Q&A with alumna Gemma Hickey

Aug 14th, 2015

By Jeff Green

Q&A with alumna Gemma Hickey

It was a journey full of purpose and meaning. Along the way, Faculty of Arts alumna Gemma Hickey, BA’03, witnessed the power of engagement — connecting with people, stopping to listen to their stories and sharing in their emotions. Ms. Hickey just completed her Hope Walk, a more than 900 kilometre, gruelling month-long trek from Port aux Basques to St. John’s. As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, the walk is part of her physical and spiritual journey of recovery and part of her own goal to help other survivors of institutional abuse find healing. Contributor Jeff Green spoke with Ms. Hickey after her walk.

JG: Why did you organize this walk? Why is it significant?
GH: I organized Hope Walk because I wanted to be creative in engaging society to take ownership of the issue of religious institutional abuse. This issue has left a deep wound in our province. We’ve all been either directly or indirectly affected by it.

JG: When did you start?
GH: I started on July 2 in Port aux Basques and ended on Aug. 2 in St. John’s at the Mount Cashel Memorial. However the planning and training began 10 months prior to the walk itself. My journey is still continuing. I finished the walk, but that was the foundational component. There is still much work left to be done.

JG: What was the reaction from some of the people you met during your walk
GH: People have met me with smiles and open arms. They’ve invited me into their homes and shared their stories of trauma. We’ve laughed and cried. I get hundreds of messages each day from people all over the province and beyond. I’m truly humbled by all of the support.

JG: Is there a person or two who stand out to you?
GH: So many people stand out. So many stories have had an impact on me: a man I held as he was crying whose father was abused by a priest; an elderly woman I waltzed with on the highway’s shoulder who attended a religious run orphanage.

JG: I saw from social media that you documented your trek — how has social media helped you reach new audiences?
GH: Social media was one avenue I used to make people feel like they are a part of my journey. They were right there with me during rainstorms and the ups and downs of being on the road. It was an effective tool to reach a younger audience.

JG: Who helped you train for your walk?
GH: So many people have helped me make this happen. In particular, Dr. TA Loeffler led my training team and Philip Alcock, Audrey Hynes and Xi Hong were alumni on the team.

JG: What’s next for you?
GH: I want to focus on my writing. I’m also working on my master’s in the Department of Gender Studies with a focus on activism as healing in terms of religious institutional abuse.

More information about Ms. Hickey’s Pathways Foundation is available online.