Fr. J. Murray Abraham
COPYRIGHT CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION
LET'S BEGIN BY TALKING ABOUT HOW YOU CAME TO ALL THIS AND WHAT IMPORTANCE DID GROWING UP IN THE DEPRESSION, WHAT IMPORTANCE DID THAT HAVE IN SHAPING YOUR DEVELOPMENT?
Oh a great deal.
LET ME INTERRUPT YOU. CUT FOR A SECOND.SO WHAT IMPORTANCE DID THE DEPRESSION HAVE IN SHAPING YOUR IDEAS?
Well because I grew up in the Depression, an awful lot of my understanding of being poor of course came from that. But I think probably the fact that in my way of thinking, the best way to help a poor person is to give them a meaningful job, to make them feel that I have something to give and to give them a chance to use their talents, their skills, creativity. And then of course they're developing other people's lives too besides their own. Because my dad was almost destroyed by the Depression. He had had as a young boy he'd been a messenger for the Western Union at 12 and then he worked for the Western Union for 34 years and then he and his two brothers were sent away at the time of the Depression. Then for the next 10 years, he had a job for a week, no job for two days, a job for a month, no job for another month and so he really could hardly enjoy that. And he felt that I'm the breadwinner and I'm not winning the bread. So he would always leave the house, no matter what, at 7:00 as if he were going to work and then he would just travel around Halifax looking for jobs and he was a very talented guy, physically I mean. he was a good painter, he was a good electrician. So he picked up a lot of odd jobs and but I could remember when dad would come home in the evening we could tell right away whether he had a job the next day or not because . So when I got here I felt that if I could make sure that the poor really felt you have something to contribute, that I would give them work as my way of trying to love and help them. So the Depression did that. I would never have had that insight. And then of course the other thing that it helped me a great deal on was ah when we were children all of us had to work so the girls were going and taking care of people's babies or what. I was delivering groceries, my older brothers were caddying at the golf course and we went through the whole cycle. But this gave us what I think a lot of young children don't have in Candian homes today. We really felt that the family needed us too, that mom and dad weren't giving us everything. We were adding our little bit. And so dad took me down to the bank when I was 9 years old and I opened up my own account and bought my own secondhand typewriter. So that all made me realize that if just as my friends in town who belonged to this extended family, the Mowari people, everybody in their family works. The kids come home from school, they go to the store, they you know, dump the paint tins or weigh out the nails or whatever. So they're helping from the time they're little ones of 8 or 9 years old.
LET ME JUST TAKE YOU BACK TO CANADA FOR A WHILE BECAUSE WE'LL SPEND A LOT OF TIME TALKING ABOUT INDIA. I'M CURIOUS WHEN YOU FIRST KNEW YOU WANTED TO BE A PRIEST?
Ah, let's see. I really I think wanted to be a priest from the time I knew of what of thinking about anything I'd want to be. And I think one of the reasons for that was I was ah had my first communion and my first experience of church in Canso. And Father Jimmy Tompkins who was really the founder of the cooperative movement in Nova Scotia that really saved the fishermen and the coal miners too eventually, he was my parish priest. Actually he'd been exiled from the University of Antigonish at that time because he was saying what are we running a university for and all these people are starving around us. So they said, okay you go out and help the starving. And Canso was where he started. And my dad and the four, five other men who were working at the cable office in Canso were really the only educated people there. So Father Jimmy used to come and sit on the back porch and talk to my dad about his problems because he had lots of problems working with the fishermen and trying to get trying to convince them to become literate was one of his biggest problems. And so he was a great inspiration for my dad and this of course came to me. And then he gave me my first communion, heard my first confession. My brother had to push me into the confessional box because I figured, boy if I have to tell everything that I've done wrong in my life, I'll be there for tyhe rest of my life telling him. So then when I came to Halifax I was very active in the church. I was an altar boy and practically always serving 7:00 mass. And I was as a consequence in a lot of close contact with a lot of the Fathers there. And then at Christmas time I remember we would go out to give meals to the poor and all that. So it just struck me as a very good way of spending your life, gives you many opportunities to love and help people so that's how I got the idea. But I really never did think if I'd been anything else it would have been a sailor. My brother went to sea when he was 12 years old one of the lady boats. And that was my other perhaps ambition. So but I really did always want to well have the kind of opportunities I felt they had as they helped the poor around our area so it all started very early.
WHY OKAY LET'S WHY THE JESUITS? WHY DID YOU JOIN THE JESUIT ORDER?
Oh that was once again, I mean I don't believe it was sort of an accident of life eh. Divine providence is working things out. The brothers, Irish Christian Brothers who at that time ran St. Mary's they used to have every year what they called a vocation week. And then they'd have doctors come in or professors from colleges come in or businessmen come in and talk to us about this is what my profession is like and this is what I do and this is why I think it's a good way to live. And so during one of those vocation weeks, one of the brothers gave a very very good talk on the Jesuits and the fact that they were great missionaries. And at that same time, our home to survive during the Depression we had some extra rooms in our home and so they were used as sort of well we used to call them apartments but it was really just one room with a little corner for a cooking situation. And we had a very lovely Anglican woman who spent her whole life teaching scripture to children at St. Paul's Cathedral in Halifax. And she was the one that kept telling me that if you're going to become a priest you should go off to countries where they haven't heard of Jesus and you tell them that God loves them so much that he gave his own son. So she was the one so they came together. So I decided when then the Jesuits did come to Halifax. The brothers were sent away because the bishop didn't like them and the Jesuits came and then I got firsthand knowledge of them. And they were nice guys. So I became a Jesuit.
GAVE YOU A GOOD EDUCATION TOO.
Yes, yes, they certainly did. Although I would say this, as high school teachers I would choose the Irish Christian Brothers. That's their specialty. The trouble with Jesuits is we're perhaps jackofalltrades and masters of none. It's been a problem in my life because I couldn't completely concentrate on let's say the ordinary academic education because I didn't think it was appropriate education for the poor. So I had to try to get into another kind of education. Then of course you lose a certain amount of expertise on the other side because you're not giving 100% of your time to it. I'm still convinced that that was a good idea. Perhaps (coughing) because as a kid, I was going to school and learning the things in school, but then I had I was delivering groceries for a while, I was a paperboy and then I was a messenger boy at the Canadian Pacific Telegraph, then I was .... boy. I was learning practical mathematics we used to get the paper used to cost 3 cents in those days and I got a third of a cent, so I learned fractions because I had to figure out how much money was mine, see. So I was getting, you know, in school an academic education but I was getting a word education outside. And I had to deal with people and I had to deal with money and I had to figure out ways of making my way. And so this is one of the big problems with the poor. If they go to school they don't get the working experience they should because here there's no jobs for kids. I mean there's not enough work for adults so kids just don't pick up the odd jobs we used to pick up. And so they have no chance of developing that other side and linking up their arithmetic with their work and how many hours they're going to do this. So I think that was a great help, the Depression helped me that way a lot because there was just no way we as a family could survive unless the whole gang of us worked along with mom and dad to help.
I'M JUST GOING TO STOP FOR A SEC, GET YOU SOMETHING TO DRINK. (BACKGROUND TALK)I'M GOING ABOUT THIS HISTORICALLY SO WE'RE BUILDING UP TO THE PRESENT.
I WANT YOU TO TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT IT WAS LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST CAME TO INDIA. WERE YOU SHOCKED?
I was shocked at how little I knew about India. I mean of course you've got to go back to 1948 and also the fact that we'd been in the war and that before, I mean the communication world wide, you know, you knew very little about this part of the world. And I really felt that India was a country of elephants and snakes of course. But to come to a huge city of Calcutta and find out that they have trains and cars and it's well advanced in many ways, that was a big shock to me. That now I you wonder now how I could have been so stupid but I was. And so at the beginning too when I came, I suppose one of the things that struck me most was the fact that well let's say my experience of poverty was so different from that we for instance during the Depression although many many people were poor and people still there was sort of a feeling that this should not be, this is abnormal eh. But when I came here, I found people weren't all that uptight about the fact that they were poor. It was the way life is sort of. And ah that our poor in India are a highly cultured people. And like they have a graciousness that you would expect of what we would call a Victorian lady in sort of our culture, eh. And many of my friends have come from Canada have felt that too. A big of course surprise for me was I have always been uncomfortable in Canadian winters. I'm not a lover of the cold although I was a great lover of ice hockey. But ah so when I came to India I thought, you know, my I'll never have to freeze again, no more. Gee, we came to the mountains here up at St. Mary's at 5,200 feet, just the day of a big hailstorm and I've never been colder in my life than I've been in India because all during the winter time we have no heat in the houses. So that was a big surprise. One of the great delights was I came to one of our Jesuit places where we had men from all over the world. We had Australia, New Zealand people, Irish and French, Germans, Dutch, Belgians, Americans. And then all the different groups in India, from South India, Bombay side. So that was a real education, we were living with 110 men with a tremendous variety of cultures and their background, languages. So I was really pleased with that and that I was in that community for 5 years. The first year I spent learning the language and I was given the job of taking care of a group of poor children right away, about 80 of them.
DID THEIR POVERTY WHAT I WAS ASKING, THE EXTENT OF THE POVERTY HERE WE DON'T KNOW IN CANADA. NEVER HAVE AND PROBABLY NEVER WILL. DID THE EXTENT OF THE POVERTY SHOCK YOU?
Yes, you know, let's say when you superficially see it, it seems absolutely impossible for human beings to live that way. Now I'm talking, as I say, just after India got her independence and things, there's no way that they weren't an awful lot worse in those days. Like you take in St. Alphonse's school before you know we made the new building, there wouldn't be one child in 50 that had anything on their feet. Most of them would be really dressed in rags. Well that's not true today, that there has been a big change, a great improvement. But the thing that surprised me was they could be so poor physically let's say or economically, or whatever you want. And yet so carefree and so happy. And that was a big thing, that the children I was dealing with, you know, it didn't bother them for example I had no money at that time either at all, so they were sleeping on board beds and we were using rice sacks for sort of a type of mattress. Fleas you've never seen so many fleas as I oh my, I used to come up from taking care of my kids when I was studying the languages the language and I was all dressed in white. I dressed in white because I could pick up the fleas and I'd put them in my wash bowl. I used to keep a ball score for myself eh. I have 54 today, 67 today. So I just unbelievable. And then of course we had no change of clothes for them. I mean they slept in what they went to school in. And I had a fire brigade down there, you know. I used to have to go down and wake these little ones up that wet the bed at night see. So I'd go down sometimes at 9:30 and that would be too early because I'd go down at 11:30 and that would be too late. But then I remember one of the first things I did is I wrote home to my mom and asked her if she would send some pyjamas you know. So she had a group of her dear friends that were helping me and they sent me out a whole whack of pyjamas. Came just about two days before Christmas eh. So I went down on Christmas Eve and I put them all in these pyjamas and put them to bed before midnight mass. Everybody goes to midnight mass here. And so they went and all these Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck pyjamas, all over, you know, little so I went down at midnight mass time and I (end tape 025)
start end 026 fa interview
TELL ME ABOUT WHEN YOU FIRST CAME HERE AND YOU WENT TO TEACH AT ST. JOSEPH'S AND HOW DIFFICULT THAT WAS FOR YOU.
That was a INCORPORATE.I was very surprised that my first assignment was to St. Joseph's because I had never conceived that we would have a school like St. Joseph's. And in those days St. Joseph's had an extraordinary reputation. Oh my, .... Point was known all over India. It was really one of the prestige schools. And the present King of Nepal and his two younger brothers were there, the Prime Minister of Bhutan's three sons were there. Gee, people from Thailand, Indonesia, all through the then we had a lot of German boys who had come from the engineers that were there, Americans, 5 Canadian boys at one time. So there was a there was 32 nations represented at one time. But it was rich like you wouldn't believe. I mean you know these kids, I remember one man coming from Thailand you know that came and we used to give something like 5 rupees pocket money a month eh, and he wanted to leave 10,000 rupees pocket money for a little boy who was 6 years old. WEll this was certainly not what but you know it was a real valuable thing because children are not rich or poor, children are just children. So the years I spent there I really had a ball with these young people cause I was young. And we played a lot of games. I coached a lot of football and stuff and I really and I directed all the plays. So we were on stage Julius Caesar and we did a couple of comedies and stuff like that. So I and I think that was a good part of my education because I never blamed anyone for being rich. You know, it's not this boy's fault that Berendra is the king of Nepal now. I always remember, he came in to me one time, or a little kid came in to me and he was all crying. He says, oh Father, he says, you've got to go and talk to Branda Branda had told him if you do't let me win this cricket game, I'm going to get my father's army over here. And they were about 6 years old. But that I think was very good because there's a very big difficulty when you're working with the poor that you get a sort of prejudice against the rich. And so you feel that you know you're cruel and hardhearted and this is, really when you think of it is nonsense. But because I worked those two years with very very wealthy kids and actually as I say, they were just boys wanted to play games and were very friendly with the people, so I think that was good preparation for my later life. But it was a real big shock to me and of course one of the problems that has cropped up, I remember when I had a friend of mine who was working on the Globe and Mail came and at that time I was building the school, trying to raise the money to build it and I was running the school and I was the only Jesuit there. And he came ........ (coughing) (cut)Well he came and he stayed with me a night and then he went up to Darjeeling so I told him to visit St. Joe's because at that time we were practically all a good number of Canadians. So he went up there and at that time at this rich school, they had about 400 students. I had about 900 at my place and I was one Jesuit with 900 poor children and up there they had about 15 Jesuits with 300 rich kids. So it was really, you know, part of the injustice of life that they were getting because they were well off, super treatment. And down here the kids were just getting me. So that's been there's been a considerable amount of tension there and has been unfortunate certainly.
ONCE YOU GOT THE IDEA TO REBUILD ST. ALPHONSE BECAUSE IT WAS FALLING DOWN, WHAT GAVE YOU THE IDEA TO GO BACK TO CANADA. OR DESCRIBE HOW THAT IDEA CAME ABOUT TO GET THE FINANCING TO PUT UP A NEW SCHOOL.
Well when I the Father who was at St. Alphonse's had trouble so they sent me down. And one of my big worries when I got there was the condition of the building because we were letting classes out on the second storey one by one. And because they'd shake the building too much so I was afraid it would collapse. So I had put up 4 by 4s. The first classroom I taught in must have had about 20 4 by 4s. I couldn't see most of the kids eh, just to make sure it wouldn't fall down. Then I was very lucky, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and the Educational Department decided at that time that headmaster or principal of any school, high school had to have a Master's degree in Education which I didn't have. So they gave me sort of temporary recognition and then I wrote to my old college, St. Mary's, it's now called university in Halifax and asked I've been a beggar all my life you know and asked them to give me a free ride there. So then I went back to Canada in I guess the fall of nineteen hundred and sixty. And then I picked up my B.Ed. and my M.Ed. And then I, you know, had a lot of relatives in Halifax but I didn't owe any people's people and I hadn't been doing much begging. So I got out west with my sister in Calgary and we sat down and figure out how we would do this. And we really ended up baptizing the Tupperware system. You know the old Tupperware where they come in and cook a meal for you and you bring in your friends. So we went from Betty got in her say 20 best friends and we only dealt with couples because we wanted family involvement in this so if the husband couldn't come we say well the wife will pick him up later. So they'd come and it was always in a home. And then I would show them the condition of the school, the type of children I'd been working with and what I'd hoped to do for them. And the idea was this has to be money given out of a sacrifice. WE want you to give up Friday night desserts so no cake or pies or anything and the money you saved we figured out in an average family at that time it would cost about 50 cents a week. So give us two dollars a month and you'll be building a place for one student. And I wanted to get twelve hundred names in my Book of Life. So I would show some pictures to them, slides, coloured slides. Then I'd talk and explain. Then we had the Book of Life and we would ask them to sign that and this by signing that they would give a new life to these poor children. And so I had planned actually to do all that down in my own home town because dad came from a big family and mom came from a big family. We really had a lot of contacts there. But the bishop wouldn't let me stay. He was badly in debt at that time. All the bishops were in debt after the war. They all built new rectories and new churches and schools and all that. So they didn't want missionaries around at all. And at that time, Canada wasn't really aware of the underdeveloped world as she has grown to become aware of it. And in particular the clergy weren't aware. It's a strange thing that most of the key people that began helping me Halifax and Moncton, Fredericton, Calgary, Edmonton, all had a lot of children of their own. And because they knew the problem of feedings kids and the difficulty of bringing up kids, they really were open to helping mothers and fathers on this side of the world. So when the bishop said I could only have so many names in Halifax Archdiocese, I got in my mother's Volkswagen and I drove right across Canada. I'd go to a place where I had a friend and I'd go and tell him to invite his friends in. And so I just went right across Canada. I had to see 7 bishops and had a lot of trouble exept in St. John, New Brunswick. It was really a bad time because they were all as I say, the postwar building had put them all in debt and they were not really that concerned because at that time we didn't know I don't think nearly as much. We'd just come out of the war so we had our own I don't blame them but it was a fact it was tough going for me at that time. But it had lots of advantages because I had to go outside the field I mean I had to get as many friends from a lot of nonCatholic friends, a lot of people that are agnostics, so I ended up with a very mixed group of Canadian people but all with a central concern. They wanted to do someting to help the underdeveloped part of the world.
SO YOU GOT TWELVE HUNDRED NAMES THE FIRST TIME, TWELVE HUNDRED PEOPLE SIGNING THE BOOK WHICH GAVE YOU YOU THOUGHT ENOUGH MONEY TO PUT UP A SCHOOL. BUT FATE INTERVENED RIGHT?
