Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 20, 2003
Latour embraces hurting souls
Addicted urban natives find solace and healing structure in this Calgary centre
By BYRON PRICE
Special to the WCR
Christian and native spiritual symbols painted on the outside of a small house in Calgary's inner city distinguish it from other houses on the block. As I approach the entrance, three white males are receiving coffee and a sandwich on the front porch.
These men are in the 50s, one is in a wheelchair and has no legs. The smell of Listerine on their breath is pungent.
As I enter the Latour Native Pastoral Centre I am greeted by Sister Mary Anne Mulvihill, who is a Sister of Charity of St. Louis and director of the centre which is owned and operated by the Diocese of Calgary.
Mulvihill took over the reins as director of Latour Centre just over a year ago. She brings a wealth of educational and administrative experience -- and a bundle of energy. She promptly introduces me to her right hand person, Mavis Shingoose. Mulvihill and Shingoose are the only staff. All others are volunteers.
Mulvihill says: "The vision of this centre is that it is to be a home where native people can come to serve and support each other in their healing journey." Father Latour was an Oblate missionary in Western Canada. It was his love for native people that prompted Bishop Paul O'Byrne to dedicate Latour Centre in 1987 in his memory as a spiritual place where aboriginals in the urban setting could come to get healing for their addictions.
Mavis Shingoose has suffered from alcohol addiction. "I have been sober for 18 years,” she says. “When I was drinking I was out on the street like the people who come here to Latour Centre. The people who come to Latour for help feel safe and comfortable here. It was my faith and the great love of my children that took me off the street as I wished so deeply to take care of them."
There is no hesitation in Mavis' words to addicted people: "If you wish to get help, come to Latour Centre. We have programs in counselling, youth, literacy, parenting classes, pilgrimages or healing retreats and Bible study to name some."
Walter Shingoose is Mavis' husband. He is an addictions counsellor at another agency but volunteers at Latour Centre. Walter says: "I was on the street for many years when there was no place like the Latour Centre. It was my spiritual life that helped me get straight -- you have to believe in something."
Mulvihill provides a tour of the centre: "The kitchen is the hub as we are a Eucharist people. This is where we break bread and share our lives." Then she takes me out to the back patio and shows me the lawn furniture that was donated by Air Canada Employees Charitable Foundation.
Mulvihill continues: "This enables us to sit out in the summer as the native people love nature, feel comfortable in that setting and it is a lot safer than the violence of the parks."
Mulvihill explains: "Our focus is on natives in the urban setting. Latour Centre is a day program facility that accommodates 20 to 25 people a day. Our mandate is to provide a spiritual centre for native people.
"The problems are too complex and we cannot do everything alone. For example, Alexander Health Centre parks its bus in front of our place every Friday. The bus is equipped with examining rooms and quality staff so the native people as well as the local neighbourhood can receive medical assistance."
Native and Christian symbols of spirituality are side by side on the walls of Latour Centre. Mavis Shingoose says: "At Latour we pray comfortably in the native tradition. Natives are very spiritual and have a deep belief in God." Mulvihill adds: "Every morning we begin with a prayer and everybody joins in -- staff, visitors and street people."
The Shingooses run pilgrimages which are healing retreats for Latour Centre. Mulvihill provides a taste of these retreats: "They are a mix of Cursillo integrated with the Alcoholics Anonymous program and infused with native and Christian spirituality.
"Each morning we begin by smudging which is a blessing with sweet grass or sage which is burned. We bless ourselves with the smoke of these native grasses and pray for God's healing and transformation in our lives. The smudging ceremony reflects the same prayer, praise of God, desire for holiness that the Catholic tradition prays for in the use of incense in ceremonies."
Walter Shingoose explains the open door policy saying, "You saw those white men outside when you came in. They have an addictions problem. We help them because they are God's children. I tell my native friends and white friends that you cannot hold discrimination in your heart. For one thing it keeps you further from God and closer to what you are trying to fight -- addictions."
"I listen to the native person's heart in their stories of residential school abuse," says Mulvihill. "I must respect their stories and give them the opportunity to go through a process of healing -- if they wish. All abuse cannot be lumped into sexual abuse. The discipline of the schools is also looked on by some natives as abuse.
"I also listen to good stories that natives tell who went through the residential school era. When I see a native person with addictions I think they have the same longing for wholeness and holiness that I have. I simply invite them to experience that desire in some small way each day."
Mulvihill describes one beautiful fall afternoon when some street people came to Latour for some food. She sat on the bench in front of the house and chatted to one of the men who said he was like "the guy in the Bible -- I do things I don't want to do and I don't do the things I want to do." In these words Mulvihill sees her oneness with these people: "We must respect and see hope in their heroic struggle in spite of their addictions."