While I have spent most of my teaching career in Catholic Education systems in Saskatchewan and Alberta, I did not grow up attending Catholic schools. I was one of those people who didn’t discover that sense of “it just feels different” in a Catholic school until I began my teaching career at Father Gorman School in Lloydminster. Now don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful upbringing in rural Saskatchewan. My little school was not a Catholic school but I loved it with all my heart. And the truth is, I always felt I was “very Catholic” based on my connection with our little church, St. Mary’s. Many of my memories of growing up are tied to that church. We attended Sunday Mass and gathered for fall suppers, wedding receptions, and potlucks after the celebration of First Communion and Confirmation. While I always proudly identified myself as a Catholic, I can see now that I basically grew up as a “Sunday Catholic.” Going to Mass was non-negotiable and my mom and dad saw to it that all of my siblings and I received all of our Sacraments. I said my nighttime prayers and we had books about Jesus in our home, along with a crucifix and religious statues. Beyond that though, I don’t remember thinking a lot about my faith on a daily basis.
My first taste of Catholic Education came in 1986 when I started my teaching career and I quickly “got it.” For children who are blessed to go to Catholic schools, they are immersed in their faith every day. I learned how blessed my students were to be able to pray together every day. They got to know God more deeply because we could read the Word of God together. My students learned to serve their brothers and sisters through acts of social service and social justice. Perhaps most importantly, they had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist at our school Masses. These experiences, and so many more, happen in every Catholic school in Alberta.
In our Catholic schools today, our students are not living a “Sunday Catholic” kind of life. They are learning to know our faith deeply and they live their faith every single day. I can think of no better description of what is happening in our Catholic schools than with the words from the Gospel of Matthew. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before human beings, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Our students are the light – they are shining brightly every day, not just on Sundays, because of the good and holy work that is happening in our Catholic schools. I am proud to be part of the story.
Written by Joann Bartley, Director of Religious Education
Holy Spirit Catholic School Division
Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. Luke 2:46
Of all the stained-glass windows we have at St. Mary’s University here in Calgary my favourite may well be an image of the Christ child with the ‘doctors’ of the temple (Luke 2:41-52) which is installed in our Library, St. Basil’s Hall. As a youngster this was always among my preferred stories, both because it showed a 12-year-old Jesus going off on his own, stressing out his parents the way I always did mine, and then having an impact, intellectually, with adults. It was more than that, of course, but back then, as a child, I was struck by the confirmation that kids might have a place in the greater scheme of things, and that even though we didn’t have the power of Divine inspiration, God could speak through a young person on matters of importance. Young people mattered, and they had a voice.
Clearly, the depth of the liturgical moment was lost on me, and there is so much else to understand about this passage of the Bible. But my childhood delight in this story wasn’t completely wrong either. And it’s especially relevant in the context of Education. Jesus is listening to the elders of the church, but also asking questions, even advancing new knowledge. Here is Jesus boldly interrogating the established tradition and communicating deep truths in a context where he was unquestionably underestimated. This in an environment where he would normally be dismissed, taken for granted or expected to be silent. I would like to think that, despite his divinity, it took courage and incredible self-belief to do what he did.
There is another important aspect of this lovely story. In re-reading Luke, we can see that the child Jesus is in conversation with the rabbis. Here is the Christ child initiating what we might now call a Socratic dialogue. And here are the rabbis modeling good teaching, listening to and valuing the opinions of the child. Here, more than ever is a powerful story that teachers can and must remember to learn from their charges — that learning is a two-way street.
In a speech to our in-coming Education students, I used this example to frame their anticipated journey. I discussed the extraordinary gift that their future profession lays out for them, but one that will not be without its challenges and hurdles. I noted that there would be days when they would feel entirely unprepared for what they had to do, ‘when you will feel more like a cop than a teacher, an exhausted guardian rather than an inspired motivator.’
But the reality is that the work they will be doing if it’s fed from the heart, has the potential to transform and uplift like few other professions in this world. Their students will represent all aspects of society, and they will need love, inspiration, discipline, and humour. The students may feign disinterest while secretly marvelling at the world the teachers are opening up for them — even though they might not be able to tell them that in the moment because it wouldn’t be cool. They will find, as I did, that the letters of thanks come years, sometimes even decades later, by students who were inspired by them, but who have only just put the pieces together.
