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Catholic Education Sunday, 2014

November 7, 2014

One of the traditions my husband and I have established in our household is to read to our children at bed time—this includes reading from a children’s bible.  Last week, my 6 year old son Vincent asked me enthusiastically if we could read the story about “the man on the road”…I didn’t quite know which one he meant.  “You know”, he said, “the one about the guy that came along and helped the guy on the road”.  “Oh” I said, “you mean the story about the Good Samaritan”.  “Yes, yes!” he exclaimed “that’s the one!”  It struck me that he learned the story of the Good Samaritan in his grade 1 class at his Catholic school and it left a deep impression on him.  Meanwhile I was so happy that as a Catholic parent I had the school as an ally in teaching my children the beauty of our faith.  How very blessed we are in this province to have the opportunity to send our children to publicly funded Catholic schools!

So on this Catholic Education Sunday we take time to be grateful for our Catholic schools and pray that all of us – clergy, parishioners, parents, trustees, administrators, students, teachers and support staff — will work together to realize our schools’ evangelizing mission and that our schools may be true, authentic witnesses of our Catholic faith.

Last February I had the opportunity to attend the Alberta Catholic School Trustee’s Symposium on Catholic Education with Dr. Reginald Bibby and Archbishop of Vancouver Michael Miller.  They gave presentations on how our schools can be agents of evangelization and how we can be assured that our schools are authentically Catholic.

Reginald Bibby who is a Sociology professor from the University of Lethbridge, spoke of the great opportunity that we have as Catholic schools to reach out to latent and inactive Catholics.  So many people today he noted, are searching for ministry rather than a church.  He suggested that those families that are struggling with divorce, poverty, raising children alone, could benefit from services we provide through our schools. Professor Bibby suggested that if we want to touch people’s lives, touch their families – give them grace through our schools to make their lives easier.  By doing this we are witnesses of how faith improves lives.  I believe that our school district does a lot to be such witnesses by, for example, providing after school care programs in the Schools as Community Hubs initiative.  This program offers a place for older students to be involved in constructive and edifying activities until their parents return from work.

Another initiative is the Graduation Coach model where each aboriginal student is mentored through their transition from junior high to high school and then through their high school years.  This program has led to our aboriginal graduation rate going from 19% in 2009 to 60% in 2013 at one school alone.  These are only 2 examples of many that I could share with you today, that show how our schools reach out to those in need and which in elevating the student, elevates the whole family.  The family then sees how faith does improve their lives.  Is there more that we can do to evangelize our students and families?  Absolutely!  I believe we should always strive to improve our schools’ ministry to others.

At the same symposium, Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller suggested that there are 5 marks of Catholic education which can be used to evaluate what makes our schools authentically Catholic. These 5 marks include:

1. Having a Christian understanding of the human person so that our students are taught of their “transcendent dignity”.  They are taught how to live in this world, but with their eyes fixed on the goal of the Kingdom.  Archbishop Miller notes that the Catholic vision of our schools “rejects understanding the role of education as merely an instrument to prepare future generations for the needs of the marketplace.”  Our schools he suggests “foster the life of the soul” and relate career choices to a person’s unique vocation in Christ.

2. A second mark of Catholic schools is that they are permeated with a Catholic world view. Everything that students come to believe and accept is determined by the attitude, the stance toward life which the school fosters in them.

3. Thirdly, an authentic Catholic school has faith permeated throughout the curriculum so that students think and evaluate facts in light of their faith and its values. So the curriculum would help students reflect on the problems of our time, including those where injustice, poverty and the denial of human rights are widespread and systemic.

4. Fourthly, an authentically Catholic School has teachers and staff who are personal witnesses of the Gospel. Reverend Miller cautions that children and young people “are quick to perceive any discrepancies between word and deed.  They thirst for authenticity”.  So it is important that the adults in our schools live according to their own faith in and love for Jesus.

5. And lastly, authentic Catholic Schools are shaped by a spirituality of communion which means that the educational mission of our schools is carried out in a spirit of cooperation between students, parents, teachers, support staff, bishops, administrators and trustees. By working together in a spirit of a shared mission, our schools move from being institutions to being a true community in Christ.

Archbishop Miller suggested that we can use these 5 marks to evaluate our Catholic schools in an effort not to be punitive but for the sake of moving from “good” or “very good” to “great”. For your information, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Associations is currently considering using Archbishop Miller’s 5 marks as a way to do a province wide evaluation of our schools. As a candidate for school trustee I ran on the platform of ensuring that our Catholic schools are true authentic witnesses of our Catholic faith.  After a year as a school trustee, I can say that our district works hard to ensure our Catholic identity.  It does this through morning prayers, social justice activities, school masses, Faith Development days and Newman Theological courses for our teachers, to name a few.  But is there more that we can do to enhance our schools’ Catholic identity?  I believe there is and I ask you on this Catholic Education Sunday, to pray for our students, our staff and our trustees, that we may work together so that in the words of Pope Francis, our Catholic schools may continue to be “a precious means for making a contribution to the progress of the Church and of society as a whole”.

Archbishop Miller has written a book in which he discusses Catholic education.  It is called The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools.  Another book that he referenced at the Symposium which may be of interest is Challenges for Catholic Schools in Canada by James Mulligan.

Two of my fellow trustees and I are organizing a Forum on Catholic Education at St. John Evangelist Parish(9830 – 148 st.) on Thursday, November 20, 7 pm.  All are welcome and there is no charge and registration is not required. There will be an address by Fr. Stefano Penna, Vice President of Newman Theological College followed by a panel discussion and questions from the floor.

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