Arlene Merasty remembers the first time she read one of her father’s stories. She was cleaning up his coffee-stained papers, the ones he left strewn around her home whenever he came in off the streets. Sometimes, she said, they ended up in the trash. But this time, she read.
“It told the story about him being touched by the priest,” she said. “I was shocked. I almost dropped the papers.”
Arlene started to cry. It was the first she’d heard about the abuse. She knew almost nothing about the eight years her father, Joseph Auguste “Augie” Merasty, spent in the Sainte Thérèse Residential School.
Now the whole country knows. Merasty’s book, The Education of Augie Merasty, has been selected for the inaugural One Book One Province program, a community reading initiative of the Saskatchewan Library Association. Arlene was in Prince Albert Wednesday to help mark the occasion.
But with news of Merasty’s death late last month, the ceremony at Saskatchewan Polytechnic became a memorial of his life and struggles, and a testament to the impact of his writing on the national conversation.
Merasty’s co-author, David Carpenter, addressed the audience of about 200 students and readers. He talked about how the pair worked together, for more than a decade, to produce a coherent narrative out of Merasty’s letters.
“We formed what biologists would call a symbiotic relationship,” Carpenter said. “He provided the pollen, the nectar, and I processed it and sent it out into the world.”
Carpenter said Merasty took on a new life after the book’s publication in 2015, when he was 86 years old. The Education of Augie Merasty has garnered at least seven provincial and national awards. It’s now read in schools all over the country.
“With this book, Augie Merasty became a local celebrity,” Carpenter said. “He’s now part of a vital national conversation about racism and reconciliation … an alcoholic living on the street, suddenly redeemed.”
For more on this story, please see the March 9 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.