Fisher: Father John Fisher

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John L. Fisher

 Priest, Archdiocese of Sault Ste. Marie.  Ordained 1968.  In mid 70s founded Vita Way Farms, an addiction treatment centre for young drug addicts located 20 minutes out of North Bay, Ontario.  Awarded the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship for his work with addicts. In 1989 charged with sex assault of a former resident at the centre.  Outcome of charges unknown, but, Vita Way ceased operating in 1990. Lawsuit filed in 2008 by former resident Kevin Bishop.


Bishops of Sault Ste. Marie Diocese since Father John Fisher’s ordination :  Alexander Carter  (Coadjutor Bishop: 10 Dec 1956 – Bishop 22 November 1958 – 03 May 1985); Marcel André J. Gervais (03 May 1985 –  13 May 1989  when appointed, Coadjutor Archbishop of Ottawa, Ontario) ; Jean-Louis Plouffe (02 December 1989  –  )

Auxiliary bishops:  Adolphe E. Proulx  (2 Jan 1965 – 28 April 1967 [ also served as Chancellor from 1960 – 1965] ); Roger-Alfred Despatie (20 May 1968 – 8 February 1973); Gérard Dionne ( 29 January 1975 – 23 November 1983);  Bernard Francis Pappin (29 January 1975 – 27 Aug 1998);  Jean-Louis Plouffe (12 Dec 1986 – Bishop 02 December 1989);  Paul-André Durocher ( 20 January 1997 – 27 April 2002); Robert Harris 26 October 2002 – 8 May 2007); Brian Joseph Dunn (16 July 2008 – 21 Nov 2009).


The following dates are drawn from the materials which I have on hand, specifically the Canadian Catholic Church directories (CCCD) of that date, the 1980 Ontario Catholic Directory (OCD) and media (M) 

2008:  lawsuit – sex abuse allegations relate to 1986 at Vita Way (“sexually brutalized with almost every form of sexual abuse,” over a nine month period) (M)

1998:  not listed (CCCD)

05 June 1997:  died

1997:  Pastor Temagami & Bear Island (CCCD)

1996, 1995, 1994. 1993:  pastor, St. Elizabeth RC Church, Temagami, Ontario (CCCD)

1992, 1991:  address and phone number for the Sault Ste. Marie Diocesan Centre.  (CCCD)

October 1989:  charged – charges relate to allegations of sex assault at Vita Way in 1988.(outcome of charges unknown)

1985-86:  Pastor St. Elizabeth RC Church, Temagami (CCCD)

(must also have been activley involved with  Vita Way Farms as administrator?)

1980:  Pastor St. Elizabeth RC Church, Temagami with at St. Ursula in Bear Island, and Marten River Chapel (CCCD)

(must also have been activley involved with  Vita Way Farms as administrator?)

1973-74:  address Assumption Pro-cathedral in North Bay (Pastor Father D. J. Murphy) (CCCD)

1971-72: address Assumption Pro-cathedral in North Bay (Pastor Msgr. B. F. Pappin) (CCCD)

running a church-sponsored youth hostel (M) 


Plaintiffs detail years of abuse by priests

The Sudbury Star

April 28, 2008

At 65, Greg O’Connor has accomplished a great deal in his lifetime. He earned a degree in biology. He graduated at the top of his class in the former Cambrian School of Nursing. He serves as deputy-mayor of Mattawa in the Township of Calvin.

But O’Connor lowered his head Monday and wept as he recounted the impact the sexual abuse he said he suffered more than 50 years ago by a Roman Catholic priest in North Bay has had on his life.

O’Connor is one of six plaintiffs represented by Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers of London, Ont., who are suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie for $4.5-million each for sexual misconduct they claim to have suffered as children by priests employed by the diocese.

A seventh plaintiff is suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of London for the same amount for abuse he claims he suffered by one of its former priests in Tecumseh.

Some of the plaintiffs are also suing the religious order of the Congregation of the Resurrection, whose priests taught at Scollard Hall in North Bay, where plaintiffs allege some of the abuse was committed.

Lawyer Robert Talach of Ledroit Beckett is representing the seven plaintiffs as well as four others, who earlier filed $4.5-million lawsuits against the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie. Those lawsuits are in the discovery process.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

O’Connor and five other plaintiffs attended a news conference Monday at the Radisson Hotel.

Several family members and friends of the plaintiffs sat in the audience. Some cried as they watched their loved ones address reporters.

The plaintiffs all sat at a table at the front of the Notre Dame Room at the hotel, behind photographs of themselves at the age they were when they said they were abused by their priests.

O’Connor said he was an altar boy as a child, went to church twice on Saturday and three times on Sunday, and “the priest was next to God” in his staunch Roman Catholic family.

He attended a Catholic elementary school and loved it, but when he went to high school, he said his teacher-priest, Father Magnus J. Fedy, took advantage of some of his friends as well.

“I came to hate the priest, I came to hate my religion,” said O’Connor, whose first marriage ended badly. His ex-wife and four children from that union do not speak with him today, he said.

O’Connor was joined at the table by three men from Sudbury who allege they were abused by priests as children.

Sudbury businessman Thomas Miller, 59, lived as a boy in North Bay near Scollard Hall.

Although Miller didn’t attend the school, he played on the school grounds and was provided with access to the school gym, the showers and roof by Father Victor Killoran.

Miller alleges he suffered fondling, masturbation, oral sex and anal penetration by the priest for four years, from the time Miller was eight.

Killoran pleaded guilty and was convicted in 1990 in of sexual abuse against a boy and girl in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Two Sudbury men, Raymond Carriere and R.D. Sabourin, were 14 and 15 respectively when they said they were sexually abused by Father Rene Hebert on camping trips.

Their families reported the abuse to church officials at the time, and Carriere said a meeting was held 35 years ago with then Bishop Alexander Carter at Christ the King Church about the charges.

Carriere, 50, said the boys and their parents were led to believe police would be in attendance at the meeting, but they weren’t.

“From that meeting, we waited,” he said, but the diocese never acted on their complaints.

Carriere’s mother attended Monday’s news conference and said she asked a bishop in another community what the families should do.

Carriere and his mother both said she was told to “go to church and pray and try to forget this.”

Sabourin said when they were told police would be at the meeting, “we felt something would happen.

“There was a lot of support for Hebert at the time, but we were not taken care of at all,” he said.

Hebert died Dec. 30 and a memorial mass was said in his honour Saturday at St. Jean de Brebeuf Church. There was a full house at the service and more than a dozen priests participated in his memorial mass.

Anita Contant, 60, of North Bay is another of the plaintiffs. She alleges she was befriended by both Fedy and Killoran, and they abused her for three years from the time she was eight.

Contant says she was subjected to fondling, oral sex and digital penetration.

Wayne Thibert, 51, lives in Crystal Falls near Field, but lived in Tecumseh near Windsor in the early 1970s when he says he was abused by Father Lawrence Paquette.

His family moved north eventually, and Paquette visited him “and was able to commit his final acts of abuse upon Wayne,” said Talach.

One plaintiff, Kevin Bishop, did not attend the news conference because he lives a long distance away.

He alleges he was sent to Vita Way Farm in Powassan, south of North Bay, in 1986. There, he says he was sexually “brutalized” by Father John Fisher at the farm Fisher founded as a rehabilitation centre for troubled youth.

Fisher would later win the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship, but was charged in 1989 with sex offences.

A man who wishes to be identified as J.G., now 40, alleges that Father Gerald Roy was his parish priest and school chaplain in Field when he engaged in a two-year period of fondling and mutual masturbation with him.

Roy was sentenced in 2001 to 2 1/2 years in a federal penitentiary for sexual assaults against four altar boys beginning in the early 1980s.


Founder of Vita Way Farm named in abuse action against Catholic diocese

Almaguin News

January 30, 2008

SUDBURY – A former Chisholm-area priest, founder of a group home for troubled teens, has been named posthumously in a litigation against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie relating to sexual abuse of minors by the clergy.

Father John Fisher was one of six priests in the diocese accused of sexual misconduct during a press conference held in Sudbury on Jan. 28 and hosted by the law firm of Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyers of London, Ontario. The allegations are part of a  civil law suit started against the diocese in 2007. Three people are seeking compensation of $4.5 million each for abuse they received at the hands of three other priests in Northern Ontario.

Allegations were brought against Fisher by a former resident of the Vita Way Farm on Kells Road in Chisholm Township, Kevin Bishop. Although Bishop was unable to attend the Sudbury news conference, lawyer Rob Talach said that in 1986 Bishop was “sexually brutalized with almost every form of sexual abuse,” over a period of nine months while living at the rehabilitation centre. “He was there to be helped,” Talach said, “and instead he was harmed. Though he was to be there for a one-year program, Kevin ran away three months short of completion and no one from the farm or the Ontario government ever asked why.”

Vita Way Farm, with its administrative offices located in North Bay in the Sault Ste. Marie Diocese, provided troubled teens with the opportunity to relocate to the country, away from the peer pressures of their home communities, and was an active small farming operation with a large garden and a variety of small livestock, including cattle, pigs and chickens.

Fisher was first charged in 1989 for other allegations of sexual abuse by another farm resident, “but the outcome of those charges is unknown,” said Talach.

Prior to that sexual misconduct charge, Fisher had received the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship for outstanding contributions to the well being of his community in regard to establishing the rural rehabilitation centre, and following the 1989 charges, “he continued to minister, residing for a time at the Pro-Cathedral in North Bay and ending his career in Temagami,” Talach said.

The farm rehabilitation centre was funded in part by the Ontario government which is also named in the law suit. The farm property was closed as a youth centre in the early 1990s and is now a private family home.

Also named in the civil law suits are Fathers Victor Killoran and Magnus Fedy, who were on staff at Scollard Hall in North Bay at the time of the alleged sexual abuse involving two male students and one local female who regularly played on the school grounds, between 1956 and 1959. Both priests are now deceased.

Other northern parishes affected by the suits include Sudbury, Crystal Falls and Field.  

Talach said the purpose of the Jan. 28 news conference was “to reach out to and empower other victims, to seek the assistance of the public in these particular cases and to bring public attention to the issue of childhood sexual abuse.”

Outlining the details of each individual charge, he pointed out the victims are now in their 50s and 60s and argued that despite the time elapsed, the cases were none the less valid. “Sexual abuse by clergy is not just the abuse of the body, but is also abuse of the soul,” Talach said, adding that children feel they cannot tell their parents because “it is more likely that the charming and loved priest will be believed over a silly child.”

Talach said that “it often takes decades for that secret to finally surface and the disclosure can be triggered by a multitude of events. Whatever the spark that causes the brave act of disclosure, the last thing anyone should do is assume that the delay has anything to do with whether their allegation is true or not.”

In February of 2007, the London-based law firm announced a $13.5 million action against the diocese representing three victims of abuse by northern priests. That number has now risen to 10 victims, although Talach is not commenting yet on the total amount of damages now being sought. In over half of the cases named this week, “the priest was charged on the basis of complaints by other victims,” Talach said. “In all of these cases, there are more than one known victim for each priest. The career paths of many of these priests suggests a strong interest in young people, and in others, there’s a strange turn in their career indicative of potential awareness by the Diocese.

“At the end of the day there are many questions left to be answered, but it is not these victims alone who can provide all the answers,” Talach said. “ It is the Diocese, the Bishop and others whose turn it is to shed further light on these cases.”

Talach asks that anyone with further information contact the office of Ledroit Beckett Litigation Lawyer in London at 519-673-4994.


Drug centre founder charged in sex assault

Ottawa Citizen

15 October 1989

NORTH BAY (CP) — A Roman Catholic priest who won a citizens’ award for his work with young drug addicts has been charged with sexual assault.

Rev. John Fisher, 46, the founder and administrator of Vita Way Farm addiction treatment centre, was charged Friday after a 4 1/2-month police investigation.

Police say the 18-year-old complainant was a patient at the centre near North Bay. The man told police he was assaulted at the centre in November 1988.

Fisher was remanded out of custody Friday after appearing briefly before a justice of the peace. He is to appear in provincial court in North Bay on Oct. 24.

Fisher founded the rehabilitation centre — which provides long-term treatment to young drug addicts — 14 years ago. The facility can treat up to 16 patients at a time.

Fisher’s work on behalf of drug addicts earned him the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship.


Canadian Press

October 14, 1989  11.03 EDT


A Roman Catholic priest who won a citizens’ award for his work with young drug addicts has been charged with sexual assault.

Rev. John Fisher, 46, the founder and administrator of Vita Way Farm addiction treatment centre, was charged Friday after a 4 1/2 -month police investigation.

Police say the 18-year-old complainant was a patient at the centre near North Bay, Ont. The man told police he was assaulted at the centre in November 1988.

Fisher was remanded out of custody Friday after appearing briefly before a justice of the peace. He is to appear in provincial court in North Bay on Oct. 24.

Fisher founded the rehabilitation centre — which provides long-term treatment to young drug addicts — 14 years ago. The facility can treat up to 16 patients at a time.

Fisher’s work on behalf of drug addicts earned him the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship.


Young drug addicts A rare second chance Isolated Vita Way Farm for 14 to 24 year olds has unique Ontario program

Toronto Star

12 August 1989

Catherine Dunphy

POWASSIN, Ont. – Here life begins not at 40 but at 14, or 24, or anywhere in between. It might start when washing dishes in the farmhouse kitchen or maybe while out in the fields far from anything but a deserted dusty country road.

Or it might not.

Life begins again for just some – never all – of the tough, troubled, wild-eyed, wired and wary kids so hooked on drugs their baby faces scraped rock bottom.

This is Vita Way Farm. Isolated, (20 minutes from North Bay); unique (the only one of its kind in Ontario) and on the surface a benign rural retreat for drug addicts. Very young drug addicts. Kids.

Some are 15 and have been hooked for years. Withdrawn, pacing, suspicious. Smooth, streetwise, manipulative. Savage, angry, turning their pain and hate on themselves, spitting out vicious obscenities, slashing pale wrists, stabbing at the undersides of their thin arms.

Strange car

* One boy slept in a car in an underground parking lot. It was his only home but the dealers still knew where to find him. Once he blacked out in the back seat of a strange car. He didn’t know how he got there; he couldn’t get up. When the owner of the car found him there, he rolled him out the door and drove off leaving him too stoned to move.

* A teenaged girl went after her mother with a chain. A handsome, wild 19 year old trashed his mother’s apartment, attacked his brother and beat his girlfriend. A gentle-featured native Indian girl rode with the roughest of motorcycle gangs.

The kids go to pill parties. They are BYOB – bring your own barbiturates, throw them in the pot, and help yourself.

* They rob their parents. If they’re boys, inevitably they do a little “b & e” (break and enter crime); if they’re girls, they sell their bodies. It doesn’t mean much; many of them have been so sexually abused or molested anyway.

* They don’t care; they only crave. The guilt and shame come only when the high goes. It’s better – far, far better – to stay high.

At 20, Ian has drunk so much so often he’s been hospitalized four times for alcohol poisoning. But he still snuck out for a bottle.

“I’ve been dry for two months now,” he says. He is sweeping the floor of the dining hall. On the walls are native art and an aerial photo of the 75-hectare (187-acre) farm 17 kids now call home.

His smile is sweet and makes him look much younger than 20. Has he finally been saved?

He looks puzzled, bashful. “I think so, maybe.”

Carrie is 15. She rarely meets anyone’s eye. She has been given one week to make up her mind: Will she or won’t she play by Vita Way’s rules?

Right after lunch she was called on to comment on the regular reading of the eight steps that lead to sobriety.

(Based on a now-defunct Montreal drug rehabilitation program, these steps are modelled on the steps to sobriety developed by Alcoholics Anonymous.)

(They are: Accept the fact you are powerless over chemicals; be totally honest; accept a Higher Power; get involved with people again; get in touch with reality and take a daily inventory of yourself; try what other dependants offer as suggestions; be grateful; and be courageous about staying away from old ways and old friends.)

Chubby face

Carrie approached the podium, her body language speaking for her. Her shoulders were slumped, her head hung down and her still chubby face looked sulky.

She mumbled, “I don’t have anything to say,” and smirking, made her way back to her seat.

“Thanks, Carrie,” everyone replied as they do to all contributions, or non-contributions, at Vita Way.

At 21, Steve, an orphan, has been on drugs for eight years and off them for one. “Cocaine and alcohol were my thing, preferably together,” he says.

Only when he got to the farm did he find out the program lasted a year. “A year, I remember thinking, a whole year, no way, man. I was like a caged animal,” he says.

Now he works at Vita Way, shaking his dark head at the kids he sees trying to beat the system at the farm and cheat themselves of a day-by-day recovery.

‘No stealing’

“Do you know what a high is now? It’s walking into a stereo store and picking out a $450 stereo. And you slap down the cash.” Here Steve pounds his fist on a farm office desk. His hand stays clenched as he leans over to make his point. “Cash. No credit. No stealing. Nothing. Do you know what that feels like? This is mine. I worked for it. I paid for it. Here, here are the bills, all of them. Cash, man.

“And there’s no looking behind you for a cop or a store manager.”

* * *

How did it happen? What straightened out Steve and the others? What will Carrie likely walk away from?

The day at Vita Farm is programmed, scheduled and run with boot- camp efficiency: Up at 7.30 a.m. Morning farm chores from 7.30 to 8.25. Breakfast from 8.30 to 9, and then it’s chores around the house till 10 a.m. There’s a two-hour group therapy session, then a half-hour break, then lunch from 12.30 to 1.15. You sit where you are told to, not near your buddies.

More free time until 1.30, then farm chores to 5 p.m. and from 5 to 5.45 barn chores. At 6, it’s dinner, then quiet time for meditations and readings to 10.30 p.m. No parties, few dances, dating – even among these street-hardened kids – is not tolerated.

“They are immature. They stopped growing whenever they started taking the drugs,” says counsellor Bob Blakney.

Mean streets

These kids have turned the clock around. They’ve been prowling mean streets by night, living by wits not watches, fueled by drug paranoia not food. At the slightest provocation – the wrong color T- shirt, a look they don’t like – they attack.

They feel they are going crazy and sometimes they are.

“They have a hard time with gentleness. They usually won’t allow you to hug them,” says Blakney.

“I often tell them I don’t need to punish them because they are doing that for themselves,” says Leona Dunn, a counsellor. Her son was at Vita Way: He was a cocaine addict who finally realized he needed help when she called the police after he stole her jewelry.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a parent,” she says now. She’ll be running a program for parents of addicts in the fall because an addict, “is so powerful; it’s devastating how one person can control everybody else. To live through it is hell.”

Daily sessions

Dunn and Blakney conduct daily group therapy sessions and individual sessions based on the premise that an addiction is an addiction be it to booze, pot or cocaine. Addiction is also a disease, which may not be cured but can be controlled on a day-to- day basis once the chemically dependent person recognizes his or her powerlessness and looks to some sort of spiritual guidance.

Mixed with hard physical labor, the message is very potent.

“You’re planting a garden and in a month it starts to come up and you planted that! It’s something. It’s the same thing with animals. You see a calf being born and you see it growing. It’s like your pet.

“You’re actually doing something. When you’re using (drugs) at night you’re tired but you are restlesss tired. When you spend the day on the farm, you are tired but you feel good, you feel you have actually done something, and when you are down that road, that is a lot,” says Mike Wilkie. He’s 26 and has been straight for 10 years.

Wedding picture

“It’s just the feeling of feeling pretty good,” adds Terry. She was at Vita Way several years ago when she was 18.

Wilkie is farm manager; he and Terry got married a couple of years ago. Their wedding picture is on top of the filing cabinet in the office of the man who started it all: Father John Fisher.

* * *

“Here it is, here’s the place they found that boy I told you about.” Father John Fisher waves a hand at vacant land across the street from North Bay’s waterfront.

In 1971 he was running North Bay’s church-sponsored youth hostel. They had a rule: No more than three days’ stay. One kid – Fisher knew he used drugs and suspected he was a pusher – asked to stay another night. He told him no.

The next day he got a call from police. The boy had hung himself down by the lake. Could Fisher come down and identify the body?

A quiet place

“He was stretched on a table with a rope around his neck,” Fisher stabs out one of the Export As he continually smokes. His voice is choked. “That image is coming back to me now.”

It was with him in 1974 when he found the farm Vita Way now owns. He’d been looking for a quiet place where the kids could heal. He bought it with a “Yes, I’m serious” cheque for $50, then asked his church for a $50,000 loan. He got it.

“I didn’t know who was going to pay for it but I’m a believer, I have faith,” he says with just a hint of a smile.

It costs $63 per youth per day to be a Vita Way. The social and community services ministry picks up the tab; donations make up the rest. It has been a struggle but somehow the donations have come as the farm and its accommodations and programs and staff grew. Now it employs 13, five more than budgeted for and it stands poised on the edge of its biggest expansion ever.

New home

Fisher has just acquired more real estate (and debt) for Vita Way – a large former North Bay home where he wants to set up continuing- care facilities – a place where the youth can go to ease into straight society after they leave the farm and a facility for assessing the youth before they go out to the farm.

What’s more, Vita Way must have a new 30-bed facility, he has decided. No one else is providing this kind of treatment for adolescent addicts and more and more kids are tumbling to drugs.

“This is war,” he says. “I’ve seen what drugs can do. I’ve seen what crack is doing is New York, Washington, Miami. But it is here too. In Miami crack used to be $40,000 a kilo wholesale; now it’s down to $11,000 and so much of it is coming into our country.

There is now a five-month waiting list for Vita Way, a statistic that could change overnight should more people know about the facility.

The former parish priest of Temagami and Bear Island has a quiet, friendly demeanor that breaks only when mention is made of Vita Way’s low public profile. Then he sputters.

“We are on a first-name basis with some of the top drug addiction experts in the United States and here in our own province they don’t even know us.”

Desperate families

He despairs when desperate families so close to the farm spend $9,000 to send an addicted child to one of the many treatment centres in Minnesota.

The youth in his program come from all over the province – and outside of it too – yet he has not, as he says, “cracked the Toronto market.”

He needs $1.5 million for his plans; he’s raised $135,000; he knows he needs Toronto’s help.

He’s taking a risk. He could have lowered his sites and applied for – and probably received – a much smaller government grant for some renovations. But he believes he’s fighting a killer, cocaine.

And he believes “the Lord will provide.”


Vita Way Farm’s offices are at 387 Algonquin Ave., North Bay, Ontario, P1B 4W4. Its telephone is (705) 474-0910.

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