Nfld. & Labrador

'She's walking home hope': Gemma Hickey ends cross-island Hope Walk

A woman who was sexually abused by a priest decades ago finished her walk across Newfoundland on Sunday in St. John's, calling the trek an overwhelming experience.
Gemma Hickey wants to take the momentum from the success of her Hope Walk and turn it into fuel to push for change and awareness for clergy abuse survivors. 2:11

A woman who was sexually abused by a priest decades ago finished her walk across Newfoundland on Sunday in St. John's, calling the trek an overwhelming experience.

Gemma Hickey walked 900-kilometres across the island, starting in Port aux Basques on July 2, to raise awareness and improve services for victims of abuse at religious institutions.

A crowd of around 100 people greeted Hickey and cheered her on Sunday afternoon, as she reached her destination at a memorial for people who were abused at the Mount Cashel orphanage.
Hundreds of people greeted Gemma Hickey as she wraps up her Hope Walk in St. John's Sunday evening, at the memorial for victims of Mount Cashel. (CBC)

"I feel really overwhelmed by the support that I received, the welcome back there was quite a bit of people here and they were certainly very supportive and had a lot of kind things to say," said Hickey.

"I'm still processing it all, really, but I feel really good."

Hickey said her trek was an emotional journey, but meeting people from across the province — as well as fellow survivors — fuelled her on.

She's going to inspire so many people that she's not going to even know she's inspiring.- Lorraine Thorne

"Talking to other survivors and sharing their stories, we've shared laughter, we've shared tears, and those were really big moments for me and really gave me fuel to keep on going on those days where the weather was really, really bad," said Hickey.

"One woman talked to me about her sexual abuse by a priest and it shook me up so much that I started to pray again — I haven't prayed in 20 years."

'There's always challenges'

Among those who greeted Hickey when she arrived at the memorial in St. John's was Lorraine Thorne.

Thorne said one of her brothers took his own life after he was sexually abused at Mount Cashel.

For Thorne, Hickey's walk brings awareness and hope to an issue that's had such a big impact on her family.
Lorraine Thorne says the Hope Walk has inspired her, and she thinks it will inspire others who have been affected by abuse in religious institutions. (CBC)

"There is healing and there is hope in Newfoundland too, and she's bringing home — to me, she's walking home hope," said Thorne.

"She's going to inspire so many people that she's not going to even know she's inspiring. They're going to follow her, like I am, they're going to see hope, they're going to see healing, and they're going to see a future."

Hickey said the Hope Walk was meant to raise awareness for clergy abuse survivors, but there was also a personal lesson for her.

"I learned that no matter what happens in life, I'm going to get through it and come out on the other side," said Hickey.

"There's always challenges, but you can take something that happened that's horrible and turn it into something that's really positive, and that's what I've done here."

Meanwhile, Hickey said she hopes to take the momentum from her walk to push for better services for survivors of abuse with her organization Pathways.

"The cause itself has been neglected for so many years and there hasn't been a focus after care, so these are the types of things that we want to look into."