For the past four years, at St. Matthew School, our community has been faithful to praying the holy rosary daily in our school chapel. Each day, we have invited students from Division I, II or III to meet me in the chapel to pray the rosary before lunch and the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 pm before dismissal.
During the 2019-20, when the pandemic hit and students and staff were sent home, we knew we needed to continue this powerful prayer virtually. Every day, from March to June, I led our community in praying the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet through our Youtube channel. I remember one of our parents, who was a frontline nurse working long hours in ICU telling me that it gave her great peace to pray the rosary with me as she got home after a long day’s work. Another family said they started each and every day praying the rosary during the lockdown as a way to begin their day with gratitude and prayers for our school community and our world. During summer break, I had a parent reach out to tell me how her mother had recently passed away. She asked me to pray the rosary for her soul.
It took a while, but after four years of consistently praying to Our Lady as a community and teaching our students how powerful and comforting the rosary is, it has now become a staple in our ordinary school days. Now that we are back in school, we continue to pray the rosary on our Youtube channel but I record the rosary live from a classroom filled with students! Teachers will reserve a time during the week for me to visit their classroom and we pray the rosary together. We then send the YouTube link to our parent community and all staff and teachers can play the recording during the day when the time suits them best. Our Grade two teacher Mrs. Champion plays the recording every day during lunch while her students are eating. Another teacher includes the rosary in her Religion lessons, another during her CTF Meditation and relaxation course and another teacher starts each class praying a decade of the rosary before her lesson begins. We are teaching our students about Mary and the power of the Holy Rosary.
St. Louis de Montfort tells us that “Mary is the easiest, safest and quickest way to Jesus”. When we give our prayers to her through praying the rosary, she puts them on a silver platter and delivers them to her son, Jesus. At St. Matthew School, our main goal is to be Christ-centered. Through praying the rosary, practicing the virtues of Jesus Christ, sharing the daily scripture verse written on all classroom whiteboards and our student-led morning prayers, together we are moving closer to our goal as people of God to become more and more like Jesus every day. The rosary gives our school community strength, direction, peace and graces from above.
We are advocates for Catholic Education for a number of issues close to our hearts. One, we know our children have functioned much better in a faith-based atmosphere than in one without God at the center. With a common denominator of faith, everyone operates with the base belief that God is number one, our actions are to reflect Him, so hope, faith and love become central tenants around which the schools and teachers function.
With Catholic Education there is a basic belief that each individual student is made in the image of God and is therefore treated with respect and care. They are seen as unique individuals and are valued and treasured as such. They are seen for who they are in Christ and who they can become in Christ. Students are encouraged to live out Christian principles and values in every aspect of their lives.
When our daughter started at Christ the King School in Leduc, Alberta, she was greeted by each student in her class with a handshake, welcomed and felt included right away. This greatly reduced her anxiety of starting at a new school in grade 8; she had just moved from another great Catholic school in her hometown.
We highly value the dedication to excellence of the staff and administration at Christ the King in academics and life skill development. We know, and have, complete confidence that our daughters have been, and are, the beneficiaries of that excellence. Personally, as parents, we have been valued and invited to participate in the Christ the King community and have had the privilege of being active participants in our girls' education and extra-curricular activities.
Shannon and Lynnette Whitehouse
It was 2012. My then-girlfriend, Chelsea, had completed her BEd and had taught part-time for a year in Saskatoon. A full-time position there proved precarious, following a teachers’ strike and cutbacks. Although she loved the Catholic Saskatchewan school system, she was discerning a move to greener pastures.
I was working for the summer before entering the Ed program in my 4th year at the UBC campus in Kelowna BC, where I grew up. Having travelled to Alberta for work before school started again, I was living in a camp about 500 km drive north of Edmonton.
In June, we started a 30-day novena to St. Joseph, over the phone, to discern Chelsea’s future career path. I was most excited about her application to teach at my old elementary school in Kelowna. A move there would end the long-distance factor in our relationship and would potentially see us teaching in the same diocese if I were to get hired at my secondary school, Immaculata Regional High, after convocation.
The prayer was beautiful, but the conditions were not, at least not on my end of the call. The cell reception so close to the Northwest Territories was abysmal and forced me to walk to the top of a nearby hill, which didn’t stop the mosquitoes from tracking me down. Sometimes Chelsea would lead, other times it was me, reading the prayer on my blackberry screen between swats at mossies and checking to see if the call had been dropped. This was anything but a “When Harry Met Sally” type of romantic scene on the dusty bi-centennial highway to Greater Slave Lake; more like a real game of telephone that mostly left us wondering what words the other had just prayed.
“We must believe that the life of St. Joseph - ”
“Pray for us.”
“- Not finished – spent in the presence of Jesus and Mary – “
“Pray for us.”
“Almost done – was a continual prayer – “
“Lord hear our prayer.”
“Oh for – Abounding in acts of faith…”
And so it went for 30 days. St. Joseph must not have minded the static, because on the day following the novena, day 31, Chelsea received a call requesting her to do a Skype interview for the 5/6 split position in Kelowna, at St. Joseph Elementary. We were elated and thankful to God for his faithfulness through the intercession of St. Joseph.
Chelsea was hired to work in the much sought-after Okanagan Valley and moved from Saskatoon the next month. We were engaged that November and married by the following August. We did end up teaching in the same diocese for a year before welcoming our daughter Hannah. Early on in our relationship, Chelsea had always remained aloof about our future, leaving the distance between us to be closed, or not, by the providence of God. St. Joseph continues to be a model for this docility in our household and we have returned to that novena on recent occasions, most notably when I applied to Calgary Catholic in 2016. His influence in our lives is real and testifies to the goodness of God that cannot fail.
Immediate and drastic changes took place the spring and summer of 1999. I gave up my part-time job, sold our acreage and relocated to Wetaskiwin, Alberta, in September. I prayed to God to please help me find a new purpose for my extra time and energy.
A thought emerged to help grade-ones learn how to read! I recalled how difficult my grade one experience was when I could not speak English. I remembered the shame and humiliation I felt when I was strapped because I could not read. I thought through my new-found inspiration. Later that day, we were in the principal’s office of Sacred Heart School and I expressed my desire. The principal, Mr. Simms, replied, “I could use 25 more like you.” One week later in the school year of 1999-2000, I embarked on my mission!
Now, I’m well into my 18th continuous year in the grade one class of Mrs Zoria Verhegge, who is a caring, talented, and highly professional teacher.
Let me share my one-hour daily routine, starting with checking in at the office. Next, I’m welcomed by the teacher(s) and students as Grandma Rose. After singing Oh Canada and partaking in daily prayers, Mrs V. would update me on any current information. Each day, I work with two students, so I take the next two pupils on the roster one at a time. I spend about 20 minutes with each on a one-to-one basis. Enroute to our ‘room’, we pass a bank of lockers displaying the even numbers. I cover the numbers, and the child counts by 2 to 100. Once at our desk, we open our word work to show the ten new spelling words. The child will read as best they can. We then talk about each word, use it in a sentence, and print them on a whiteboard. Next, the words are covered and erased if spelt correctly by the student. They are delighted when the board is totally cleared. Lastly, the words are neatly printed in their workbook. This child is praised for their efforts and receives a sticker. By mid-January, several pupils are able to make simple sentences that are kept in a separate scribbler.
Back in the classroom, Mrs V. often asks me random questions, reflecting on my experience as a mother and grandmother. These questions contribute to classroom discussions. My presence is helpful in another aspect because some children don’t have a “grandmother” figure in their lives. Then…times up! I bid them goodbye for another day. I check out, and as I walk to the exit, I thank God for such a safe and caring Catholic school, where I have the privilege of helping some children learn to read.
I continue to volunteer with a vested interest because the more I pour into this service, the more healing I receive for my personal juvenile trauma. Truly a win-win situation.
Christmas time is such a beautiful time. I think of Mary often and wonder about the night she gave birth to Jesus. Did she look at him with awe? Did she stare at his button nose? Did she tickle his little toes? Did she put one finger in his little hand as his fingers wrapped around hers? Did she rub his hair and hold him tight? Did she cry? Did she say out loud, “This is my boy!”?
I am so blessed to be a mom of four beautiful kids. With each one I remember just staring at them through the night in awe of God and his blessings. Thinking that Mary was a mother just like me puts the very first Christmas in such a different light. Do we consider the anticipation that Mary and Joseph felt while waiting for the birth of Jesus? And the joy they experienced when he was born! As a parent, I know that this waiting time was very special.
A book that I read to my Kindergarten students is Little One, We Knew You’d Come, by Sally-Lloyd Jones. I invite the children to bring a baby picture to class and encourage parents to have a conversation with their child about the anticipation they felt as they waited for their child to arrive.
Do we take the time and look at the children we teach as the blessing that they are?
My sister (a doctor) just told me about a funeral she attended recently, for an eight-year-old girl. Fifteen hundred people were there. She loved school so much that she came hooked up to an oxygen tank to help her breathe. The principal moved his desk outside the teacher’s door in case the little girl needed help. Her parents spent the days at the school reading books and newspapers while their daughter was in class. Any moment could be her last. Everyone waited. Just like her parents had waited for nine months for her to be born – although this waiting was going to end with a goodbye. She went to school Friday, blueish because her lungs were failing. Her dying wish was to go to school. She would never miss the Remembrance Day Assembly. She LOVED school. She died two days later.
Staff and families did not know that Friday would be their last day with this eight-year-old girl. The principal was asked to give the eulogy at the funeral. Everyone in the school was there. She loved stuffies, and her parents brought every stuffy she owned. When the children came in the church, they were offered a stuffy to cuddle. One last act of love… to love the things she loved most!
This Christmas, let us be mindful of the impact and privilege we have to be a teacher or work in a school. We play such an important role in bringing joy to the families of the students we teach. Families send their precious little ones (or big ones) to us daily to love, teach, support, help and nurture. Each child is a gift. God’s gift. Our mission is to look into the eyes of every child we teach and see the face of God. It is a blessing to be a teacher, a coach, a support worker, an administrator and custodial staff. We all have an opportunity to celebrate the life of a child.
If you have ever wondered how Catholic Education is impacting students’ lives, the Lakeland Catholic School Division annual Girls’ Retreat is a great example of how this is taking place in our communities.
Fifty girls in grades 5-12 participated in the sixth annual all girls retreat on January 31, 2020. Students arrived at École Notre Dame High School in Bonnyville at 6:00 pm on Friday and stayed until noon the following day.
We are so proud of our Youth Liturgical Leadership team who led all of the small groups, activities and worship. Organizers engaged the girls in a number of faith-based reflective and group activities designed to bring them closer. During the retreat, girls participated in an obstacle course teaching them that they can overcome their struggles by reaching out to God, others and their family. Using their strength, and the strengths of those around them; they can overcome the challenges they face and then, with their experience, help others in the future. Grade 12 student Keanna Reid gave an inspiring talk about the impact faith has on this aspect of her life and the importance of friendships.
Written by Amanda Wildman, Lakeland Catholic School District
Photos submitted by Amanda Wildman.
Catholic Education touches the hearts and souls of those we serve and teaches in ways we often don’t get an opportunity to see. I’m blessed; I have seen the impact!
My teaching career started in grade one, my dream grade. I wanted my students to experience what I had when I started school - God’s great love. My own early Catholic education had fixed this on my heart and now God gave me a chance to share. It was a fun year. As a math/science project we made rosaries. Making a rosary is a great way to teach patterning, counting to 50, grouping by 10, colors and most importantly prayer.
It was a joyous project. The rosaries were made with bright wooden beads and sparkly glitter-glue popsicle stick crosses. They took over a month to make. It was great!
I’m now working in a very different capacity for our school division and my office space is upstairs in our local high school. I often run into kids that I’ve taught as I am walking to and from my office. One day, on my way to my office, I heard a student (very loudly) leave a classroom that I had just walked by. I turned around and recognized them. They weren’t happy. They look up at me and stopped in their tracks.
I wondered what I should say as there clearly was a conflict. Before I had a chance to say anything, they looked at me and said, “You’re my grade one teacher. We made that beaded thing that we prayed with all the time.” I was shocked. I hadn’t thought of the rosary project in years. I answered yes and this student told me they still had theirs. I was even more shocked. Of all the things that could have been said or done at that moment, we talked about the rosary! What power the rosary holds.
I can’t tell you how it went between the student and the teacher as they turned and went back into the room. What I can tell you is that the power of the rosary changed the outcome. Our Catholic schools change outcomes for students at the least expected times and for years beyond the moment they are in our care.
This encounter gave me an idea for our local elementary school. We are fortunate to have Missionary of Charity sisters in our town. They love working with children and they love the rosary! For the past three years they have been coming into our elementary school each October to make rosaries. They spend a morning making rosaries and praying with the students. One of the sisters told me how during the summer when they were walking in a nearby community, one of the children they saw said to them, “Hey aren’t you the rosary Sisters?” She smiled as she told me this story and laughed; “The rosary Sisters”! How beautiful that our Catholic schools teach this life changing prayer to our students.
