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An Interview with Patricia Grell, B.Sc., M.Div.


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/10/15


An Interview with Patricia Grell. She discusses influence of religion on upbringing; similar experiences for other Christians; the different experiences for men and women in the Catholic Church; biggest negative of the Catholic Church in Canada; biggest positive of the Catholic Church in Canada; and current relationship with the school board.

Keywords: Catholic, Edmonton, Patricia Grell, Trustee.

An Interview with Patricia Grell, B.Sc., M.Div.: Trustee, Edmonton Catholic School Board (Ward 71)[1],[2],[3],[4]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, what was the influence of religion on your own upbringing?

Patricia Grell: It was everything. I was born and raised in a Catholic family going to church every Sunday.  If you missed going to church it was considered a mortal sin. Both my parents were Catholic and many of my relatives were priests or in religious life.  Even my mother considered religious life and entered the novitiate.  When I was studying my MDiv at St. Michael’s College, Toronto School of Theology, there were three of us from the same family there!

So, my whole life, a way of thinking, worldview was governed by Catholicism. I remember thinking that God had a plan for my life that I had to figure out. It was very much impressed upon me that I was to make the world a better place, to serve God and bring others into a relationship with Christ.

2. Jacobsen: Do you think this is a similar experience for those – as you are in Alberta growing up – in the Anglican, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox (all orthodoxies, e.g. Russian, Ukrainian, Greek, and so on) – in other churches at their own experienced reflections on the Christian church?

Grell: Maybe; I think there are more parallels between Catholicism and Mormonism. In both faiths, it’s important that you marry someone of the same faith, that you raise your children in that faith, and that you attend the schools and universities that the faiths sponsor.

I think it’s a little different with people of other Christian denominations.  I think they are a bit more open-minded about marrying outside their faith and raising their children outside of their specific faith.

I’m an older Catholic so maybe younger Catholics wouldn’t say this, but for my generation staying close to the faith was highly valued.

3. Jacobsen: Do you think that the experience for men in the Roman Catholic Church is different than for women? If so, how?

Grell: Absolutely. Men don’t see how women experience the church as misogynist. Men will ask “Why do women need to be ordained? Women can serve in so many ways in the church other than as priests.”  But this is insulting to women because by denying women ordination, the church keeps women out of every position of power in the church.

When I worked in Northern Ontario I saw women religious running parishes as administrators in remote communities because there were not enough priests.  In these communities, they performed many of the duties of a priest such as presiding at baptisms, marriages, and funerals.  Once a month a priest would celebrate mass and consecrate enough hosts to last until his next visit the following month.  The nun would then lead Liturgy of the Word with Communion which is basically mass but without the consecration.  So women were called upon to be leaders when the church was desperate.

But here in Edmonton, where there also is a shortage of priests, the archbishop decided to close parishes instead of permit lay women (or lay men) for that matter, to be parish administrators.

So, the archbishop closed our parish and split up a wonderful community of people who had been together for over 50 years. Many were heartbroken and many stopped attending church altogether.  As a woman with a MDiv., it was hard to watch this happen in the interest of keeping celibate men in positions of power.

Women are good enough to run parishes in remote Northern communities but not here in Edmonton.  [Laughing].

4. Jacobsen: You’re an educated person, so you’re giving an articulate answer. I appreciate it.

Grell: [Laughing] But I think it’s easy for men to belong to a church when they see themselves on the altar. They see themselves making decisions in positions like the bishop or the Cardinals, but it’s very hard for a woman. I did hope that one day that would change, but it’s not going to happen [Laughing]…anytime in the next 500 years.

5. Jacobsen: What do you consider the biggest negative of the church in this country, in Canada?

Grell: Wow!  Which one do I pick?

6. Jacobsen: [Laughing] it’s very funny.

Grell: The main thing is their stance on the LGBTQ community.  The Catechism of The Catholic Church is very insulting to gay people when it states that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered, are acts of great depravity and cannot ever be approved.  Pope Francis has also been very unkind in his comments directed toward the transgender community in encyclical Laudato Si.  He says that transgender people need to accept the body God gave them and that we cannot choose our gender.  This is a simplistic answer to a very complex issue.

And how many times I have heard priests quote Genesis that “male and female God made them” referring to God creating only 2 genders.  Then what about hermaphrodites? There are biological gray areas in gender and so it’s very likely there are also psychological gray areas as well.

It’s hard for me to watch such supposedly educated people as Pope Francis and the church hierarchy with degrees in Theology, choose a very simplistic, uninformed, unscientific approach to something very complex as gender identity.

I think that’s the biggest thing that I can see creating discord between secular society and the Catholic faith – it’s the total lack of openness to research, scientific study, or even “Googling it”.  There are doctors who specialize in working with transgender people – has the hierarchy ever contacted them?

So the biggest issue I think today is the total disconnect between the church and science

7. Jacobsen: What do you consider the biggest positive in this country?

Grell: With Catholicism?

8. Jacobsen: Yes, ma’am.

Grell: Biggest positives… boy! I’m hard-pressed.  I guess the positives are reading about people like Father James Martin, SJ who recently published a book called Building a Bridge:  How the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity. He is a brave man who has experienced a lot of pushback from members of the church as well as the hierarchy.  But he is pressing on because he knows it’s important for the Church to stop persecuting this community with its lack of understanding.

Other positives are people like Dorothy Day who served the poor and put to shame the Catholic church leaders of her day who lived in opulence.

Fr. Henri Nouwen is another – he was a priest who wrote many books in which he shared his spiritual and internal struggles.  He was a very authentic person who tried hard to live his spirituality authentic to the Gospel.  After he died it was revealed that he was gay and struggled greatly with his sexual orientation.

So, I guess these people in the Church are the positives – the people who show me how to live the Gospel authentically [Laughing], not so much the hierarchy.

9. Jacobsen: How did you find yourself where you are now in terms of the relationship with the school board or system?

Grell: I would say it all started by taking a degree in theology from St. Michael’s College, Toronto School of Theology.  I am eternally grateful to my professors because they taught me that I didn’t have to put my intellect on hold to have a faith in Jesus and follow Jesus. St. Michael’s College took a historical-critical approach to the Bible, not a literal approach, and an intellectual ‘faith seeking understanding’ approach.

So I came out of university with an intellectual understanding of my faith.  I brought a deep understanding of the historical Jesus and his message everywhere I went. I worked as a Pastoral Associate in a parish in Timmins, as a Program Coordinator in a retreat center and then as a Catholic school trustee.  Each place I worked, I got a glimpse into the Catholic Church behind the scenes and I became more and more scandalized.  [Laughing]. I was scandalized because deep down I had this understanding of the Gospel that was very rooted in the historical Jesus.  And then I would see nuns, priests and so-called devout Catholics not living at all according to the Gospel.

I heard, for example, the archbishop’s representative state to the Board that perhaps Catholic schools are not the place for transgender students.  I saw the school district with the support of the archbishop, deny a transgender girl access to the girls’ washroom, insisting she uses the gender-neutral washroom on the other side of the school.  I saw the resistance by the church to allow GSAs.  All these things led me to conclude that the church had lost its way.

I think working in the school district was the ‘watershed moment,’ where I realized that “Wow! This is a social club. This is not a faith.” These people act as though they belong to a bike club or dance club. They are not together because of their faith in Jesus and his message of love, acceptance, and mercy.  Catholicism, I concluded, had become a social club.

I thought this is not where I can be anymore. I can’t be here. They’re not living what they’re talking about. It’s all window dressing. That’s how it is; it’s all window dressing. We’d have signs in our schools, for example, that state ‘Christ is the reason for this school’ and then we’d go on our merry way and do things that totally contradicted this.

For example, we have an academic high school that requires students to get a 75% average in grade 9 in order to be accepted.  If a Catholic student who lives near this school misses the mark by even 1%, they are not admitted. This student then can’t attend high school with their friends and must travel outside their community because the district can’t make any exceptions for fear of lowering the standards of the school.  To add insult to injury, the academic school will offer any vacant spots to non-Catholic students who do achieve the required average.  The lack of compassion and mercy in the interest of competitiveness seems to fly in the face of “Christ is the reason for this school”.

Another example is the denial of attendance at grad ceremonies if students don’t complete the required amount of the religion curriculum by a particular date.  The School Act in Alberta does not require completion of religion credits in order to earn a high school diploma.  The district then uses attendance at grad ceremonies as the carrot to ensure students complete their religion credits.  It seems odd to me to use coercion as a way to encourage students to learn about Jesus.

I would think that if our Catholic schools were teaching by example, and living according to the Gospel then we wouldn’t have to coerce anybody to take religion; students would want to take religion. They would want to learn about this rebel named Jesus. Teenagers are rebellious anyway! [Laughing]. I think they would really think he’s pretty cool if they could learn about who he was and what he stood for.  You don’t have to coerce someone by saying you must take this or we’re not going to let you come to grad. What kind of example is that? What are we trying to do here?” One of the moms who had a son in high school last year and was concerned about this grad rule, said, “Geez, with the legacy of residential schools, you would think that they wouldn’t be interested in coercing people to take religion through Catholic schools.”

These are publicly funded schools.  I’d rather try to invite kids to be interested in the faith by our example of love and compassion rather than coercion.  We can invite students to learn about our faith by being merciful people.  Students will be attracted to that [Laughing]. So that’s the kind of stuff – that really…I just was disappointed, I was heartbroken… literally heartbroken to see people acting this way in the name of Christ [Sobbing] I’m sorry.

10. Jacobsen: It’s okay.

Grell: [Sobbing/weeping] I guess…I’m still grieving.

11. Jacobsen: It’s okay. Take the time you need.

Grell: It really upset me that we had schools for elite students.  Parents came to a Board meeting when I put forward a motion to request the district make exceptions for Catholic students, to show some mercy and these parents said: “We want our kids to get ready for this competitive world.” I thought, “That isn’t what I thought Christianity or Catholicism was about,” competition.

Anyway, it’s really broken my heart. I’m an honest person. I couldn’t run again to be a Catholic trustee, I might run one day to be a public-school trustee, but I couldn’t in good conscience put my name on that ballot and say, “Yeah, I’m a Catholic school trustee. I want to be a Catholic school trustee.”

No, I don’t want anything to do with this Catholic Church; if Catholic means being like this, sorry, not interested. That’s not what I learned about and learned what Jesus was about at all. So, I must distance myself. Anyway, sorry I got emotional. I guess I didn’t realize I was still this upset. But we’re not then I heard that priest say that our Catholic schools were not for transgender kids, I thought, “That’s it. That’s the last straw.” If that’s what they’re about, I am NOT interested in this church.

I have invested a lot of my life in the Catholic Church; I spent a lot of money on my education. Fifty thousand dollars to get a MDiv. We used to pray for laypeople to come forward in service to the Church. Then I noticed they stopped praying for that. They started praying again for more vocations to religious life and more priests. I remember I saw this shift happening around 1992.  Prior to this, there was a great push to have more lay people educated in theology so they could take leadership roles in the church.  But that approach seems to have fallen by the wayside.

I have spoken with other women, who have left the church and I agree with them when they say:  “I didn’t leave the church, the church left me”.


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Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Trusted, Edmonton Catholic School Board (Ward 71).

[2] Individual Publication Date: October 15, 2017 at; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2018 at

[3]Bachelor of Science, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto; Master of Divinity, St. Michael’s College Faculty of Theology, Toronto School of Theology., University of Toronto.

[4] Individual Publication Date: October 15, 2017 at; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2018 at


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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