Statement Regarding UBC Senate sub-committee’s recommendation to rescind the honorary degree granted to Bishop John O’Grady, former residential schools’ Principal

Following a year-long review process, a special sub-committee to the UBC Vancouver Senate Tributes Committee has recommended that the Senate rescind its approval of the Honorary Degree awarded to the late Bishop John Fergus O’Grady by the university in 1986. The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre fully supports the sub-committee’s decision, and stands behind its additional recommendation that an historic reflection on UBC’s role in the “subjugation of Indigenous people and communities” be undertaken in the coming months.

John O’Grady was principal of three former residential schools in Canada prior to becoming a Bishop. These were: the St. Mary’s Indian Residential School (1936-39); the Kamloops Indian Residential School (1939-52); and the Cariboo Indian Residential School (1952-53). During the time he presided over the Kamloops IRS, it held the largest student population of any residential school in Canada. Following his time as principal of Cariboo IRS, O’Grady was ordained Bishop and appointed Vicar Apostolic of Prince Rupert by Pope Pius XII in 1956. In this role, while no longer a principal, O’Grady was the highest ranked church official in the region and continued to preside over the operating Indian residential schools.

The UBC Senate first announced that they would be reviewing Bishop O’Grady’s honorary degree in May, 2021, following the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s announcement that 215 Indigenous children’s remains were detected in unmarked graves on the grounds of former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The discoveries at Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and ongoing at former schools throughout BC and Canada prompted numerous calls from within UBC and from the broader community to rescind Bishop O’Grady’s honorary degree.

“A thorough and transparent audit of honorary degree recipients is essential for UBC to meaningfully engage in reconciliation, and to continue to do the on-going work of decolonizing the academy,” says the Centre’s Academic Director Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. “Bishop O’Grady’s honorary degree isn’t the singular incident of faculty and administrative figures of the Indian residential school system receiving honorary titles. In order to truly work towards a practice of decolonization at the university, this is a reality the university must reckon with and take responsibility for.”

According to the Senate committees’ statement, the Senate Tributes Committee commits to developing a “robust process to review and address concerns about other honorary degree holders with backgrounds of concern” in the coming months.

Read the Senate Tributes Committee Statement regarding the honorary degree granted to John Fergus O’Grady.

Feedback from interested parties will be solicited through a 30-day consultation period beginning today, Tuesday, May 24, 2022. More details are available at: and feedback and comments may be submitted via email to: