Since November 2019, the Diocese of Victoria and the Board of Directors of Island Catholic Schools has been searching for a new vision for the St. Joseph’s School property in Chemainus. The property needed to be sold to cover a debt of $850,000, and it was important to do so in a way that would retain a place of worship for the Catholic community, and also provide a service to the community.
An offer by the Cowichan Valley Intentional Recovery Community Society (CVIRCS) was found to be the best match and their proposal was recently accepted. CVIRCS’s programs are designed to help those in recovery from alcohol and drug addictions through education in social skills, vocational training and connection with a supportive community (https://www.cvircs.com/). They will use the St. Joseph’s school property to provide a much-needed residential therapeutic community for women in the North Cowichan area.
The property will be subdivided to keep the church on-site for an active place of worship. The school building will house a long-term residential program for women already in recovery, with a focus on social skills and vocational training. The program will operate like a household with firm house rules, including no drugs or alcohol, no violence or threats of violence, participation in community programs seven days a week and no one leaving the premises without permission and accompaniment of an approved leader. The program is not for people with complex mental health challenges, and will not operate like a homeless shelter, detox facility or safe injection site, or a drop-in centre, food bank or soup kitchen.
After CVIRCS brought forward their proposal, the Diocese actively sought input from All Saints parishioners at St. Joseph’s Church in Chemainus and St. Mary’s Church in Ladysmith to ensure the Catholic community was engaged in the decision-making process. Feedback from this engagement revealed significant support. “Parishioners are pleased to see that the school will continue, albeit a different type of school, but one that society really needs,” says Ellen Lavender, Chair of All Saints Parish Council. Father Mel Bayron, Pastor of All Saints Parish, also welcomes the plan. “Our attitude of concern for people from the street, who want to improve their lives, and to provide a place for them, for me, has eternal value.”
“The Cowichan Valley Intentional Recovery Community Society program will be a lifeboat for people ship-wrecked on the stormy sea of addictions,” says Bishop Gary Gordon. CVIRCS welcomes the support and is ready to engage with their new neighbours in the North Cowichan community to share their vision and answer questions. “The opposite of addiction is not just sobriety, but connection,” says Bernie Willock, the chair of CVIRCS. “True recovery involves restoring our full participation in a flourishing community.”