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Epistle to the Pope



National Center for Truth and Reconciliation

The Ormsby Review #798 Shipwrecks, orphans, pianos

Man with Book

National Center for Truth and Reconciliation Review

Reviewed by Raymond Frogner
Director, Archives

In Epistle to the Pope, Daryl Verville, has written a very brave statement. Brave because he has demonstrated the courage to confront the personal silences that plague the history of colonial residential schools. With Karl Jung as his psychoanalytical travel guide, Mr. Verville takes the reader on a journey through the turbulent life of an intergenerational Survivor. Throughout his narrative journey, Mr. Verville makes the ambitious attempt to confront his demons and consistently points to the legacy of church directed residential schools as his demons’ provenance. This work is a successful demonstration of the latent deleterious legacy of residential school abuse on future generations. As he writes, “severe trauma in early childhood home life can have many negative mental health consequences and significantly impact our quality of life”.

Mr. Verville has titled the work Epistle to the Pope to leave no doubt where he traces the systemic source of the problem. He intersperses his personal narrative with short letters to Pope Francis on the ideas of atonement, contrition and impunity. He challenges Pope Francis in each of these epistles, writing in one: 

I realize that this epistle will likely be ignored by you and suppressed by the Roman Catholic institution. Nevertheless, I continue writing with faith that those courageous enough to acknowledge the truth, brave enough to look into the face of evil, will read this document and feel empathetic towards my cause.

Verville holds little hope for Catholic Church to atone and he observes the collective Survivors’ antipathy remains constant, “How is one to forgive the perpetrator who does not ask for forgiveness, admits of no guilt or culpability?” In the end, it was Jung, the philosopher Alan Watts, and the Bhagavad Gita, that provided him with spiritual nourishment, not the Catholic Church.

As with many of the Survivors’ of school abuse, Mr. Verville’s father internalized the trauma and did not discuss it with his family. But Verville is clear, “my dad was treated like a slave the whole time he lived in the convent…He was regularly tied up, bound hand and foot, and then sodomized.” Only later in life, as Verville considered his father’s neurotic and self-destructive adulthood, did his knowledge of Jung lead him to the conclusion of his father’s childhood abuse. His diagnosis of his father is a too-familiar description of residential school Survivors: “Jung stated categorically that: ‘Neurosis is the avoidance of legitimate suffering.’” 

The silences Verville references were not only personal. Not until the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement assigned the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada the mission to collect the historical evidence of the residential school system was there a resource for people to turn to for the history of this dark story. Even then, in a common story, the evidence of his father’s school record was not entirely located. “Many years of my father’s life in the system were not accounted for in the first record I received from the Commission. I am still trying to ascertain where and in which schools my father was in those missing years.”

Ultimately, Verville needed to confront this history, and accuse his father’s abusers, in order to understand himself. His own survival depended on psychoanalytical and spiritual analysis. It was the only way he could understand the conflicting duality within himself, “one a practising criminal, a salesman of drugs (cannabis and LSD) and a petty thief. The other a seeker after truth, devoted lover and practitioner of classical music with a marked penchant for philosophy!” 

Like many intergenerational Survivors, Mr. Verville recognizes his journey is ongoing; the acknowledgement of past suffering of residential schools is the first step to healing. He acknowledges the collective bravery of Survivors to confront religious and political authority to begin a reckoning. As he notes, “It is due to the courage and determination of former students—the survivors of Canada’s residential school system—that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established. All Canadians must now demonstrate the same level of courage and determination as we commit to an ongoing process of reconciliation.”

Mr. Verville’s ultimate message is not bitterness or sorrow, but of perseverance and hope.  And ultimately this is why this work is courageous. By confronting the colonial demons of the past, there is a possibility of a new spiritual path. As he concludes, “my journey has not just been one of suffering, but also of creativity, revelation and a good measure of spiritual redemption.”

Raymond Frogner

Director, Archives

National Center for Truth and Reconciliation

Man with Book

The Ormsby Review - #798 Shipwrecks, orphans, pianos

Reviewed by Constance Brissenden

Epistle to the Pope is the memoir of a seeker, a classical pianist, and a sometimes drug dealer and addict. Author Daryl Verville, known by his pen name Dharel Verville, is also an intergenerational descendant of a survivor of residential school. His father, Douglas Verville, was born in 1928 in Alberta. By the time Douglas was four years old, he and his two older brothers were abandoned by their parents at Youville Convent in St. Albert, Alberta, just outside Edmonton.

From the age of four, Daryl found himself physically abused by his father. His childhood was tortured by the man he describes as “demonic,” a foul-mouthed, alcoholic, raging child-beater and psychic abuser. It wasn’t until 2013, when Daryl was fifty-seven years old, that his mother shared his father’s secret torment. Douglas had spent a total of twelve years in Youville Convent, subjected to profound and repetitious physical and sexual abuse by priests and nuns. He had made his new wife promise that she would never tell.

