Forming Her Activism


Teaching and community

Angie's first teaching position as a Sister of Charity was in the small rural, Irish community of Farrellton, Quebec, north of Hull on the Gatineau River, where she stayed for 11 years. After teaching for four years in Moncton, Angie was posted to Saint John in 1960. At first, taken up with her teaching, she did not register the full extent of poverty and other social ills in the city, but when it came to light, she helped form a Justice Group with other Sisters in her congregation. The program for impoverished women was not successful, however, because it had not engaged the women in project planning. For Angie, it was an invaluable lesson and ever since then she has worked hard to include those most affected by social inequities.

As a way of forming relationships with people in poverty, Justice Group members "adopted" one person each to visit and work with. Angie visited an elderly man who lived alone in a room, a relationship that continued until he moved into nursing care and eventually died. To this day, she has visiting friendships with people who contend with physical and mental challenges, considering such interactions as a crucial way of keeping in touch with community realities.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Angie's activism was practiced primarily through the Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America and focused on unjust regimes and human rights violations in Guatemala and El Salvador. This was when a lifelong practice of writing protest letters began in earnest.

As a teaching Sister, Angie worked with her class to raise money for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P), an arm of the Catholic Church with a global reach whose mission is based on the premise that without development and justice, there can be no peace. In the 1980s when refugees from these countries began coming to Saint John, Angie was among those who helped form the Refugee Support Coalition, which continues through the Immigrant and Refugee Support Centre of the Diocese of Saint John. Angie is a member of its Advisory Board and works with Coordinator Leticia Adair and other board members to encourage local sponsorship of refugees. She has done a great deal of reading, studying, and writing regarding the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act.

In 1985 Angie participated in a newly formed Housing Coalition that was subsequently active for ten years. In this role, she helped establish tenants' associations in areas with heavy concentrations of poverty such as Crescent Valley (a public housing ghetto), and Lower Cove in the South End of Saint John. The Coalition endeavoured to empower residents to conduct their own meetings and work together to improve their situation. Residents "picked up and did it," getting involved in community clean-ups and fundraising events. Angie would also accompany residents who were timid about approaching New Brunswick Housing for help or to register complaints. In all this work, Angie considered herself not "a frontrunner, but more of a supportive person in the group." What was merely a dream for the Coalition is now being accomplished by Vibrant Communities in the five priority neighbourhoods of Saint John.

When the Housing Task Force was formed and came to Saint John, Angie presented a brief on the city's housing ghettos to convey what living there was really like. She remembers this occasion—one of her first public speaking events—as a turning point in her activism. Sitting around a big table with task force members, she recalls a sense of confidence as she delivered her brief. Prior to this occasion, she would "fold up just trying to get up and speak." Task Force member Sue Rickards told Angie that she wished everyone could be as concise and straightforward as she was with her presentation.

Angie reflected on the strength she drew from on this occasion:

It came from a deep conviction that the group had to hear this—I think they heard it from other people, I wasn't the only one—because the government was trying to help by producing subsidized housing in one place. Young people growing up in such a neighbourhood would not have any model for a working adult if their family had been on income assistance all their life and it's all they knew. I prayed I would be able to say this because I felt very strongly that the task force should hear it.

Church and justice

Jesus lived out the good news for those who were poor in such a radical way that he became a threat to the established order and they got rid of him.

Guided by "the wonderful body of social teaching in the church," Angie draws her strength and passion for social justice work from the church teachings on the dignity of the human person and "a preferential option for the poor." For her, poverty includes not only those who are economically disadvantaged, but all who are deprived or marginalized. At the heart of her work is a sense of the injustice "that violates right order and what should be" and her concern is focused on the disrespect of human persons:

This would include not only the violation of human rights, but also that of the God-given order in the universe. For some, that might be called the natural law. Right order is inbred in us, part of our humanity, of nature, and of the total cosmos. All is connected and from the same source. To destroy or violate any part of creation, without cause, is an injustice. We humans are expected to care for the gifts of creation, not to destroy them.
I think it is appalling that people are not important and the economy has priority. We cannot just stand back and say nothing. Maybe we feel that what we say is not going to have any effect—but we have to say it: "This is wrong, this has to change."