Three men united by an almost-60-year search for justice and truth still question how the Catholic Church harboured a serial abuser for so many years.
Two Métis residential school survivors Richard Hardy and Mike Gladu, both originally from Tulita attended the Grollier Hall school in Inuvik from 1959 until 1963. The school was operated by the Catholic Church.
Now retired, the pair travelled to Goderich, Ont. from Aug. 15 to 17 to meet with Hugh Feagen, a retired RCMP sergeant who, in 1962, investigated a man named Martin Houston for his abusive actions at Grollier Hall. Feagen questioned the boys during the probe, as well.
Houston sexually abused several boys at Grollier Hall, including Gladu and Hardy and was convicted in the 1960s and jailed for nine years. Another conviction in 1975 was for incidents of gross indecency in Manitoba and he was put on probation for two years.
He was also ordained as a Catholic priest in 1990 in the Archdiocese of St. Boniface at Notre Dame du Laus Church in Powerview, Man. He served until 2002, when his past was made public and he was suspended from the ministry.
He was convicted again in 2004 for his actions at Grollier Hall. Three other former Grollier supervisors – Paul Leroux, Joseph Jean Louis Comeau and George Maczynski – were also convicted for sexual crimes.
Houston died in 2010.
While Gladu and Hardy have kept in touch over the years, they hadn’t seen Feagen since the early 1960s. The retired officer reached out to them after reading the story about Hardy that was published in News/North on July 19, 2021.
“We didn’t have a great deal of encounters with him but he was important for our lives,” said Hardy, who spoke with News/North over Zoom alongside Gladu and Feagen. “There were three students from (Tulita) whom he took statements from. Mike and I were working at my father’s sawmill. We were 15 years old, bagging sawdust. Hugh came and said ‘I need to talk to you guys.’”
“What was unusual from the perspective of a boy is Hugh presented as a man of compassion which we seldom saw from policemen,” Hardy said, adding that Feagen stood out as the only adult in the situation who showed any regard for the boys.
The church seemed to care little about them. Hardy remembers a priest telling them in the 1960s to pray for Houston during the investigation and trial.
Feagen said he felt disappointed at the time that there was nothing he could do for the boys.
“There was nothing available to treat the boys after Houston was convicted, like mental health supports. We expected the church to offer some support but they didn’t,” he said.
“(But) I’m honoured that these men have come to see me here. It’s fantastic really. A policeman usually doesn’t get that kind of treatment.”
A happy reunion and a yearning for justice aside, sharing of stories in Goderich dredged up many disturbing realizations and lingering questions.
Feagen remembers Houston refused to answer his questions, along with the priest in charge at Grollier – Father Max Ruyant – who tried to control the investigation.
“There was no doubt that they knew what was going on. When I questioned Sister Hiebert they wouldn’t let me question her alone. Father Ruyant had to be present. He couldn’t control what she said but he was there, which was a deterrent to anyone under him. That was common in those days. A nun didn’t have much power. A priest did.”
In the preliminary hearing, Hardy said Hiebert explained that she lived above the boys dormitory and could hear what was going on, including an incident that involved a boy bathing Houston in his bathroom.
She reported it to Ruyant, but he did nothing. Hiebert later spoke with Houston and the priest. Houston denied what she said and Ruyant believed him.
Houston’s term of imprisonment and the possible background machinations still leave the three men confused.
“It was very strange because when (Houston) was convicted at trial in 1962, he was declared a dangerous sexual offender,” Feagen said. “At that time a dangerous offender went to jail indefinitely. Every third year they had to review his case. And after nine years they released him.”
In 1968, while Houston was in prison, Gladu was approached by an Inuvik parish priest named Father Adam, who asked him to provide a statement attesting to the goodness of Houston’s character.
“I just said no effing way. That’s not going to happen,” Gladu recalled.
“We didn’t figure it out until now but the church was active in trying to get him out every three years,” Hardy added. “The other thing that shocked me about that process is that no one told the victims that these hearings were going on. There are a lot of things that are bizarre about this. I’m constantly asking why, why, why.”
The three men see nothing but a giant question mark hanging over Houston’s entry into the priesthood.
“We expected him to be put away forever,” said Feagen. “It’s self-explanatory. He was a dangerous sexual offender. To become a priest should’ve been impossible. I don’t see how someone like that could become a priest.”
Gladu felt shock and disappointment when he learned about Houston’s ordination.
“I wondered how that could happen. Being a Catholic I was very disappointed that he didn’t go to jail for more than nine years. I don’t feel good about it.”
Hardy and Gladu haven’t received an apology from the church. The Archdiocese of St. Boniface, through spokesperson Daniel Bahuaud said the archdiocese doesn’t have information as to why Archbishop Antoine Hacault ordained Houston in 1990.
But the boys aren’t interested in an apology.
“I don’t really care about an apology,” Gladu said. “These things bring back shitty memories. I would like the church to say it was all a mistake and it was their fault. But I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
“One of the things I’ve learnt over the years (on) my own healing journey is that for Martin Houston, it wasn’t personal. We were just objects to him,” Hardy said. “My battle isn’t with him. He was just a tool in the hands of the church. My battle is with the church. I want acknowledgment of all the wrongs the church was involved in and they can keep their apologies for all I’m concerned.
“After all of that was over you would think the Houston experience would show the church it has to do better and hire different people who aren’t pedophiles. But they hired three more – Leroux, Comeau and Maczynski – who were pedophiles.”
One reason why Hardy seeks acknowledgment over apology is to disprove people who doubt the experiences of survivors.
“People saying ‘these guys are just making up these stories to get more money.’ (Former) Bishop Paul Piché (of Mackenzie-Fort Smith) said this himself in a book that was written about him called The Bishop Who Cared. There’s a long quote from him saying the boys are making up these stories to get more money. Many true believers in the Catholic church still take that point of view.”
My mother was aboriginal cree status along with uncles and aunts. My father was french and came from Nova Scotia. In Nova Scotia Digby county in the township of Little Brook there are so many with the last name Comeau that they call it Comeuvill. I am aware that families who have the same last name but not related to those who commit unforgivable crimes such as pedophiles may bare the burden of misrepresentation by false assumption. My deep appreciation and respect for my native background through my mothers aboriginal status is the main source of my pride. A persons character is their brand not necessarily their last name.