Daryl’s mother, born Jeanne Hamel, was Métis, raised in Lac La Biche, Alberta. She was a staunch Roman Catholic her entire life. She was also a trained pianist, with a Royal Conservatory ARCT piano performance certificate and taught piano professionally. She taught her three sons, older brothers Dennis and Paul, as well as Daryl. The piano is vital to Daryl’s healing journey, a constant that continues in his life as a longtime resident of Nelson, British Columbia. Nowhere in the book does his mother’s Métis background play a role or appear to have any influence.

I presume that Douglas, Daryl’s father, was a Caucasian, although the author never expressly says this. As such, Douglas would not be eligible for financial reparation through the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement for his years at Youville school. The Verville boys would have been considered to be orphans, three more children to add to the roster that enabled the school to receive an annual payment from the Canadian government for their care. Although Douglas Verville and his brothers are clearly named in the school’s record, they were not Indians. Like the Métis children who attended during the day, the Verville’s were cut out of the settlement agreement.

My understanding of residential schools goes back more than twenty-seven years. My partner, Larry Loyie, was a residential school survivor. He became an award-winning writer, sharing his beloved traditional childhood and his six painful years in a residential school in four award-winning children’s books as well as a national history, Residential Schools, With the Words and Images of Survivors (Indigenous Education Press/ Working with Larry, I heard hundreds of personal stories from the survivors of these harrowing days.

I began reading Dharel Verville’s memoir with a certain degree of trepidation. Larry Loyie died in 2016, and it has been emotionally difficult each time I re-enter the world of residential schools and their aftermath. I took up Epistle to the Pope thinking that it would a task to read it. On the contrary, I found it to be a page-turner.

Dharel Verville and I do not share any common beliefs, but we do share burning anger at the perpetrators of the residential school system. As a believer in God, Jesus, and a follower of Eastern mystics and saints, Dharel repeatedly challenges and charges his “dear Pope” to acknowledge and apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s sins against children. Instead, he finds a Pope who wilfully hides the truth, refusing to apologize for the sins of his clergy.

Unlike survivor Larry Loyie, who stepped away from Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church, Daryl appears bound in its theology. He puts his claims against the Roman Catholic Church and the Canadian government clearly on the table. He never flinches, and I admire him for his courage to speak. He is angry, and he will always be angry until the Pope finally has the courage to apologize for the Church’s crimes against humanity.

Daryl’s life moves at a breakneck speed, which is why I couldn’t put his memoir down. The author travels through life in a mind-bending swirl of beliefs, barely coming up for air. But when he does, it’s always a surprise, sometimes a shock, such as when he enters a life of drug dealing, crime, alcoholism, and drug addiction in his late twenties. What’s next, I asked myself, as I read on late into the night.

Along the way, Daryl finds mentors like Dr. Lejano, a well-known Alberta piano teacher, and the kindly Sister Beaudry who also taught piano. He follows his wild-child brother Dennis into both vegetarianism and crime. His passive brother Paul, also an exceptional pianist, steps into Daryl’s life as an anchor on several occasions. Daryl finds a Saint, an Eastern mystic, who gives him encouragement and a path to follow. And when the Saint dies, Daryl finds a replacement Saint who appears and reappears in his life.

On top of this, there are the six lost years in his late twenties, when he makes a lucrative and dangerous income as a drug mule and dealer, crossing between the source in British Columbia and the buyers in Alberta on a weekly basis. It is only after he overdoses and almost dies twice that he can pull himself together and back on a good road.

Somewhere in his mid-years, an old friend gives Daryl a book on Carl Jung and his theories of dreams and archetypes. He is immediately drawn to Jung’s theories, which help him to understand his tortured father as well as his own troubled inner life. As young as five years old, Daryl begins to have staggering dreams, full of threats and terrors, echoing the hell of his family’s life. As the book progresses, Daryl reveals his multiple personalities engendered first by his father’s physical abuse. Later, fearing prison for child abuse, his father resorts instead to daily, “diabolical” and psychically destructive verbal abuse, aimed at his entire family. After years of being told that he is “less than zero,” Daryl’s brainwashing is complete. His struggle to love himself and to believe in himself is a convoluted yet engrossing saga.

These days, Dharel lives and performs in the Nelson area. He lives in a communal setting with his two boys, two roommates, two cats, and a grand piano. He goes for long walks, loves to garden, and enjoys playing and refereeing soccer games. After reading his book, I’d like to reach out and talk to him, to see how he’s doing. I hope he is doing well. After such a life, he deserves peace and happiness. He is himself a survivor of intergenerational residential school abuse. Like other survivors, he has made it through to some semblance of inner peace through sheer determination and resilience.

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