Submitted by Cynthia Martin, St. Paul Education Catholic Education Coordinator
Photo submitted by Cynthia Martin
To celebrate a nativity is to celebrate the birth of someone or something new. September 8 is the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, also known as her birthday. It was back on September 8, 1995 that Clear Water Academy, a private, Catholic school, first opened its doors in Calgary to a mission that would form Christian leaders for the transformation of society.
On September 8, 2020, Clear Water Academy celebrated its 25th Anniversary since its foundation on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, Patroness of our school, and the opening of a brand-new Elementary school building dedicated to and called St. Thomas More Hall – a nativity of its own kind.
With hopeful anticipation we watched our new building come to completion over the summer months. St. Thomas More Hall is beautiful; a proper nod to the excellence that takes place within its walls. In addition to our peaceful new chapel, colourful library, Atrium, and outdoor learning areas, it has large classrooms that easily house our small class sizes, and are outfitted with sinks for optimal handwashing, making physical distancing and other safety protocols much more achievable.
Just two days after the Alberta Government announced the cancellation of in-person classes in early March of 2020, faculty at Clear Water Academy pivoted to CWA Interim Home Learning and witnessed the resilience of our entire community over the months of an uncharted learning environment. Our teachers sent home work packages and held classes over Google Meet, and provided hours of one-on-one support over Zoom. Our morning intercom announcements took the form of videos, and our students worked in new ways to stay engaged in their learning. It was a proud display of the tenacity and the unity of parents and faculty working together for the normalcy of a school routine for our students despite the daily-changing news updates, fears, uncertainties, disappointments in cancelled plans, and threatening despair we were all, in our humanity, experiencing at the time.
We believe that these victories in the practical elements of education were the fruits of our Intellectual, Spiritual, Human, and Apostolic educational model. Since God has given and blessed our mission and since we have, by grace, echoed Mary’s “yes” to fulfill the call, when fear tempted us to panic, our faith reminded us to hope and to persevere. It urged us to be thankful, even, for such a clear return to the heart of trust that comes from knowing that we have a Saviour in Jesus when nothing else seems as it should be.
The long-awaited celebration of our 25th anniversary is of unrepeatable significance as we welcomed our students back to campus. What joy we experienced - with masks, washed hands, and physical distance - to see our students and parents again! It’s safe to say that it has required “all sanitized hands on deck” to implement our School Re-entry Plan that has been prepared for the safety of our faculty, students, families, and greater community.
We are grateful to our faculty for their dedication to the mission they’ve been called to - and to our parents for their trust and partnership with us in the ongoing education and formation of their children. And finally, we are grateful that Jesus resides within our school chapels and that He is known more and more by our faculty, families, and students in every heartfelt prayer, learning activity, kind encounter, and friendly encouragement that make up our days.
I moved to Edson in the summer of 1997, only days after my wedding, to join the Living Waters Family. I have been a proud member of this family ever since, working at both Vanier and Holy Redeemer. As an educator, I have never known working outside of a Catholic, faith-filled, school environment. Information on working in a non-Catholic school has only come to me from conversations with other teachers, parents, students and my own personal observations. All I can say for certain is that the “feeling” when entering a Catholic School is unique from entering any other school. No matter where the school is, that feeling is unmistakable.
On September 25th, 2014 I experienced one of the darkest days of my life. A close friend, who was also a former staff member and wife to a current staff member, passed away suddenly. I wish I was a gifted enough writer to properly convey the loss that I felt that day for our school community, my family and friends, myself and her husband. I was devastated. When I arrived at work shortly after 8 am that morning I was immediately met by weeping students and staff members. Never before had I felt such sadness and loss.
As I made my way through the foyer, I saw something I will never forget and to this day brings a smile to my face. Our Superintendent and her Deputy Superintendent were there offering condolences to staff and students. They probably didn’t hear the news until 6 am that morning and drove to Edson (an hour drive) before I was even able to make it to the school, to be with us in our time of grief. I honestly can’t remember what they said to me that day but I clearly remember the feeling; the feeling that God is with us and that, eventually, we’d be ok.
We have a chapel in our Catholic school, which was a great source of comfort for me. Over the next days and weeks, I would spend a few minutes at the beginning and end of the day sitting in quiet, sobbing, reflection. As I sat there suffering, Jesus was there too suffering on the cross with me and for a few moments each day, I didn’t feel alone.