Yeah. A big shot I brought back my nephew to finish his high school here eh, and then as soon as I got back I started on January 1st and the Chinese had invaded India at that time. And because we had not been prepared at all they just walked in and got as far as Galhati and Assam and they could have kept on going to Delhi. Nobody could have stopped them I don't think. But then the then they withdrew and then the Indian government determined we've got to build a broad gauge railway right along the foothills of the Himalayas so that we can move troops because they had no way of moving troops. So to do that of course they had to build 34 bridges in this 300 miles and of course the cost of cement and steel and everything just went off the chart. So all my carefully made plans for the cost of this building were gone. And I remember telling some of my Jesuit Indian friends that I was going to get the staff and the children at St. Alphonse's school to get out there and physically work. And they were they said you'll never get your staff to do this because Indian teachers, getting your hands dirty, doing physical work is not for that. But I gave a speech one day and I said, you want a school, you have to help build it. There's just not enough money so so from that day and for ten years we had two periods a day where we worked on the rock pile we used to call it because we cut out the mountain. See, most of the school is on what used to be mountain. So we really cut out the mountain and we used everything in the mountain to make the school. We had these big pipes from the river up above and we cut that mountain like a piece of cheese and wiped ah washed out all the sand we needed for our block making, our beams making. Then all the stones that went into all the retaining walls. So we really transformed the mountain into the school and the kids carried mud and stone, used to make hollow blocks. That was another thing, we used to keep scores on that. 10A would make 350 in half a day and 10B would do this. Then we really created a terrific sense of achievement in that school. And when the kids who were in the school at that time come back that's the only thing they talk about we built this school. I mean I suppose because of the tremendous feeling you have when you have 6 or 700 young people out there and teachers directing them and stones going here and there, it's a great feeling of we're doing something. And of course at that time it was the biggest building in ... and certainly the biggest school. So then it was that I discovered as far as I was concerned that the best kind of education for the poor was an integrated work education system by which they would work, use the science and the mathematics and the communication skills they're learning in the classroom and use it on the work site in their work .... So when we finished building the school then I had made a very big mistake when I was back in Canada the first time. I said, now you help us build it and once it's built, we'll take care of it ourselves. But if you're going to really educate the poorest, they can't pay any fees at all and they can't buy books and they can't buy uniforms or school clothes. So then I decided we should go into some sort of work production. And I was talking to some of my Canadian friends and they felt that if certain scientific ideas were introduced and a little bit more knowhow that we could probably produce 10, 15 times more food up here in the mountains than we're doing now and which we have proved since that time. And so I figured in India if you're going to do work and you couldn't hardly go better in food production, so that's how we got into I was first of all going to go into we started of course with corn and crops on the mountainside but I wanted to go into dairy and piggery. And my fisrt thrust was going to be a piggery because one of my great friends in Ontario, Malcolm Davidson, was an expert in pigs and he had offered to come over here, bring his family, educate his children here for two years and then train my staff, my local staff because I know at that time or knew at that time nothing about agriculture. So the government at that time, because this was a sensitive area and they were afraid of the Chinese coming in again, you had to have very special permits to stay in this area and very few could stay over 2 weeks. I tried to get permission from the government to let them come in for two years and in the process he got killed. So that was over. So I dropped the pigs because the pigs would mean I had to be too far away from the school. So I put the chickens on the roof.
WHAT GAVE YOU THE IDEA FOR CHICKENS?
Well because really mostly the fact that at that time, poultry was beginning in India. UP to that time there was no real poultry. Shaver was into it, now Shaver is the biggest producer of birds in the world. He's a Canadian. He was a school mate of one of my Jesuit Father Jim MacKay. And ah I knew that I could have poultry on the roof and I could be in my headmaster's office or principal's office and go up. So I could combine them both. And so we started with 360 birds at that time. And then it turned out to be a very good educational thing because it's so much mathematics and science into that. And then science has changed poultry so much. I mean like the gene work in science. When say around 1950 a good bird would lay say 150 eggs a year, now they have them up to 280, 300. So it was a good way to show my young people that you've got to have the academic knowledge, you've got to have the scientific knowledge. Just the physical skills is not going to do it for India. We really have to integrate. And that's one of the big tragedies in India. Then of course as I got that idea I got came under the influence of Gandhi a great deal. And of course this was his real concept, that what they call basic education, that all education is to be taught through a craft or a production activity and even your geography and all that if you're say working on cotton you have to find out what countries produce it and how they did it and how it led to slavery in America and all. So you really made your production activity the sort of the hub of all your academic learning. And now we've tried to do as much of that as we can. And so I'm really convinced, even if I didn't have an economic problem if I weren't working with poor children, I still think working with nature, making things grow, seeing how science and mathematics influencing that, and also the communication that goes on. Children don't get a chance to do but when you have to discuss a problem you have working, you have to learn how to communicate and understand each other. So I really do think it's a wonderful instrument of education so I wouldn't, you know, say it's just for the economic part of it at all. I'd say much more, particularly the beauty I found in that is that it only works when we work together, whereas in our classroom education, I'm an individual. If there's nobody else in the classroom I can hear the teacher just as well, I'm really worried about what kind of marks I'm going to get, I'm not helping my buddies learn. But in our work education, we are teaching each other and learning from each other and that's what I think the country needs, that we need a greater sense of responsibility to the community and that if the community works together and that had also come out when we were doing the school. Because once they saw that gee, none of us could do this but together we put up the biggest school in this area. So the Lord the Lord provides. OKAY. DO YOU WANT TO TAKE A SIP OF TEA? (end tape 026)
start end 027 fa interviewYOU WERE TALKING ABOUT THE POULTRY AND HOW THAT CAME AND THE IMPORTANCE OF GANDHI.
TELL ME ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT GANDHI WAS TO YOU PERSONALLY?
Well I suppose one of the conflicts perhaps in my own life ws the difficulty of being a priest and a spiritual person and getting up to my ears in economic and social problems. And this is what Gandhi eminently integrated in his life. He would not accept that all our activities are integrated in us as a person so that if I'm a politician and I'm a religious person I'm going to be a religious politician in the sense my faith and my beliefs are necessarily going to influence whatever I do. And although the political field is not the religious field, the person who is operating is in both. So he was a real great consolation to me. Also ah the thing I think I got most help from him in was perhaps in the Jesuit order more than others we were very lockstep in those old days. All the system of training was very definite so many years here, so many years there. You were following textbooks that went on for hundreds of years. So it was all preordained whereas for Gandhi one of his great insights and inspirations came from a hymn actually by Cardinal Newman of England where he said that lead kindly light just show me one step at a time and I'll make that step because I have the confidence you will show me the next step. And this I would say is one of the main difficulties even in the whole approach to development. We want to get a plan and we want to execute that plan and often halfway through the plan you get the added data in that tells you your plan is not on target. And we don't adjust. So that I was able, because of the inspiration Gandhi gave they used to ask Gandhi, well what's going to happen? How are we going to do this? He said I don't know how we're going to do that next month but today I know what we're going to do and this is how we're going to do it. And today's input is going to be God's way of teaching me what I should do tomorrow. I'll trust that he's teaching me and he'll show me the kindly light. Very important. And one of the problems that I've had with my own organization is that you want you to say where is it all going? what's it going to do? I mean where are you going to end up? Well, you don't know that. In fact, nobody knows it in their life but we like to have it. Now this is one of my big arguments with development agencies. They want you to put give them a preplan and if you stick to that you would really be doing an injustice to the people you're trying to help because it's in the process that you learn. So I think we would never have done anything effective if I hadn't had that my guru hadn't been Mahatma Gandhi on that that you have to trust in God, you know that he's not going to abandon you and that what you're doing today is His way of showing you the things that you'll need to know for what yo should do tomorrow. And it's been very important because what we are doing is quite different when you know this building of a sort of adapted extended Indian family, then everybody wants to say, well when this happens what's going to happen? Come to me when it happens and then I'll tell you what's going to happen. And I think it's the way of course it's what Jesus Christ taught, no? I mean don't worry about tomorrow; today is sufficient for itself. And so this but it was very important and I would say that in my order particularly, the Jesuits, most of our men can't enter this particular field because they're very insecure with a future unknown. And we go into the ordinary college, and the ordinary school or parish, we know pretty well what's to be done and what's going to be the effect of it and that we're comfortable with. So this has been unfortunately even my young people it's perhaps one of the most important things for me to teach them. Just we're doing very well. I use this famous joke of the Empire State building. The fella that went up to the top of the Empire State building and he jumped off eh. ANd as he was falling down he passed the 32nd storey and there was a secretary looking out the window. And as he went by he says, it's all right so far. So I really feel that you take it's going to work out. And as a matter of fact, if when I started I had no source of income, I really didn't know how I was going to go. I didn't have an architect I could depend on. There was nobody I thought in this area. All of it came I knew nothing about poultry, knew nothing about agriculture. And it's all worked together. And if at the beginning I had seen where we are today, I would say this can never happen, it's unbelievable. But it's step by step. And the number of people I've been blessed with Indian friends that have helped me in every department. I mean Stella ... with the little children in our sewing nitka and emergency help for the poor, Mr. Khan with the poultry children, all my staff down there. And then my young people of course. It's been a terrific gift and so it's all worked out very well.
I WANT TO TELL YOU NOT TO BE AFRAID TO PAUSE AT THE END OF SENTENCES. IT WILL HELP ME. (BACKGROUND TALK) OKAY LET'S GO ON. SOME OF THE STRUCTURAL STUFF.
WHY HEAD START?
Oh well Head Start, I was taught why I had to have Head Start by teh fact that I sent my first group of poor children into class one. So I interviewed them say school starts in the middle of February here, so I interviewed them say in the beginning of February and then I sent them .... Well naturally, since I was hunting for the poorest, many of them were very undernourished. Then I hadn't realized that which I should have because my own mother only went to grade 3 in Canada and dad went to grade 8, but they knew school and they knew how to read and they knew how to count and do arithmetic. Very basic and all that sort of stuff but they knew education. Little children who come from illiterate homes there is absolutely no input from the family. So if you put them into the same classroom with children whose parents have been at school for 2 or 3 years, they've already lost the race. I mean it's all over. So then I found that they weren't doing well and so I decided to they need a year so we could pick their health up, get enough food into them. If they had medical problems, we have them checked with a doctor. And then get them started on the process of learning with some people that can give them. And that's how I got into the Montessori. I knew I needed something for sort of a Head Start program but I didn't know what kind of school I needed. And I went back to Canada at that time. Now this would be I guess in the '68 area, 1968 and I met this wonderful group of people that were running a school out in Victoria and it was a Montessori school. Then I read a few books on Montessor and actually she had started Dr. Montessori had started her schools for poor children in the slums of Italy. And her system was worked out so that one teacher could handle a very large group of children and would be learning on their own, going at their own pace. And I thought that would be a wonderful way for children to be introduced into school, to really give them a feeling that this is my challenge and I'm not being pushed and I can stay with this thing like when they're putting up blocks, for instance, whatever. Some kids like to do it 25 times. WEll, let them do it 25 times. It's a really personalized type of education. And so then that's how I started the Head Start program.
AND ADULT LITERACY
The adult literacy was really something I had what always amazes me is when you get the insight you wonder how you could have been so stupid not to have it eh. But I had, even with the Head Start program, even with the improved health, the poor children were not really hitting the average of the others. And then I discovered a good number of them weren't interested in school eh. So I, one time I was talking to a little boy and I said, why don't you want to learn to read and write? And he said (dialect) ..... My mother doesn't know how to read and write, why should I learn. And then it dawned on me then, you know, when I reflected on my own first years in school, if I had run home with my little book and my first word that I'd written and shown it to mom and she couldn't even read it, that would so we discussed it among ourselves , the staff with myself, and we decided for the first 3 or 4 years if the mother, particularly the mother, in our society can't put in the motivation and the sharing with the child the discovery of being able to write and count then the child is just going to believe it doesn't matter because at that age the mother is everything for the child. So then we worked out that if you're going to put your child in school, you have to come for night school at 5:30. I was, you know reluctant to do that because the poor women, many of them are doing coolie work. That means they're carrying mud, stone, working on the roads so they're doing heavy physical work all day long. And as soon as they're finished that heavy physical work instead of letting them go home and get some food and go to bed, you're going to make them come to class. So I figured we're going to have a very bad attendance. Another big mistake of Father Abraham's. Because they all came together in the evening. We gave them tea and they were treated as very important and they had their guramas, their teachers teaching them. It was the happiest part of their day. I mean they really were treated as human beings. So we never had any trouble with attendance. Then we had always one or two women to babysit so they could go home and get the little child that they'd not been with, bring her over, have tea, and then have their class together. And so that worked out very beneficial in many ways, perhaps even not more important but certainly as important as helping their own child. For example a lot of the poor in India are nomads. They were say in one part and they're not making it there so they come down to Kir.... because they heard Kir... has more work, whatever. Or they're a landslide situation. We get a lot of people from Nepal. Or a political problem in Assam. So the Nepalese all run away and they come. So you're dealing with immigrants a lot, I mean you know from either Nepal or back from other states. They have no community. They're rootless people. When they came to our night school, you provided them with community. Not only with a community but community of people who are facing their own problems. So it became very therapeutic eh. They were helping each other and counsellng each other. So all these extra benefits which are very vital for their sense of confidence and development were extras. The initial reason was to help their own children get a good start in school. So that's how the night school got started. And then out of that spinoff see, ah coming from Canada we don't have children getting uniforms to go to school. I was not a uniform man although the English school system is very strong in that eh. So I didn't have but then the poor came to me and said, Father, have a uniform of some type. So our children are always saying I have to have this jacket, everybody else and we can't buy these things. So then we chose khaki as the strongest cloth and the cheapest cloth and it makes a very nice uniform. Now initially I had that work being done by tailors in business in town. And then we once again it seemed so obvious once you've learned it, we decided we had so many people coming for work, why not train some especially the widows because they have added problems. They've got babies to take care of often or little children. So we opened sewing nitka and they make now I guess about 2,000, 3,000 uniforms a year besides clothes for other poor children and work clothes now for us. And then they make bags and they make carpets. And so it was one of the new insights that I had. Employ the poor to help the poor. Free the poor by making them free other poor people. And as I say, it's obvious when you've learned it. But until you learn it it's not obvious. (chuckle) So that was a great blessing of the Lord too, that particular development.
AND HOW DID YOU GET INTO HOUSING?
Ah well once again sort of maybe the immigrant problem was that people were coming into the district. They call these knuckle bustees. They just get some pieces of wood and they live under with oil tins broken open as a roof and stuff like that. So we got into housing on that. Also because we were in the process of building the school and I was very fortunate to be able to get a nice piece of land up in the mountainside. It's very steep. I had a lot of trouble getting people to go there and now of course it's well populated. So I the children were making hollow blocks to make the school. Then when we got into when we had the school finished, I still wanted a work program for especially for our poor children. So we carried on making hollow blocks and then during the holiday times we'd carry them up the mountain. And one winter we made those first 22 houses. And then we had all sorts of people working at that of course. And it was really funny when we were making the home. I, in Canso, we as kids lived in the attic you know. We used to go up just with a wooden ladder and live there. But here they didn't have that system. So I put in sort of half secondstorey. At the beginning they wouldn't use it because they were always used to everybody sleeping together on the same bed. And the mother and father don't want if the kids are away they feel something is wrong and the children would feel sort of afraid. So maybe for the first six months or so they I had thought that they would use that for the place for the kids to sleep eh. Well now of course it's the most valuable part in the house because it's the quietest and you can dry clothes during the monsoon and you double the house space. So that was a big once again it came because I had a tremendous man helping me at that time. His two daughers are actually in Toronto right now they're nurses. But he thought that if we just add two blocks more around the top of that beam we can get really two houses for the price of one, and it made a terrific difference. And really I hadn't realized, although I should have from my own family's experience that the thing that kept driving my dad during the Depression you've not only got to get a job but you've got to save a little money. So in our family, I remember taking 25 cents down to the bank to put in for mom as her weekly saving. You had to put something in the bank every week to get that house paid off. So when I left for India in 1948 that was the last conversation I had with my dad was Murray boy, by the time you're in India, this house belongs to us. It provides the poor with a sense of now I'm secure. It's an extension owning a home makes them feel, now I'm somebody, that I can stand on my own feet, I have my own place, my kids are always going to have a place to live. And then it gives them the kind of objectives they can deal with. I want to make some new little curtains for my window they can manage a little curtain eh. So they'll save enough for that. So it gives them a real motive power to move ahead. So I would say the poor I have helped with putting in homes, they've really needed very little help from me after that. The home was the thing then that gave them the selfconfidence and the desire and the security that I have my place now, I'm going to make it better, put a little garden there, I need a little fence. So you see when you go to their homes, they're always adding that little bit that they would never have saved for if it wasn't their own. And by and large, I've been amazed at how carfully they take care of their homes, that the ones we opened in the first village we built was around 19661967. Well those homes now, practically all of them are pretty well as they were. I had a big discussion with my staff at that time. The big temptation is to build cheap. And the trouble with that is that after say 20 years they're back in a shack eh, it turns in so I wanted to build because in India nobody sells homes among my kind of people. And once they have a home that's the heirloom for generations. And now in that village all the second generation are there with their own children. And so it's a gift to not only this generation of family but their children and their grandchildren. So it's been a very successful thing. Now that was an idea that came from a friend in Halifax. The I was showing when I was talking about building the school and I was thinking at that time too that we would eventually get into homes, he saw the toy train and he said, well why don't you do it in ash because if you've got to get that stuff up that mountainside, if you make ash blocks, they're half the weight of regular blocks. And then you can do it any time of the year, you can cure them during the monsoon whereas you're not stuck with all the building then was in reinforced concrete. Well then you're very much dependent on the weather. So that got the ash blocks was started by a friend in Halifax.(end tape 027)
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LET'S TALK ABOUT HOW SASAC CAME ABOUT AND WHY IT'S SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Well, one of the disappointments that I learned after my first graduates got through was now I had young fellows who were had the matriculation. They were good workers and they just couldn't get work. And not only they couldn't get work but they were a real burden on the family because they had to live off their mom and dad. And so often the mother and father were doing coolie work so a son that's not able to contribute anything. So I had about 10 of them, 10 young men like that and I decided, well we'll carry on this place. The building here was had been owned by the Jesuits and it was empty and they weren't using it. So I came here with the idea that we would develop the land. Now when we came here nothing was growing here. It was just a hillside with nothing on it. And so we started that. And I was sending them on to college at the same time. Then as we lived here of course I made some terrific mistakes on that score because we were trying to build a family with ten boys eh. No mother, no father, no children, no girls, no anybody. Then I very fortunately ah was downtown one night and met an old student of mine who'd been away in Calcutta studying to be a chartered accountant for 8 years. And he told me to come home for supper so I could tell him all about the school. So I went down and I remember telling him, gee this is not going to be so good for your mommy you bring in a guest unannounced just at supper time. And he said, father, there's 35 in the family, what does one more mean. So I went in and then I saw from inside what really is meant by an Indian extended family. There are 5 brothers and their wives and their children all living with the mother grandmother for most of them under one roof. Then in one room they had lots of young people in those days now many of those young ones are grown up. And they were all studying in one room and the bigger brothers were helping the younger kids and then they had one retired teacher. And they were having a really good learning session together, everyone contributing to everyone else. And then of course the cooking was done down in the kitchen; instead of the one mother being all by herself, there was four or five of them. They were chatting away as they made the food. And so I said, now if we could build that kind of home for the poor, it would solve an awful lot of problems for the poor because in their family, for example, they had one very badly handicapped child, never got off a bed. I don't know what the actual medical problem was but anyhow never spoke. It practically moved not at all. But because it was a big family that child was just flooded with love and the care of that child was shared. Now when you're dealing with the poorest you naturally are going to have a lot of physical problems. A lot like in our community here we have 4, 5 quite deaf people, we have of course a multiple sclerosis case. Then you have people that are what we would call retarded But in this when they enter the family and there's the affection and the care and the variety of activities just as in that extended family some of the brothers are in the shop all day, others are out selling, others are traders down in Calcutta. So their talents are being used to the maximum and yet they're motivated by the fact that we are belonging all to one family. So that was a real big insight to me and it has turned out a great deal of benefits. Like just to give you one example, little children, babies here, automatic, 25 babysitters. Because the girls and boys love children. That's a big contrast perhaps to other parts of the world but our young people our teenagers love to be with little ones. So that means that a mother has a child, all the time she has as much help as she can possibly conceive of. So she can give the best of herself to the child but doesn't have to give it 24 hour a day. Then the little one grows up with all sorts of little ones. Like in our community right now we have say maybe 8 or 10 of them are under 9 or so. So they have companions. Then the thing I think is even more important is that they learn to live with different personalities, to appreciate different types of characters and traits. And so you're learning people and that's where I think Indians' real great strength is at. That we know all sorts of academic things perhaps but particularly the poor, they're real Ph.D.s in people. Now if you go out to visit a poor home, if you're aware, they're never going to take their eyes off you. They're checking every kind of reaction that you have. And because they spend most of their time not with books or not with TVs or gadgets or anything, their entertainment, their knowledge is all centred and focused on people. So I maintain the poor understand people much better than we do. They're very aware, for instance, their radar is very if you're not happy they'll pick that up before other you think you're not giving yourself away. They can see right through you like an xray. That's why I say when I'm dealing with the poor there's no hope of pretense because they are experts in people because 90% of their life is just people. And so this was one of the reasons I felt that this is a good way to go. I mean and I think for instance it's something we're going to have to think of in the line that now we realize that the old days when you had big families of 8 or 10, that is creating a problem in the world so we have to have fewer children. But still, children need lots of other children to educate them in human living. And so we're going to have to, perhaps in Canada, work out some sort of extended family situation. And you know, a lot of the communes this is why I used to get annoyed when people would say, oh you're running a commune. That has a real loaded sound and context eh. But in a sense, I was surprised when I started to build a community, I then started to get books on different kinds of brotherhoods and sisterhoods. I was amazed at how many groups are trying to find another way of going by which they have the benefits of say 3 or 4 generations ago in Canada even my father, all his brothers and sisters lived in Halifax. There was never a decision made without a big family powwow. This is all gone now. I mean you know, my own brothers and sisters are spread over Canada. Nobody except one person in the home town, but in his generation practically everybody was back home.
I JUST WANT TO BRING YOU BACK TO WHAT THE INTENTION OF SASAK IS.WEll
what I wanted of course, what I wanted in general was that we would be able to put into our children enough academic education, enough working skills, and attitude towards work that they'd go off and do their thing, you know, and that's obviously. But we also wanted to build up a community that would be dedicated to giving their lives to helping the poor. And so and there are young people who when they school their school life was over, it was really a heartbreak for them to leave the poultry because their poultry had been a very important part of their lives. All their friends were there, they liked the daily activities together. So it sort of built in a need of community and a community doing something to help themselves and the poor. So this was the whole idea. I mean it's sort of a get the poor to help the poor again. We build a family and we're going to learn how to not only supply our own needs but we're going to dedicate our talents and our time to helping as many poor people as we could. Also because I'm really convinced just like say in Alcoholics Anonymous, it's been so successful because a man who has been alcoholic understands in a way nobody else can, the problems of another alcoholic. And I really think that the saviours of the poor are the poor themselves. Because like you take Sudir and Rita and .... all my young people here, they've been there. They know what it is to be living in a shack, they know what it is to be hungry. They know what it is to be in India let's say despised is not the word you'd use for India we don't judge the poor as failures but let's say they know what it is to be ignored, not to be people that matter. And so they can feel something that perhaps somebody that hasn't been born one of the great beneifts God gave me was that I went through a period those 10 years between 1930 and the war that our family was poor. And it really I remember for instance I lose my first job as a caddy because the poor caddy master couldn't defend me. I was a redhead and there was three of us in the caddy shop that were redheads and it happened on Easter Saturday. I was at church and one of the other redheads was caddying for a doctor and he stole three of the doctor's golf balls. And on Easter Sunday morning when I came back to work as a caddy, this doctor came out and said, that's the kid down there. So they called me up. And they said you stole you were my caddy on Saturday and you stole my golf balls. I said I wasn't here on Saturday. Just call Monseignor Burns and you'll know I was in church. I didn't come on Saturday. Kid you can't so the caddy master said that's it, kid, that's the end of your job here. And about a week later I met him on a streetcar and he called me over. He says, I know, kid, you didn't steal. I took three years to get a job there and I just couldn't give up that job, I got kids to feed. So I said fine. But it made me realize how helpless you are as a poor that doctor wasn't even going to listen to me because I was just a snottynosed poor kid. And that was good insight for that feeling of we are the people who don't matter. We don't have any rights or power. And this is one of the things I think that is a big problem with the poor here. And so that was one of the reasons why I wanted to get the poor to help the poor because when say Sudir goes or Lowton goes, they can say, you don't know what it's like oh yeah I know what it's like. And I'm not that way any more. I've got a good education now, I can do this. You can also do that. So that was the reason I wanted the ....
SO IN A SENSE WHILE IT IS WORKING RIGHT NOW SUDIR, LOWCHON AND ALL THE REST ARE WORKING WITH THE POULTRY KIDS AND HELPING THE POOR IN THAT SENSE. IN A SENSE ALSO THEY'RE DEPENDING ON YOUR LEADERSHIP. AND
IN A SENSE YOU'RE IN A DOUBLE BIND BECAUSE YOU CAN NEVER KNOW HOW SUCCESSFUL IT'S GOING TO BE BECAUSE IT REALLY DEPENDS ON WHETHER IT PERPETUATES ITSELF AFTER YOU'RE GONE.
Yeah. You're trying to get me away from one step and up for me. You're a nonGandian. THAT'S A GOOD DEFENCE (OVERLAP) ONE STEP IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME. No I naturally am very concerned about that. I mean let's face it. I'm very in a sense disappointed that my young people don't appreciate enough their own potential and capacity. Sometimes I think a good heart attack would be the best thing I could do for my kids so that they just have to carry on without because I think they can. What I'm trying to do now is sort of almost like weaning period and they're very difficult. I'm trying to withdraw without really leaving them abandoned because I'm I mean if I took a heart attack, can't blame me for that eh. But if I'm still around and I sort of refuse to give them any of my advice or experience, they would say Father doesn't care about us. So it is it's a very tricky transition period. But I still think we have to remember they're very young for such a big you know our operation is it's big and it's complex. It's complex because it's mostly people we're talking about. I mean it's business, sure, but you're really trying to build people to have confidence in themselves, to get then you really have to understand a tremendous amount about I mean so to expect young people that are 23 or 24 years old to handle all the big accounts, the amount of money that's being and the many different kinds of projects, the expertise you need for house building, for school building. I mean so I think I should if I can stay around 5 years with a sort of withdrawing as quietly as I can, I think they'll make it go. You don't need that many. You need you know a few real dedicated intelligent and they'll make it work. I have I leave it in the hands of the Lord.
I'M SURE YOU DO. OKAY. CAN WE STOP FOR A SEC?
TELL ME SUDIR'S STORY.
Well Sudir's mother is one of the first workers that came just as we were beginning in 1962. I don't even think Sudir was born at that time but the older brothers and the older sisters were. And the father was really a bad alcoholic. So she had by that time she had ... 4 or 5 children and no source of income. So she came and started to work with me, and she was a very wonderful worker and a very wonderful person. And I got to know the children well . And then when we began the Head Start school, the four brothers I guess came and they were four of the first 12. And it was my niece from Canada in Calgary, Janet Perry, and a girl from Edmonton who with the help of these 3 dear ladies from Canada, from Victoria, got the Head Start going that winter. And so they ah because there was only 12 at that time eh, I got to know those children very well and since 4 of the boys were there, I would be down to the home more often. And she helped us in building the homes also after we finished the school. Then we decided to open the sewing nitka, the sewing and uniform making and she they come see Dorji is the tailoring caste so they were tailors by caste eh, by and so she was one of my first women there. So she worked there all those years and of course we became very good friends and the family became very good friends. And then my friends from Canada came. She was a very expressive woman and a very affectionate woman so I used to often take them down to see that part of where they live in Subidarbusti is one of the poorer slum areas of Kir.... and so a lot of my children came from there. So I would be down there more often than in other parts of town. So that's how I got to know Sudir. And Sudir actually had an epilepsy problem when he was a youngster. We couldn't let him handle eggs, for example, because we didn't know when he was going to go out. And then he had a very unfortunate thing happen at matric. One of the teachers who examined him and we have a proof that he was examined because he signed the boys' diary, gave him absent on his thing so he lost his matric certificate. And that's when I took him to Canada. And the experience in Canada for him was very very maturing. He really strangely enough that's where I think he really discovered his Nepali culture and how much it meant for him. He used to always be rock and rolling and all that. Now he's a very accomplished dancer, classical dancer in Indian. So that's Sudir.
I THINK RATHER THAN DO THE KIDS NOW WE CAN DO THAT LATER. I'LL JUST GET THE FACTS.
WHAT'S YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS MISSION? LET'S GO A LITTLE BIT BROADER NOW.
Ah how I looked at the missionary problem has been influenced a great deal I think by people I first when I came to the school it was a school for the poor. Father Michael Wearie who was a Belgian Jesuit and he had an industrial school going, and it was really a poor boy's school. So I let's say I feel that our love is always a response to a need I think or most often. So that they I wanted to love them and I could see that one of their very big needs was came out of their poverty situation. And then in reading scripture, I mean Christ never separated one from the other. I mean he fed them and he preached to them and he cured them. And ah the thing I I was very concerned about was that I've always had this difficulty. For instance when I went back for my Master's degree, I wanted to really do my thesis on the difference between persuasion and indoctrination because I feel that persuasion is a part of human life that's acceptable. We can remain free and independent with persuasion but not with indoctrination. That's when you take away a person's real freedom. And so I wanted to see how I would be able to persuade people to believe in what is my life Christ. And yet not be unfair to them. And there are two problems. For a highly educated man to talk to very simple people you are probably using your education as almost in a compulsion situation, eh, especially in India where they are so respectful to the educated. They would say yes when inside maybe they don't really feel that. But they say if Father says it it has to be true. So I didn't want that situation. Then I felt it would really be impossible for me to be working and helping the poor and ah let's say baptizing them. I make a big difference between preaching. When I have the poor in this little chapel in our home, I preah Christ because he for me is my life. He's the reason that he gives my life meaning. I would almost say that supposing I had a medicine. I had a cancer and I had a medicine, I took the medicine and I no longer have cancer. Would people think I should tell people about this medicine?(end tape 028)
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ATTITUDE TO MISSION CONT.
So I had to sort of reconcile with myself the fact that if Christ is everything for me and gives my life meaning and when I think like him and act like him and love like him, I feel most a human being, most myself. Now I'm not going to let people know about that. Now that's one thing to let them know about it. Like when I say I have poor friends around, I tell them that. Then it's another thing to say, go the official steps, that I'm going to baptize you and all that. Christ himself didn't do it by the way. I mean he didn't baptize, he preached. Other people did. St. Paul didn't baptize. And I feel there's a very big problem with my poor community on accepting baptism. Because unfortunately because of missionary attitudes formerly and the Jesuits were right in there up to their necks on this, we did not clearly separate out what is culture and what is religion and how you integrate them. So that really when the Portugese came to India it was really disgraceful. They had to take Portuges names, they had to even wear Portugese clothes, the Indian converts, and they had to eat Portuges food which of course has absolutely nothing to do with being a Christian. And so that was say the attitude for a long time, so much so that there are many Indians even today who would feel if I become a Christian I'm really opting out of India and I'm going to be sort of a halfbaked Western person. For the poor, their greatest treasure really, besides each other, is their culture the feast days, the celebrations, the customs. They mean so much in their lives that is their life. Then we told them they had to give up all that, you know, so that they couldn't celebrate the Feast of Lights, they couldn't celebrate dashera. When everybody else is celebrating you can't celebrate. Well then they were giving up the things that had always brought them joy and would make them feel unIndian. Here is all of India rejoicing and I'm over in a corner feeling very sad. So this made me even more reluctant to do anything that would make them feel obliged to so actually just today I had a man come to me and ask for work. And I told him just at the present we just can't manage it. He said, but I'm a Catholic. And I said, gee fella, if I had a carpenter's job I'd give it to a carpenter, but you know, they still put them all together and I wanted to separate it out. And therefore I told them when they'd come to me oh it happened at the beginning all the time. Father, I'm very interested in becoming a Christian. And then the next sentence would be, Father I need a job. So I said okay I'll give you a job and if you want to become a Christian there's Father so and so down at the parish. You go talk to him, I'm sure he would be very interested. So one of the things I I've been sort of misunderstood by is that some people say, oh Father .... doesn't really want to make people Christians. And I have to come back on that. If Christ is everything for me and he is my peace and joy, why wouldn't I give it to you if I could so we could share this gift. I wouldn't have any problem doing it with an educated man, a man that's equal but I'm not going to be a heavyweight fighting a flyweight. It seems unfair. So it hasn't mattered because a lot of our people who have come to know of Christ because I've helped them with jobs or making homes, then that's made them think, well maybe Father is inspired by Christ and I'll go off to Sister so and so or Father so and so. And that makes me very happy because I feel they've done it freely and they know it's not connected with the economic situation at all. It's to avoid the old thing they used to call Rice Christians. I mean I wanted to separate that out altogether.
HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT SUDIR'S BECOMING A CHRISTIAN?
WEll I I felt very happy and once again because I'm very very fond of Sudir. And I think, I think for him Christ is what God wants him to accept. Now I'm not saying obviously that's not what God wants for everybody because otherwise there would be but I really feel he has grown let's say into the Christian way of worshipping and praying. And so it's become a real need for him. But I was very very reluctant to put any kind of pressure very even reluctant to let him know that I'd be very happy if it happened. So it happened through Sister Mary Terese and he was and he admitted to her that I've been putting this off and I really feel I should do it. I think it would be a blessing in many ways for him and for our work in the sense that everybody knows that Sudir was as dear to me when he was not, when he was a Hindu and that I would go down to their home and I would be with them for their festivals. And so it's not where the action is, that if you really believe your way to God is Hinduism and you've heard of the teaching of Christ and you don't feel that that's for you, well that's God's spirit working in you. I'm not God's spirit. One of the things I think that is hard for us in our Canadian background, perhaps Christian background is that we are strictly eitheror. We're as Indians don't have that problem, that for them Christ is is really an incarnation of God and most of them will treat him just like they treat their own Hindu God incarnations. Mary is a great favourite of Indian people because we call India, Mother India. Motherhood in India fertility is so much a part of the whole Hindu concept that there's a tremendous appeal for the mother. So at the shrine we have here and on the road they'll pray to Mary. So they can let's say incorporate Jesus and Mary much easier than we could incorporate Torga and Luxbie or whoever.AND YET YOU'VE INCORPORATED A LOT OF INDIA.
THERE'S NO QUESTION THAT YOU'VE INCORPORATED A LOT OF INDIA.
Yes. WEll first of all I mean, as I say when I came here I decided that in the school , 90% of my children were nonChristians. So say most of them would be Hindus but there would be a good number of Moslems and a good number of Buddhists. Now I think it's very bad for them to educate themselves and get a more intellectual outlook on everything except religion. So it's like somebody is a 5 year old or a 6 year old when I was a little boy I believed that, now I'm a college graduate and I'm still trying to get along with a 5 year old religion. So I felt that I would teach the four scriptures. So I taught the BhagavadGita and the sayings of Buddha and the Koran, and on a cycle. And I could not but believe that God's spirit was inspiring to people that wrote these other scriptures. And I've often said to friends back in Canada when I go there to visit that in many ways I discovered Christ in India through the teachings of Hinduisim and Buddhism particularly because the same idea is expressed in a new fresh way that we can't even see in our own scripture. And a lightt goes on because you've heard it said by Buddha in a slightly different way. You go back, you find it is in our scripture but you missed that partic. So it's been a great help for my spiritual. And the idea that Indian people are not deeply religious and very close to God is just ridiculous. I mean like the family as I say that has inspired me a great deal in the building of my own SASAC family, they worship far more than most Christians do. They fast, they have beautiful ceremonies of going away, when the mother blesses. The mother and the father function as the priest and priestess. They give not only the physical and the intellectual, whatever, but they give the spiritual blessings, I mean from God they're sort of mediators of that too. I have learned a great deal from my Hindu friends and my Buddhist friends about what it means to believe and love God and to live in the peace of God because surely they have certainly perhaps a greater grasp of that. The willingness to leave themselves in the hands of God, that God will take care. And my poor this is I've learned more from my poor about the basic truths of Christianity than I could ever have taught them from my theological knowledge (chuckles). But because they have that basic thing that Christ taught us, that God is your father, he loves you, he had the power to take care of you relax in his love. And they do. It can be very frustrating in the sense that the poor don't well Christ taught us not to do it either but they don't think of tomorrow. They don't plan. And they don't save, for example the hardest thing because I was so influenced by the cooperative movement that started in Nova Scotia through Antigonish eh. And one of the big things is you've got to save. That's how the thing works. But they're really children of the day that way. But this is one of the reasons why they live in great joy and peace. So I mean the Eastern religions helped me to understand Christ a great great deal.
DO YOU FEEL WELL I'D LIKE YOU TO TALK ABOUT WORKING WITH THE POOR AND GETTING YOUR HANDS DIRTY WORKING WITH THE POOR, WORKING WITH CHICKEN SULI AND ALSO TAKING A LOT OF THE CUSTOMS THAT YOU CALL YOUR ....
THIS IS TO A CERTAIN EXTENT MUST HAVE MARGINALIZED YOU AMONG YOUR BROTHERS.
Oh it really I guess it has and it has, let's not kid ah they haven't had my experience. I remember, see now COULD YOU INCORPORATE MY QUESTION.Yeah. I can understand why Jesuits who have been working in our regular colleges and schools and really are teaching a Western educational system. And all the kids are dressed in they look very much like the English public schools. They play cricket, they have these ties and all that sort of stuff. They're not really in a sense in India at all. So I have been working with the poor. I go to their homes when there's a death; I'm there for the ceremonies. You realize that there's a great reverence for God, they're very close to God, trusting, in times of great sorrow. They're willng to suffer because they know God has in his mysterious love, meaning in this. So I've had a fair amount of trouble. I remember, you know, my people, whenever they have a feast, now one of the things they practically always do at their major feast, they put a tika on you. They'll come and it's either going to be rice or in certain it will be a very big red mark that they put right down your forehead, see. So I remember one time I was going up to Darjeeling and of course the people in the village down below they stopped me and they put this flaming red mark which of course for well it's a Hindu custom. So I had to go to the Jesuits up at St. Joseph's College and there's one of my Jesuit friends who is real old church eh, and he I was coming in one door at the end of a corridor, he was coming in the other. And when I saw him I really hooted because I knew if he ever saw this mark on my forehead he'd figured I'd left the faith and was now a practising Hindu. But you see, I this really I can't see any meaning to that. They this is their sign that today is a special day we dedicate to God and this is the blessing that I want you to get from God. Am I going to go around refusing blessings? So and then of course they feel Father is celebrating with us, but they never think that I'm celebrating with them meaning that I no longer believe in Christ. That is just a myth. But it's a very it's a very touchy point. And it's touchy because, just like for instance if I haven't had training in carpentry I'm not going to blame myself for not knowing carpentry. They haven't had the training I've had, not either in poverty they haven't been with the real because many of our men working with the very well off people, they just don't realize that outside that college down the street a little ways there's a family starving because they're never in contact with them. So it's not I've realy been blessed because I've had that hands on, let's say, education. And both in appreciating the depth of their spirituality and their love of God and in understanding their kind of poverty which is different, I think, from situations of poverty in the Western world where it's an exception and people feel destroyed, and our people don't feel destroyed.
JUST STOP FOR A SEC.
IMPORTANCE OF THE CANADIAN FRIENDS.
Well when I started to do the work for the poor the big thing, I had to get a school up. The other school was condemned by an engineer friend of mine. So when I got the families back in Canada, as I say I asked the families to make it a family thing because I wanted their children involved with my children. And then if course I had, right across Canada, I had centres and they were all interlinked. I got a tremendous amount of help from them because they would write and ask me what I was doing. And then of course I felt, all right, you're working with me because you're supplying the money without which I couldn't do any of this work for the poor. So you really have a right to know what I've done and what I plan to do and often in many bigger decisions I would write to people that I really felt were completely in the thing to get their advice and their suggestions. For instance when I fell badly into debt I was going to have some stocks or bonds or something and have people but a friend of mine who worked for the Royal Bank of Canada, no he said I'll work to get a good loan for you at a good low price and we'll go through Calgary. So all these things, they were really partners in what I was doing. And at the beginning, because the foreigners could stay in this area much longer, I had a lot of Canadians come and help me. Two young fellows from Toronto came and did a very important job for me. A married couple came . and they worked in my village. He was a good carpenter. Then my niece and her friend came. They taught in the class, started the Head Start school and these three Montessori people came and Malcolm came. And I had a lot of Canadians, and of course they would go back with slides and things. And it became a real extended family back in Canada. Then I decided that it would be an obligation of mine to go back and tell them how things were going. So I went back pretty well about every 7 or 8 years and that I felt was sort of a report to the people who were making it possible. And ah what amazed me was becuse I was sending out a monthly letter to all of them and then I've always tried to answer every letter I got. Then we became very close friends. I think probably the letters I write in some ways are helping friends back there as much as what I'm trying to do to help people here, particularly now and through the very bad period of NO TRANSCRIPTS(end tape 029)
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YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT HAVING TO BE PREPARED TO FAIL. IF YOU COULD PICK IT UP.
Yeah. I suppose one of the problems I found is that when you're young and have all the energy, you don't know how to do it. When you're learned a little bit about how to do it, you don't have the energy. So I'm going through say now a period when I really feel I've done nothing to what I should have done. And I think this is once again God's way of teaching you that you've just done what a servant should be doing. And it's not all that great, son, but I'm satisfied with it. Because this is a big mistake I think people back home often almost persecute themselves with I shouldn't be playing golf or I shouldn't be buying this dress and think of all and they think oh you must feel great because you're doing so much and you not having any of those feelings. I'm having those feelings, all right, if I worked 10 hours a day why haven't I been working 14 hours a day, you know. I've put up one school, why didn't I put up ten schools? And that I think is a very good has been very good for me because it makes you realize that without God's help you wouldn't be doing anything anyhow. And even with his help, you've not been all that great at getting things done. And so but right now it is a real big problem with me. I have a feeling of failure, if you want to say that I really haven't Gandhi had the same problem. Gandhi was very saddened at the end of his life at the last book in his writingings that what he called, you know, nonviolence, as soon as India got independence there was more violence than they'd had for years and years, eh, because Nehru .... all the slaughter that was going on between the Hindus and the Muslims and so Gandhi felt I haven't really taught them what true nonviolence is. And that's Satyadra is going to be the real freedom of India or this is not freedom at all. And so he when you think of what he did accomplish in his life you would think he would, you know, just float into heaven on a blaze of glory. At the end of his life he went into a great period of darkness, that his dream was not the reality that ended up. The real core of what he wanted wasn't there. And I have been, you know, perhaps living in a bit of uncertainty that is the spirit going to go on? It's so easy, like you take even in our Jesuit order, down in Calcutta they started for instance years ago, over a hundred years ago, a school for the rich. And then some of the fellas got very annoyed and said well why don't we have a school for the poor. So they started a school for the poor. Now they're both schools for the rich. It's astounding how many religious orders in the Catholic church were started to help the poor and they end up helping the better off. And this is one of the dangers I find. Because it's really hard to make those who have been very poor except that having a simple life is a nice way to go. They have been deprived of say things for so long that they're almost sort of over hunger for it and then they clutter up their lives. And of course if they do that then they raise their own standard of life and there's less and less for the poor. So I have problems in my own community and of course the Jesuits have terrible problems like this. They take young fellows that come from villages and very ordinary backgrounds and at the end of their life they're living a standard of living that is really comparable to the way people live in the west. And for me, you can't love unless you identify. I can't tell the poor, I really love you. I'm going to live like a rich man and I'll have everything and you but I love you. It's just I maintain it's one of the teachings of the coming of Christ that all right, you're in a sinful world where there's lots of suffering. I love you to the point that I'm going to enter into that suffering. Now one of the problems that caused for me is that you take on diet. Now I eat what we eat here. We don't have meat ordinarily. Once a week they have meat. But there are certain things like very very very hot food I have to be a little careful of. So I'm not able to really, say eat the way they eat although I eat practically practically the same and most wouldn't say I don't. The way I have felt the real identification with the poor is work. That really especially in India, the poor are doing the hard manual work and that in India is degrading. That's the whole caste system is on that, eh. So I enter into that. Now up until I was sick a few weeks ago, I always worked every day with the children here and the children down below and I was a great man with the suli .... because I felt, well on that we're going to be equal. You have to work hard, I have to work hard physically. You have to do things that other people don't think is respectful work, they do it and there's no problem there. So I've used that as my identification with the poor and it's amazing how that has made all the difference, that you really are saying something when you say, I'm a coolie like you. You carry, I carry. And for me it hasn't been hard at all because I worked as a kid. And my father, all my father asked for was a job. He was a night watchman, he was a stevedore on the docks, he was selling insurance for a while, he was selling stoves in Eaton's for a while. All he wanted was I need a job to love and take care of my children. So I was blessed that for me he taught me just by what he was that all the work that is helpful for the human race is dignified work. And of course this was another great Gandhi thing. Gandhi did what in India is considered only for one caste, eh. He cleaned the bathrooms. Now we have a young man here and that's all his father has ever done or his uncles have ever done. That's the only thing they're the untouchables. So he's in this community. That was part of their untouchability. They because that's a very special thing, dealing with human excrement and stuff like that. So that's what Gandhi did. He says I want to show you that this is.... what is more important to the health and cleanliness and hygiene of community than having good cleanliness around. And so I sort of followed Gandhi in that too.
BUT HOW DID GANDHI COME THROUGH HIS DARKNESS OF DESPAIR AT THE END OF HIS LIFE?
Well of course it was, this was of course the depth of his spiritual life that he St. Paul you hope against hope that he he I think he realized now if you read his last say the last two months of his life, letters that he wrote, things that he they always were taking down Gandhi's the secretary things that he said to friends in discussion. Many many times he talked about dying and I think he could see that my contribution to the plan of God for India that maybe it will come to the kind of freedom that I think it should I have to give up my life and my freedom for that. So, but in a sense he didn't have a warm feeling of consolation and he died. And it was very suffering a great deal.
WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR FEAR, I KIND OF HEAR LIKE AH FATHER WHY HAS THOU FORSAKEN ME.
Yes, yeah, that's the thing I've been praying on quite a bit, you've heard, yeah. Because there is that. I mean let's say your physical powers are going down. I used to be able to get along with about 4 hours sleep. I never had a worry about being tired. I just you know could and then all of a sudden it's you can't do it. No matter how determined you are the gas is not in the tank any more and you just can't manage it. Then that makes you feel that what am I sitting down here even praying for although I really believe I'm helping the most when I'm praying, that I'm now sort of the line that's contacting God and one hand in God's, one hand in theirs, because that's what they need. There's no there's no way I think anyone can really love and help the poor over a period of time unless you pray a great deal. I I wouldn't be here today. Fortunately this chapel in our home has been a very special place for me. I as I said didn't have to I used to get up very early in the morning, 3:30 actually, and I'd pray from 3:30 to 5:30 when we'd work. And that meant I had the days recharging the spiritual batteries, if people want to talk about it. But you have so many disappointments, so many people you can't help, so many problems you can't solve that among the poor. You have a lot of handicapped children, you have people that are their health has been destroyed. So I mean, you know, there's no feeling that you're and if you love them, this is the trouble with living even in this family of 57 if you really love them you never have a day without problems because there's always one in 57 that has some problem. And it's always you know maybe 56 that are great, but it's the one that's really sad or sorrowful or sick that you're worried about. And so I just couldn't haven't done it without prayer. I mean then this is for instance what I've always thought about David, my favourite saint is David and his psalms that there was someone who really did see into the human heart, the suffering. And that feeling of helplessness and feeling of, as you say, my god, my god, why have you forsaken me. But that very psalm ends up as a hymn of praise and joy. WHICH ONE? Oh the number of the psalm? I don't know. ... SAY IT.My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? That psalm starts off with that cry of despair and then as it goes through, he remembers God's blessings and God's love and so it ends up to be a very joyful psalm at the end. And that's what many people I think don't realize. When Christ was saying it he was probably saying it because he knew ultimately there is going to be the joy and peace that God always gives. But then I have, of course, in my mass in the evening, I usually spend about 4, 4 and a half hours praying. And of course, my family prayer is really essential for all of us because our Nepali people have a great sense of it's not a popular word any more of sin, a great sense of our weakness, our insufficiency and a great sense that they're very sensitive to hurting people. This is one of the big problems in why Nepalese can't run businesses. They can't tell a fella, hey bud, you're not doing your job. They don't like to hurt each other. So they realize much more much more aware of social sin, if you want to call it, you know what hurts my neighbour. And so whenever we're together it's a real washing of our spirits. There's always one of the children and when children pray for forgiveness and when you think of the little tiffs they have or whatever it is and here's some child that's really full of sorrow and asking God to forgive them and the community to forgive them, we always walk out with a much higher level of joy when we finish our evening prayers. And of course they we call them budjins in India, hymns eh, they are homemade. They're written by our own people and our own school here, our own staff. And they sing so beautifully and Nepalese are very poetical. So the meaning of their hymns is very very moving just on that. So this has been a very important thing for all of us.LAST QUESTION.
YOU TALK ABOUT GIVING THEM A THREE FOLD IDENTITY, A THREE LEVEL IDENTITY. AND FOR THAT YOU INTRODUCED COMPUTERS. CAN YOU DO JUST A MINUTE OR SO ON THAT.
One of the things I feel that none of us has adjusted ourselves I think to the reality of the new world we live in where distance is destroyed, communication is instant. We all know what's happening in AFrica or Israel or wherever. And we don't see that when I was a little boy in Canso all I had to know what Canso culture. Now I think you have to have three levels of culture. You have to be fully where you are. Let's call it the local Nepali culture or mountain culture. You have to know the language and love what your people are in essence. But then you have to belong to a nation, you have to be Indian also. But that's not enough. You have to be a citizen of the world. You have to understand how people live in other parts and their cultures and their beliefs and you have to accept from those all the richness that you don't have in your own. And that it can be done without destroying your own. This is one of the things why I stress so strong in our family life that we develop our culture. That there's dancing and there's dramas and there's painting. I've had all this, so that they can have the security of being fully Nepali. Because unfortunately the power from the West is so strong that they all think becoming Western is the best way to go and they give up the treasures of themselves really. That's why I was saying when I took say Sudir to Canada, he discovered, no, where I'm really at is Nepali. I'm not a rock and roll and doing that kind of singing and dancing. I feel best when I'm doing my own. I still like to do a little bit of the other and I enjoy it but I'm not going to drop my own and that's what I don't think they have to do. And I don't think that's why I always said to friends back in Canada, if you can possibly send your young people over here either for like my sister sent her son, John, over here for two years. It's probably the best gift you can give them. No one can come into India with all its cultural richness and its different philosophies and not enrich their own lives and I would say see into their own Canadian culture where the real values are. The things that make you feel this is me. Other things are beautiful but I don't want to let go of that. This would be the reason I and I don't think many educational people are thinking enough of that that we can't educate people for our country, we have to also .... and that they can go together.
I THINK WE'RE DONE. (CHUCKLES)(end tape 030)
06:37:50 06:41:10 last part of tape 029 Father interview.
CANADIAN FRIENDS CONT.
particularly now and through the very bad period of the sixties when the Catholic church started to come apart a bit and families started to come apart. Then a lot of my friends would have a daughter married and the marriage breaks up, which became very frequent. Well, they had somebody they could write to that they knew and someone who knew their children because see, once again in the family the way we worked, I pretty well knew an awful lot of the children and had been in many, many of the homes. So this was a very big advantage and it meant they stayed with it. It became a real family activity. And now a lot of the second generation are helping, and so it'gs going on. And I think the young people that are working with me, as I go out of the picture, they'll pick up the sons and daughters of many of the friends that started the project.
I MEAN IN A WAY IT'S A MINISTRY BY MAIL.
Yeah it is, really is yeah. And it's strange, a lot of, first of all, it's not that easy often to get a hold of a minister or priest to have time this way, and a lot of people too, face to face, are not that easy really talking about their but in letters it's something that people can do sometimes better in letters than they can do. So it turned out to be a sort of a spiritual ministry also very important for me. And that's why I've never, you know, considered it as not part of my work because I really feel people wonder, how did it all work out how did you find out to do that. They were all praying for me and I think they've had a terrific input. Because certainly from my background, I've been doing all my life things I know nothing about or at least knew nothing about when I started. And yet I think God gave special light because I had friends back home and many of my best ideas came from friends back home. Hollow blocks, for example was one. But I had other people, like Malcolm came over here and gave me the advice on our agricultural thing, so I've had and Eric Elderson came. He designed our barn. So I've had lots of help from the Canadian side, not only financial but let's say technical expertise and of course encouragement and prayers.
BUT IT ALSO GAVE YOU AN OPPORTUNITY TO WORK THROUGH A LOT OF YOUR OWN DARK NIGHTS OF THE SOUL.
Yes, yeah, yeah. Oh yeah.
WHERE DOES FATHER ABRAHAM HURT? WHERE DOES HE ANGUISH THE MOST?
It's funny. Working with the poor, I often say people think, well gee, you sit back and say gee, you've helped all those that's not the way it works at all. When you work for the poor, you think of yourself as here I am spitting into a forest fire. What's the point? You know, okay I'm helping a few hundreds or maybe even a few thousand. But there's a whole mass of people out there you can't help. And even if you do help say like for instance many of the poor have, because either of their situation in the slums they're living in or because of their discouragement, they're into alcoholism, a good number. Now you can give their children an education but you can't solve the problem which is destroying the family. So your say, economic help if you want to call it, is not really solving problems. So when you work with the poor you've got to be willing to fail a (end tape)