigenous peoples. The Lay On-going Adult Formation program seeks to build leadership in various ministries beyond the priests and deacons and trains people in parish ministry in the areas of catechesis, bereavement, sacramental preparation, parish council, visiting the sick and more.
Next year, support from CMIC will also enable the first phase of a major restoration project. The exterior walls of the Centre and two resident cabins are of log-and-post beam construction and in need of restoration. The windows in the cabins are close to 40-years old and must be replaced to reduce heat lost. The antiquated ventilation system needs professional diagnosis and eventual upgrading to avoid the ongoing significant heat loss throughout the Centre and to properly circulate air.
While the Jesuit’s at the Centre face the ongoing challenge of aging facilities, they are also rising to the larger challenge of reconciliation between the Church and Indigenous People at a time when healthy relationships and strong leaders are crucial. With support from CMIC, the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre has tackled major repairs and restorations and continues to sustain their leadership and religious education programs; providing spiritual nourishment, growth and healing. The hope inspired by the work of Jesuits at the Centre is tangible as they spread the Joy of the Gospel.