Our Principal, who is a deeply religious man, was also a great source of comfort to me. He and I engaged in many conversations about life and death throughout that school year. Listening to him talk about his faith helped me to heal from this great loss. I can really never thank him enough for that time, and since he retired, I miss our theological talks.
Would any of this be possible in a non-Catholic school? Of course. Catholics are not the sole custodians of empathy and compassion. However, the fact that we can bring faith into our grieving process for our staff and students cannot be overstated. It helped me immensely and I cannot imagine what that time would have been like for me without my Living Waters Family.
It is June and the time of year when our young people complete their studies and gather for the celebration of their graduation. But this year is different. The COVID-19 Coronavirus restrictions have curtailed the in-person gatherings and reshaped them into “virtual graduations.” This is new for all of us but it should not diminish in any way the joy we feel at seeing young people succeed whether it be the milestone of a graduation from kindergarten or the graduation from Grade 8, Grade 12, College or University.
I add my voice to the good wishes and encouragement which our graduates of 2020 are receiving. You are a graduating class with unique stories to tell and we anticipate the wisdom of your insights and leadership in the future. The following are for your reflection as you celebrate the completion of studies and look toward the next steps – be it further studies, a career, a religious vocation or some time to chart your future path in life.
The impact of a Catholic education was recently highlighted by Dr. Anthony Fauci, MD who has had a critical role in the pandemic leadership for the United States. Dr. Fauci graduated from Regis High School and in his own words he stated the “tenets of the Jesuit tradition sustained him throughout his life and career.” The imprint of a Catholic Education shapes the character of a person in striving to live a life of goodness but also in assuming roles of responsibility in promoting the common good in both ordinary and extraordinary forms of service.
As graduates of 2020 it seems to me that you are being offered three important lessons during this pandemic.
In a recent video message to young people commemorating the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul II's birth, Pope Francis spoke about the challenges and obstacles faced by St. John Paul II as a young man and how his deep faith enabled him to overcome them. Pope Francis expressed the hope that the life and faith of St. John Paull II would “inspire within you the desire to walk courageously with Jesus, who is “the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal ‘more.’" (Pope Francis, May 18, 2020)
Graduates of 2020, persevere in prayer, follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and know that the Lord who calls you to embrace His Love will accomplish good works in and through you. Seek the “eternal more” as you celebrate your graduation in 2020.
I have been called to Catholic education and this vocational call has blessed and enriched my life in profound ways. As a teacher, principal and superintendent I have had varied and rich opportunities to experience the 5 Marks of Catholic Education first hand. In particular, I have found myself surrounded by colleagues who are authentic witnesses to the Gospel. I have worked with teachers who share their testimonies at staff retreats and liturgies. I have seen the sacrifices made by educators who are absolutely committed to going above and beyond for their students. I have experienced the prayers and actions of my colleagues in times of crisis and tragedy. I have seen extreme generosity and service. I have been surrounded by Gospel witnesses.
One such example that deeply affected me took place during a school administrator’s retreat at Mount St Francis in Cochrane. As one of the four superintendents responsible for creating the retreat, I would often build a time of adoration into our two days away. A few years ago we spent an hour with Jesus in adoration and administrators were invited to come and pray. Some stayed for ten minutes; some for much longer.
As often happens to me in adoration, I lost all track of time. I heard the quiet rustle of people leaving and I knew our hour was coming to a close. I opened my eyes and raised my head. I looked across the empty chapel and saw that only my three superintendent colleagues were still present and deep in prayer. One was on his knees in adoration. The second was focused intently on the front monstrance. The third was in the pew alongside me; his head bowed, hands clasped, immersed in his dialogue with God. I felt the Holy Spirit at that moment and I knew that I was in worship with men of faith and colleagues of integrity. While the chapel had emptied, our leaders remained in prayer, in service, in faith. Their witness to me and the administrators they served went beyond words to lived action---a true mark of Catholic leadership.
Written by Bonnie Annicchiarico, PhD, Director of Grateful Advocate of Catholic Education (GrACE)
My 27 years as an educator and administrator with the Calgary Catholic School District has afforded me a myriad of gifts in the countless number of students and families I have served and the inspiring colleagues I have worked alongside. It has also given me much to reflect on in terms of my vocation. At the center of this calling is my faith. It has become that intrinsic piece of my identity as an educational leader in my school community and in the school district.
