Thursday, May 15, 2014

Charles Catto, Force of Nature

Charles Catto

Two readers, Anne and Laura, kindly let me know that the Rev. Charles Catto died last Friday, a month after he had gone into hospital for heart surgery. We were all part of Lakeridge (Oshawa ) Presbytery before my departure for Belleville and Kente Presbytery.

Charles was still attending presbytery on a regular basis, and still "stirring the pot." He was a member of the Mission, Outreach, and Advocacy committee I co-chaired, and he always made sure we knew what issues were important to him. The Cattos are family friends with Charles being a colleague of my minister father while lovely Barbara a good friend of my mother. I have written before that one of my first memories of presbytery as a teen was Charles standing up and making a motion that the court write the Canadian government demanding a pardon for Louis Riel. I sensed the tension in the room, with lots of eye-rolling -- here goes Charles again. Except that Riel was eventually pardoned and Charles was just ahead of his time.

Charles was ordained in 1954 but for most of 50 years his passion has been providing housing and safe water on First Nations Reserves. Back then it was Operation Beaver while we are now more aware of Frontiers Foundation. 

Thousands of homes have been built through the years, many of them still habitable, unlike a lot of those constructed by various levels of government. Charles charmed and chewed on politicians to get support and he regularly marched on Parliament Hill. In latter years the organization brought Native men and women into apprenticeships as builders so that they would benefit their communities with the skills for construction.

Charles could be something of a contradiction. He was passionate about justice for marginalized Aboriginal people but spoke often and loudly in opposition to the United Church stand on gays and lesbians. He fulminated about an article in the United Church Observer by a minister who wore his clerical collar for a month. What a waste of space! Yet he wore his fringed buckskin jacket all the time, sort of like a clerical shirt. He didn't take kindly to not getting his own way and didn't like following due process... unless it worked to his favour! Hey, that's how he managed to accomplish so much.

In other words, he was imperfect, as we all are. It's hard though to imagine anyone with greater passion and practical concern for First Nations, long before it was a popular United Church cause. He received the Order of Canada for his efforts, and he deserved it more than many others, in my estimation. He drove me crazy and yet I wanted folk to respect him at the same time. When my aged Dad became belligerent and tough to be around Charles visited him in the nursing home and they had a great visit. He was surprisingly tender about it all.

Charles truly wanted to be faithful to Christ, and the message of responding to "the least of these." It's important that we say "thank you."

Did you know Charles, or about him?

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