The reality, of course, is that prospective student teachers need to be prepared for the classroom, mind, body and spirit. They need to have real-world experience, but also a wide context to understand the diversity of experience that they will face. It is the job of a university to do just that: to offer depth and breadth, context and meaning, the chance to succeed and even at times to fail. Of all things, perhaps compassion is the most important thing for all teachers to take into their classrooms because we live now, more than ever, in a wounded world.
As a consequence of this preparation, though, when they go out into the real world they will be amazing: in their knowledge, in their passion for ideas, and in what they are prepared to give back to their students and their community. It will be important for them to identify some strong role models early on so that they have a base of reference — especially when the going gets tough. And to my mind, there can be no role model more inspirational than the child in that stained-glass window. When our new teachers do get into the classroom, they should do what Jesus did in his: speak truth to power; challenge established ideas; understand the rules but not follow them blindly and inflexibly; and inspire people to look at the world through a different lens, with heart, with passion and with commitment. If they do that, their success is guaranteed.
By: Dr. Gerry Turcotte, President & Vice-Chancellor of St. Mary's University
Once per month, St. Bonaventure Pastor Fr. Colin O’Rourke brings Jesus into local schools for Eucharistic Adoration.
The Sisters of Divine Mercy play music as students gather in the gym, followed by a short talk. Then, Fr. O’Rourke exposes Jesus, fully present in the Blessed Sacrament, in the monstrance on the altar. He invites students to sit silently before God in prayer for 5-10 minutes, closing with benediction and a prayer to make a spiritual communion.
“It’s a bit counterintuitive to have a bunch of elementary school students sit quietly, people just think that’s not going to happen. And invariably, you can hear a pin drop. The kids are actually very attentive,” said Fr. O’Rourke.
St. Bonaventure Youth Minister Adam Soos coordinates the devotion between the parish and St. Boniface Elementary, St. Philip Elementary, St. Don Bosco Elementary/Junior High and St. Bonaventure Junior High. He said a transferring student asked him to call his new principal to ensure the school offers adoration.
“There is a lot of busyness in life,” said Soos. “Adoration is different from everything else. Instead of feeling scattered or worried, we feel peace. This is utterly authentic and the kids can pick up on it.”
Adoration is a relatively uncommon devotion in schools. In Soos seven years of youth ministry at St. Bonaventure, he’s noticed principals new to the school are usually apprehensive until they experience it.
“They say ‘wow, I’m sad I haven’t had this for my entire career,’” said Soos. “We get feedback that the school can seemingly be in chaos and after, for the rest of the day everyone is happy, content and there is a sense of peace.”
Soos notices more students attend Mass or a parish youth event following adoration in school. Fr. O’Rourke agrees. He said bringing Jesus to school students is more effective than simply inviting them to attend adoration in the parish, but in doing so, students are often inspired to follow Jesus to church.
Diocesan Moderator Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon, former St. Bonaventure pastor, introduced adoration in these schools in 2010. When he was reassigned to Our Lady of the Rockies in Canmore, he instituted 20 minutes of guided reflection and silence before the Blessed Sacrament twice a month in Our Lady of the Snows School; a devotion, the current pastor, Fr. Nathan Siray continues.
The celebration of Catholic Education Week across Canada is an opportunity for our faith communities to promote this important ministry of the Church. The theme for Catholic Education Week 2019 is Rejoice and Be Glad. The theme is inspired by Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation of the same name which speaks to the call to holiness in our world. To celebrate the gift of Catholic Education together with our Catholic schools, please find the resources below:
That mission is what is crudely written in a child’s handwriting on a large post-it note at the main exit of our family home. It’s a big goal - getting to heaven, especially with all the personality flaws, conflicts, imperfections - and those are just a few of my shortcomings - we haven’t even addressed the other seven people in my family!
I didn’t start out on this motherhood journey thinking I wanted a large family. Often God’s plan for our lives goes in completely different directions than expected. My husband Dave and I have six beautiful kids ages ranging in age from almost 3 to 16. Each of my children is very individual, with different needs, temperaments, wants, goals and dreams. How do we as a family balance all that chaos and get to our ultimate goal? With grace, prayer and a lot of outside help.
In what seems like a former life, I was a Special Education teacher. In the classroom every child had an individualized plan to get them to their desired educational goal. My educational goals for our kids are for them to develop good character and to learn how to learn. With these ideals in mind, our family has been through it all in the search for the perfect educational opportunity for each of the kids. At different stages of our family life, we have homeschooled, tried blended school, done online classes, gone to private schools and finally landed in publicly-funded Catholic schools.
Through it all, the one commonality that we needed to be present: faith. What we found through our educational journey was our family needs other supportive adults to help us mold our children into the godly citizens that we hope they become. We need other people to challenge us, grow with us and keep us on our journey. We have been blessed to have some amazing teachers, priests and friends help us in the formation of our kids.
Right now, all our school-age children are in the Calgary Catholic system. What a blessing to have a publicly funded system with faith intertwined into the message. Here is the beauty I see: all my children will eventually need to retain their faith in the secular world. It is easier to surround them with people who are as serious about the ultimate goal as ourselves. In this increasingly secular world, it is tough not to feel the pressures of conformity banging relentlessly at our family door. I know there is a balance, Catholic schools invite children in, from all walks and journeys. However, the backbone of the school is Christ. Sometimes it’s hard to see Him, but He is invited in. The door is open to our children and community. This allows my children to go to school with diversity in thought and culture, which gives our family the opportunity to discuss serious questions and have heartfelt conversations about topics of faith and life before they leave our home.
At a Catholic school, the environment feels like home, because Christ is there. How we get to heaven is through Christ. In faith, I hope we will all complete our family mission and we will continue to learn and grow together to get there.
Written by Kimberly Cichon
The gift of publicly funded Catholic education in Alberta is a true blessing. As a community we are called in gratitude, faith and action to ensure that our children and future generations continue to learn and grow in our Catholic schools.
The mission of GrACE is to inspire, invigorate and embolden the spirit of Catholic education in order to unite, engage, educate and communicate with one voice on its behalf. GrACE is a partnership of stakeholders resolutely committed to Catholic education within the province of Alberta.
GrACE invites all those committed to Catholic education, through the unity of the Holy Spirit, to be advocates and witnesses for our schools’ successes and their future.
In your homes, your neighborhoods, your schools and your parishes. Watch for and get involved with your local GrACE team. Tell your stories of Catholic education. Let your voice be heard.
Every day is a celebration of Catholic education. Let us be grateful for our blessings and commit our support.
Did You Know?
I’ve always believed that I get put somewhere for a reason. I went through all these steps—losing a job, applying for another one—so I could be where I am supposed to be. God put me here. Now I am looking forward to being baptized. To make sure that I continue learning about God on my faith journey, I’ve added apps to my phone, and I go to Church more. It has been so rewarding. I used to be fearful, but now I feel incredible love and acceptance. I have a big sense of family that I never had before.
Kindergarten teacher, St. Anthony's School
Christ the Redeemer Catholic School Division
She comes to school hungry and afraid. He walks the halls alone. Both are noticed by their high school peers, but the latter don’t often know what to do. Some will reach out, some will say a prayer—and thanks to a social justice initiative championed by Calgary’s Catholic high schools, others will mobilize for change.
Organized by the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) and its 12 high school chaplains, the second-annual Social Justice Summit is a day-long event designed to inspire Catholic high schoolers who feel called to action, says Cathy Sandau, summit organizer and a consultant with the district’s Religious Education and Family Life department for grades 7 to 12.
“Our high school students are looking for ways to do Christ’s work in their schools and city and the theme of this year’s summit; We are the Hands and Feet of Christ, reinforces that desire.”
A proponent of the summit, Simoni believes the event helps students develop a greater connection to Christ while nurturing their faith through discipleship and evangelization. After last year’s summit, Simoni worked with students at Grandin to launch a social justice initiative to help economically-vulnerable students afford lunch.
Building on the success of a competition staged at last year’s summit, each of the 13 schools at the 2019 summit has been asked to present a 60-second video pitch to earn a $1,000 grant. The money will help the winning school launch or enhance a social justice program of its own. “It’s really wonderful to see what the students come up with,” says Marilou LeGeyt, outreach ministries coordinator with the Calgary Catholic Diocese.
Last year’s top prize went to Bishop Grandin’s affordable lunch program. “One of my favourite pitches was for a peer-to-peer support program for immigrant students at Father Lacombe High School,” recalls LeGeyt.
This year’s grant, sponsored by the Calgary Catholic Education Fund, is called the Bishop Henry Social Justice Grant and Simoni admits he’s excited to see what issues the students decide to tackle.
While the video competition is likely to be one of the summit’s highlights, Sandau is also excited about student reaction to the rest of the program. Participants will attend three of six breakout sessions led the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, L’Arche Calgary, Inn from the Cold, Mission Mexico and Development & Peace. The sixth session will be hosted by Dwight Farahat, a spoken-word poet and songwriter from Siksika First Nation.
Over the lunch break, students will visit a kind of social justice trade fair to interact with representatives from Providence Care Centre, CAWST (Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology), Calgary Homeless Foundation, Catholic Christian Outreach, Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, NET Ministries and Ten Thousand Villages. The Diocesan social justice department will also be represented, as will one of the Diocese’s major social justice initiatives, Feed the Hungry.
“Our goal is to give students a place to talk to each other about what they’re already doing in their schools and community and to learn what others are doing—and how they might get involved,” says Sandau.
“This is the first year I’ve been involved, and I’m really excited to build on the success of the inaugural year,” adds Sandau. “Young people of faith have so much to offer. It makes sense to connect students with the people and organizations who want their help—and to encourage them to develop new initiatives, too.”
Written by: Joy Gregory
There is no arguing that digital technology has become a way of life for nearly all of us. We use our smartphones, tablets and other devices to stay ‘plugged into’ the world. We connect, we search, we share, we communicate …all through our devices. It is an internet generation, but is it too much? How do we navigate through this digital world and how do we help students do the same?
Christ The Redeemer (CTR) Catholic Schools has launched a new initiative in its 17 schools that focuses on supporting students living in this busy and noisy digital world. As author, speaker and podcaster Matt Fradd puts it, “helping maintain an internal filter in an unfiltered world.”
The purpose of the initiative, called #Relationships in a Digital Age, is to develop both curriculum and school culture which will help students to examine the impact that screen time and smartphones have on their relationships with God and each other, with an overarching personal wellness focus. CTR will challenge students to unplug, be present and look up and notice the world around them.
With support from parents and school staff, students will be able to challenge today’s cultural norms and look thoughtfully into the areas of mental health, relationships, sustained attention and responsible decision-making. There are growing concerns surrounding the increased use of technology by students in our care such as cyberbullying, shaming, sexting and pornography. The motto of #Relationships is: “to create a culture around the use of technology that teaches balance between our digital lives and the lives we lead face-to-face to love in community as God intended.”
Students in our care need support in evaluating the impact of all the “noise” in their lives. Our faith is the logical starting point in developing a response to some of these online safety and relational issues. The first relationship our students need to cultivate is the one with God, followed by Christ’s second greatest commandment, which is love thy neighbour. Drawing on concepts related to the Theology of the Body philosophy and the Fourth R© (relationship) program, lesson sets will be developed for students in Grades 4 to 11, focusing on students' relational safety and personal wellness as it relates to our increasingly online world.
Partnering with parents will be a key part of this initiative. We will share information with parents relating to healthy best practices regarding screen time for the benefit of their toddlers through to the teenage years. The issue of smartphone use becomes something parents should reflect on the moment they consider letting their children access a smartphone. With older children, parents are the school’s key partner in talking to their children about what they are learning in school about screen time and smartphone use.
We were blessed to be the recipients of funds raised at this year’s Bishop’s Dinner. Those funds will help to support this initiative by gathering teachers in the spring of 2019 from Grades 4-11 to create the lesson sets at each grade level. Lesson sets will include detailed plans and developed resources, with implementation scheduled for September 2019. Teacher professional development will be a part of the implementation process.
For more information on this initiative visit http://www.redeemer.ab.ca/Relationships.php
Written by: Cindy Nickerson, Coordinator of Communications
Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers