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Sr. Marie Zarowny, SSA - Witness Interview

Marie is a Sister of Saint Ann currently serving as Province Co-Leader for the Congregation’s Western Canada region (St. Joseph’s Province) and living in Victoria, BC. In this role she is over-seeing the process of bringing her province “to completion,” even as it continues its mission and celebrates 160 years of service in British Columbia.

Beginning her ministry as a teacher, Marie has been actively involved for 40 years in assisting Christian faith-based communities to hear and respond to the Gospel call to social transformation. Since her earliest days of social activism, she has been committed to fostering a spirituality that will sustain and deepen, from a faith perspective, the commitment of people engaged in social change. As Principal of the Catholic school in Port Alberni in the early 70’s, Marie worked with the local First Nations band and home-school coordinator to initiate an innovative cultural sensitivity program into the school.

In 1978, with Bishop Remi DeRoo, Marie started the Social Justice Office of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria and served as its first coordinator. During those years, she worked in solidarity with First Nations on Vancouver Island for recognition of aboriginal rights and to oppose off-shore exploration for oil and gas. Her office also raised awareness about and prompted action on other local, national and international situations of poverty and injustice.

In 1987, at the invitation of the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Mackenzie (NWT), Marie traveled North to do a study on the political, social, economic, and cultural changes of the people of that area, with social analysis, theological reflection, and recommendations to the Diocese about how the Church could be supportive of the aspirations of the Dene and Inuit at that moment of history. For 10 years she learned from and worked extensively with the Dene and Inuit throughout Canada’s North. During her last three years in the North, Marie coordinated a project for the eight Dioceses of Northern Canada, Family and Society North, culminating in a series of statements by the Bishops that addressed domestic violence.

It was during those years in the North that Marie became acutely aware of the painful tragedy brought about for many people by the Indian Residential School system and began to explicitly learn from and work with those living with that legacy. At the same time, living and working with Church people who had given their lives to create a positive experience for the children in the schools, Marie more fully recognized the complexities and pain of the legacy. Returning to Victoria in 1998 to assume leadership with the Sisters of Saint Ann, Marie chaired a task group of RC Dioceses and Religious Communities that had been involved in Residential Schools, working with First Nations and negotiating with the Federal Government to develop a just, compassionate, and timely resolution to this historic injustice. When later efforts resulted in the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (2006), she served on the first Board of the Catholic Entities Settlement Corporation (CCEPIRSS). At the historic private audience of First Nations and Church representatives with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI in April, 2009, Marie represented the Women Religious who had been involved in the Schools.

Between leadership terms, Marie represented her Congregation on the Board of UNANIMA, an NGO at the United Nations, and served with her community in Haiti for 4 months (2006-07).