I came from Ireland to Prince George in 1984 to work for and with Bishop Fergus O’Grady. In fact, over 4,000 men and women came from Ireland, England, the U.S.A. and Canada to volunteer for O’Grady to establish the church in Northern BC.
I can speak firsthand about Fergus O’Grady and why the O’Grady Road should not be renamed.
First of all, what is Fergus O’Grady guilty of? As an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, he was under obedience to his superiors when assigned to Kamloops Residential School, as were all the priests, brothers and nuns who worked at residential schools. They also had a vow of poverty which meant they did not receive a salary and suffered the same hardships under a government who underfunded these schools and did not provide funding to mark the graves of the dead.
If we knew back then what we know now, as a church, we would never have been involved in these schools. Yes, it was a terrible tragedy to take little kids away from their families and yes, there was abuse, both physical and sexual. We acknowledge that and we are deeply sorry and, with God’s grace, Pope Francis will come to this country in a month’s time to formally apologize to our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
But knowing Fergus O’Grady, he would have cared deeply for the children at the Kamloops Residential School. I can say that because I know how much he cared for and loved the First Nations people. As bishop, he would have lunch every day in the cafeteria of Prince George College with the First Nations youth. They would flock around him and he would sit at the table eating with them.
When he could no longer drive, I drove him many times out west for a First Nations wedding or baptism and we wouldn’t just drive from here to there. He would always want to stop and visit along the way, and he was welcomed everywhere he went. When the First Nations elders would come into Prince George with their families, they would visit with Bishop O’Grady either in his office or his home and they were always welcomed. They loved this man and he loved them.
O’Grady Road symbolizes care, compassion and love for the Indigenous people and for the Catholic Church’s continued work among, and for, our Indigenous brothers and sisters. It also symbolizes a pioneer who was part of the growth of this city.
And that’s the rest of the story.
Father Chris Lynch