I am blessed to work in a rich faith-filled environment at St. Clare elementary school with colleagues that have a similar desire for the intentional permeation of our Catholicity. After arriving at this location five years ago, I launched a weekly staff prayer initiative which faithfully continues years after its beginning.
From its inception, colleagues would voluntarily sign-up on a morning to sharing a prayer and a short meaningful reflection of their choice. Many also include a song or a video to highlight theme or topic of prayer. Most importantly, intentions are offered for various individuals in need. This initiative has been well-received by staff with several faithfully attending on a regular basis since its beginning a few years ago. With many present, the venue has seen a pilgrimage from the office to the staffroom and now the Learning Commons library. I then make it a priority to share these stories, reflections and prayers out to inspire and inform others on staff who were not able to attend. Also included on this Faith Formation “fan-out” are special friends of St. Clare school in the school district, diocese and local parish community.
I am so grateful that my colleagues have embraced this Faith Formation initiative in the way they do as well as the faith-based measures which allow us to ensure our Catholicism permeates throughout all that we do. Many have commented that gathering as a school “family” in this meaningful manner is a great way to start the day, end of the week and build community with colleagues. Further, we have learned a lot about each other through the disclosing of personal stories which have driven the prayer and reflection shared by staff members. Personally, I always look forward to these moments as times to pause, take a step back, “exhale” as I head into my “inner chapel” to escape the busy-ness of our daily lives – even if it’s for a few minutes. I am truly inspired by my colleagues to continue to share and come together to pray and celebrate our faith.
In closing, as Catholics, our faith is meant to be lived and celebrated. As members of a school community, we are involved in a vocation that is about people and the forging of relationships and bonds. We are all social and relational beings who have an inherent desire for relationships and connections. This wonderful initiative of weekly staff prayer has blended both ideals together as it has built and supported a strong sense of community and as members are afforded opportunities to share their faith, lives and our stories. Most important, it has allowed us to grow spiritually and walk with each other along our respective faith journeys.
Written by: Mark Hickie, Vice Principal of St. Clare School, Calgary
Several years have passed since Fr. Mike (Catfish) Mireau was the parish priest at St. Michael Church, Leduc. This was his first parish and he was `superhero` ready to shepherd when he arrived in 2004. He was super quick witted and passionate! His homilies at times were stand-up comedy linked to pop culture and Star Wars that brought a wide-eyed look from some. After the laughs, he purposefully led back to the gospel message, touching our hearts and always ending with `God is Love`(1 John 4:8). Fr. Mike was a brilliant academic, excellent communicator and wonderful story-teller. On the topic of perseverance he related it to changing the alternator on his Hyundai and described it with great fun, detail and agonizing strain!
Fr. Mike captured the hearts of students at our Catholic Schools here in Leduc. He professed his support of Catholic education as often as he could – he reminded parents during the baptism of their child the importance of educating their children through a Catholic school. I was so grateful to him for making this claim and reminding us all that Catholic schools are an extension of the parish and contribute to the mission of the church. Because of his easy connection to young people he spent a lot of time at the schools. Mass at all schools was a big commitment but when he committed to regular confession times, the commitment could be for many hours. He offered confession at Christ the King Jr/Sr High School in Leduc as often as he could. Confession time was connection time, Fr. Mike was easy to talk to – his heart knew their struggles.
Fr. Mike was ahead of his time in using social media. He used it to teach and share the Catholic faith. His website http://fathercatfish.com/ has so many resources; videos, homilies, many interesting papers - `History of the Entire Universe` and `God is Love` - M.Div. Synthesis 2001, – excellent for families, Catholic school teachers and students! He spoke openly about his cancer and documented it on his site. After his passing our parish and school communities honoured him in different ways. A student initiated a park bench in his memory which is situated near the church overlooking Telford Lake. At Christ the King School families support an annual monetary award with a beautifully carved cross to a student who demonstrates Fr. Mike`s virtue of strong faith and staying true to one`s self, especially when it is difficult and lonely. At Fr. Leduc Catholic School, the school motto is `God is Love`. Our Catholic schools are forever grateful to parish priests who accompany students and meet them where they are at – these are God moments. We know grace will take care of the rest and students will draw on their Catholic education experience, recognizing the love of Christ in their own faith journey.
Written by: Michelle Lamer, trustee for STAR Catholic School District
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.
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Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers