Saul is taken to live at St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School—a place that takes “all the light” from him. The school is an ugly building, around which there are no trees, only shrubs. Saul misses the big trees and open spaces of his childhood. Inside, the building smells of disinfectant.
St. Jerome’s school is a nightmarish place. With its grim atmosphere and claustrophobic, impersonal spaces, it stands in contrast to almost everything Saul loved about his old home.
When Saul arrives at the school, some gruff old priests take him to be washed and cleaned along with other Indigenous Canadian children. Then, he’s given a uniform, which doesn’t fit him very well. Then he’s taken downstairs to meet the two heads of the school, Father Quinney and Sister Ignacia. Quinney and Ignacia are impressed that Saul already has a Biblical name. However, the other children are all given new names. One child, who says his name is Lonnie Rabbit, is given the new name Aaron Rabbit. Sister Ignacia claims that Lonnie’s father is a “heathen” and “impure.” Saul notices that even when Ignacia smiles, her face looks cold and cruel.
The teachers at St. Jerome’s school are supposedly pious Christians, but as Saul describes them they don’t seem interested in the Christian virtues of charity, mercy, or compassion. Rather, they’re focused on one thing: teaching small Indigenous children that their culture is worthless and evil. One could easily argue (and plenty of people have) that the Canadian government’s policy of sending Indigenous children to schools like this constituted cultural genocide.
Father Quinney and Sister Ignacia continue to instruct Saul and the other children how to behave at the school. Ignacia claims that “obedience is the measure of our worthiness” and that the purpose of school is to “remove the Indian from our children.” Quinney explains that the boys will be working hard every day. Saul feels as if the world is being replaced by “an ominous black cloud.”
Notice that Ignacia doesn’t say a word about learning Christianity, English, or any field of knowledge. Her job is to teach Indigenous children that they’re second-class citizens and that “Indians” are inferior human beings, fit only to follow orders.