St. Bernard’s Catholic Church seeking partners for Syrian refugee resettlement

Community meeting is Wednesday, September 30

MANITOULIN—The images are stark and the need stands at a crossroads as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the war torn country of Syria. A group of concerned people from across Manitoulin Island have put out a call for those interested in stretching out a hand, once more, to refugee families seeking a safe haven from the ravages of war and terror to gather for a 6 pm meeting this evening (September 30) at St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church on Hayward Street in Little Current.

Manitoulin Legal Clinic (MLC) Chair Linda Erskine initiated the refugee sponsorship meeting after a discussion following the September 22 MLC regular meeting.

“We (members of the board) were discussing the plight of the refugees following our meeting and it didn’t take long before we had decided that we needed to do something,” said Ms. Erskine. “We all agreed that when a group of like-minded people come together and decide to do take action, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished.”

The precedent for action on Manitoulin Island was set during another crisis, when the parish of St. Bernard’s sponsored a Vietnamese family during the “boat people” crisis that lasted from the late 70s into the 1990s.

“It was accomplished then and, we believe, it can be accomplished again,” said Ms. Erskine.

She contacted St. Bernard’s parish priest Father George Gardner, who had already been in discussions with Dr. Roy Jeffery of Little Current.

“I received a call from Roy about the possibility of us working together to sponsor a refugee family,” said Father Gardner. The doctor had recalled the role that St. Bernard’s had played in bringing a Vietnamese family to Manitoulin during the so-called “boat people” crisis.

Assiginack councillor Leslie Fields, who is also a member of the MLC, has been in discussions with the Anglican ministry and it quickly became clear that there was a strong desire across the Manitoulin community to not stand idly by in the face of this new challenge.

“The idea right now is to sponsor two or three families, to help provide the families with a mutual support system while settling in a new land,” said Ms. Erskine.

The challenge will take a concerted effort, as the costs of sponsorship (at least $30,000) and the logistics of helping a refugee family settle in are significant.

“That is why we think pooling all of the resources from across Manitoulin, making it a Manitoulin community effort, is important,” said Ms. Erskine. “There are people willing to help us make this happen. Mike Shain (MLC executive director) gave me a contact for a law firm that is willing to assist us with the paperwork free of charge and I hope to hear back from them by the time the meeting takes place.”

Ms. Erskine said that the plight of the refugees strikes a chord with her as a wife, a mother and a grandmother. “If we were a family with children, living in a war torn country, I would hope that someone, somewhere in the world, would step up to help us,” she said.

There will be a meeting at St. Bernard’s Church in Little Current on Wednesday, September 30 from 6 to 7:30 pm to set the process of sponsoring a family in motion. For more information contact Linda at or by phone at 705-282-4283.