Roman Catholic bishops from Alberta and the Northwest Territories have made a formal apology to aboriginal people who were abused as children in Canadian residential schools.

“We, the Catholic Bishops of Alberta and Northwest Territories, apologize to those who experienced sexual and physical abuse in residential schools under Catholic administration,” Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said at a news conference on Monday.

“We also express our apology and regret for Catholic participation in government policies that resulted in children being separated from their families, and often suppressed Aboriginal culture and language at the residential schools.”

Residential school survivor Jerry Wood said today was a day he never thought he'd see.

"The Catholic Church has been dragging their feet about making their apology," said Wood who was only six years old when he was taken to a boarding school where he suffered loneliness and abuse. 

"That's what I wanted to hear," he said. "Say I'm sorry, you know. I thought I'd never hear that."

Smith made the apology at Edmonton's Ben Calf Robe School, where students witnessed the historical and emotional event.

The bishops’ statement comes in advance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up to investigate the abuses in the residential school system, makes a stop in Alberta from March 27 to 30 at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton.