She has studied the history and literature of First Nations peoples in Canada with knowledgeable professors like Dr. Katie Gemmell and Dr. Jamie Paris as part of her coursework for the Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Culture. She participated in a service-learning trip to the Northwest Territories, sponsored by Corpus Christi College, where students learned about indigenous history and culture through encounter and friendship with the local Dene communities.
Brenna is aware, however, that not everyone has these same opportunities to learn about the history of residential schools and their ongoing impact today. She recognizes that we must educate ourselves if we are earnestly working toward Reconciliation.
“We as Catholics need to walk together with First Nations communities,” she says.
That’s why saying “yes” to volunteering during Pope Francis’s historic visit to Edmonton was an easy choice for Brenna. It would be another chance to continue educating herself, connecting with First Nations communities, and being better prepared to carry forward Truth and Reconciliation in the communities she serves through work and ministry.
Brenna’s role as a volunteer was straightforward. As an usher at the Holy Mass at Commonwealth Stadium, she helped congregants safely make their way to and from their seats. It was this volunteer opportunity that brought her to Edmonton, but she quickly discovered it would be the experiences and people outside of the stadium that would leave a lasting impact on her.
On her first day in Edmonton, Brenna walked through the city streets toward Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, where Pope Francis was scheduled to arrive soon. Along the way, she passed groups of people – many from First Nations communities – singing songs, sharing testimonies, and joining together in other gatherings related to Truth and Reconciliation. When she arrived at Sacred Heart Church, a crowd had already formed to greet Pope Francis, which included two First Nations women from the Saulteaux Nation who graciously invited Brenna to join them while they waited. They held a large banner with the words “Every Child Matters,” and cheered along with the rest of the crowd as Pope Francis finally passed by.
Brenna was grateful to witness this moment, as the people truly seemed excited to see Pope Francis. This gave her hope that Truth and Reconciliation would be possible between the Catholic community and First Nations peoples, even though it would be a long process.
“This is going to take many generations of Catholics and non-Catholics working toward Reconciliation,” she acknowledges, “and sharing the truth of what happened in residential schools and the trauma that First Nations communities have gone through.”
After a memorable few days in Edmonton, Brenna embarked on her flight back to Vancouver. But there was still more listening, learning, and sharing to do, as a casual conversation with her seatmate, Carl, turned into a deeper dialogue filled with compassion and vulnerability. Carl, who is from the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in Yukon, talked with Brenna about his background as a residential school survivor and how his community has been dealing with the trauma of that history and its lingering effects. Brenna opened up to Carl about her own childhood experiences of trauma and the difficult journey of healing. “Let’s pray for us to heal together,” Carl told her.
As she looks back at her experience of the Papal Visit – volunteering at the Holy Mass, joining in solidarity with the crowds in the streets of Edmonton, and exchanging stories of trauma and healing with a stranger-turned-friend on a short plane ride – Brenna can’t help but feel a duty to share what she has learned with others in her community.
“As a Catholic who goes to St. Mark’s College, a future CISVA educator, and someone who is very involved in her faith, I have this great responsibility to make sure Truth and Reconciliation is passed down in my parish and to others, and to honour what survivors have gone through.”
Brenna Maduro is a student in the Bachelor of Arts program at St. Mark’s College. She is the co-founder of Bridging Generations, an outreach ministry that connects young people and seniors for music, arts and crafts, and companionship. She was previously an Education Assistant at St. Edmund’s Elementary and is an aspiring CISVA educator, noting how well the CISVA mission complements the First Peoples Principles of Learning.