One of the traditional rites of passage in our society is high school graduation. All schools, from small town to big city, take time at the end of the school year to recognize the culmination of the kindergarten to grade 12 educational journey for students, their families, and the wider community. In our Catholic schools, we understand these ceremonies as an opportunity to reflect our Catholic identity and to contribute to a shared spirituality of communion. Our students have experienced the richness of our faith in many ways through their time in our schools, from classroom prayers and liturgies to service projects and retreats. In Holy Spirit Catholic schools, each of our graduating classes also mark this moment with a Mass as they are sent forth on their next steps.
In the past three years, schools across the province have had to shift these ceremonies through many different modes, from online delivery to drive-through graduations, hybrid versions and outdoor events, as they sought to comply with the regulations prevailing at that time. While these celebrations were meaningful, personal and reflected the best efforts of each school staff, one of the blessings of this spring has been the ability to gather together again.
In the third year of our Holy Spirit Catholic Schools three year Faith Plan, Making our Mark, Journey of an Intentional Disciple, our key scripture to focus on has been from Romans 12: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”
This has been a most fitting verse for us this spring, as our gatherings in each of our communities have powerfully reaffirmed the deep human need that we have for spiritual connection with one another, and how vital it is for us to be together as we celebrate. While we know that we are one body in Christ whether we are gathered in one place or not, graduations this spring have reinforced the scale and scope of our faith community, and how we belong to one another in that community. Our physical presence with one another shows us that even as we proceed along our educational and faith journeys individually, we are never detached from the one body in Christ.
As I reflect upon this year’s graduation class, I am again reminded of God’s providence for us in all of the experiences of our lives. The three year journey that we in Holy Spirit have experienced in our faith plan, and the three year high school journey that this graduating class has experienced, were marked indelibly by the Covid pandemic. However, as a collective group, we are not marked solely by the pandemic. We might think instead of the wide range of educational experiences that students have had to prepare them to graduate, and the warmth of the interactions between staff and students as they engaged in the learning process. We might think of the ways in which our schools and communities have supported each other, and our shared joy in recognizing our graduates. We might choose to see the recent past as an opportunity to focus on and develop the virtues of fortitude, patience, and constancy. We might remind ourselves that one of the great things about a high school graduation is, that as an end and a beginning, it is a time filled with hope. And, in our Catholic schools, we know that hope is not solely our hopes for something, but a hope in Christ and in God’s promises and plans for us.
As we pray this month for our graduates, let us pray that their hope be abundant and expansive, that they continue to deepen their faith, and that they witness in their words and actions the unity we share in the body of Christ.
After three challenging years, the 2022 graduates gathered last month at Holy Family Parish to celebrate their graduation Mass. These students were in grade 10 when the pandemic hit, having the entirety of their high school education impacted. But they focused on opportunities rather than challenges, and persevered to reach this wonderful milestone.
Our division's theme this year was “Created in the Image of God”. Throughout the year, staff and students focused on the dignity, beauty, and uniqueness of each person. This theme was embedded in the graduation Mass in many facets. On the steps near the altar, each student’s graduation picture was displayed. In the homily, Fr. Rodel Abanto spoke of graduation being a commencement, i.e., a beginning. He reminded the students that they have all been made in the image of God and have been given unique gifts to impact the world in countless ways. At the conclusion of the Mass, Fr. Rodel prayed a special blessing over the cross necklaces, which were given by the Administration for each graduate as a stirring reminder of Jesus’ abounding love for them.
This graduation was a celebration of a community of members with unique backgrounds, experiences, and stories, all coming together in a beautiful tapestry. Many students have been part of Catholic education since kindergarten. Other students joined our Catholic division at various points in their educational journeys. In a recent religion review performed in our division, Dr. Dean Sarnecki asked students who had attended school in both the public and Catholic schools if they found a difference between the school systems. The students could not specifically identify the difference but noted that there was a special feeling in the Catholic system - that it was “just different” and offered “something more.” Hard to put their finger on, perhaps, but that “difference” was pervasive.
Another tremendous aspect of celebrating our graduating class was the 16 international students who graduated alongside their Canadian classmates. These students came from Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Denmark, Columbia, Ukraine, Japan, and Poland. They forged friendships that will last a lifetime and span many miles across the globe. Each one of these students was an important piece of the patchwork, the tapestry, of the Graduating Class of 2022.
We do not know what the future holds for our graduates, but we do know we are sending them out with numerous lessons learned. They have learned to be flexible; they have learned the value of working together; they have learned perseverance pays off; they have learned to be welcoming to others in their midst, and they have learned that they are created in the image and likeness of God. With these experiences woven together, forever a part of the tapestry of the Class of 2022, undoubtedly, they will thrive.
Photos from the Monsignor McCoy High School Graduation for Class 2022
In March of 2020, our world changed irrevocably with the immediate implementation of lockdowns, churches shuttering their doors and frequent moves to online learning for many students. We knew the pandemic and ensuring restrictions would impact upon our students but to what degree remained to be seen. During the nearly two years of living through a pandemic, students have repeatedly shown us a myriad of reactions and emotions to the ongoing issues and restrictions that have become a daily reality. As a Catholic school community, we have consistently sought to remind students of God’s continuous love for them, and that they play a very real and necessary part in God’s plan of Salvation. Faith and hope in the future are front and centre of our Christian message. Thankfully, this important and timely message was integral to an important day that we planned especially for our middle-year students at Bishop David Motiuk School and delivered virtually on January 27th, as part of our annual Faith Day.
This was a day created specifically for our students to connect with God and to find inspiration for building community within our school. We began the day with a simple but profound Liturgy led by Father Paul Kavanagh and Deacon Ryan Sales. This led us into sessions with three guest speakers. Father Leo Patalinghug, a priest and professional chef from Boston, led us on an entertaining but meaningful journey to develop our understanding of Jesus as food for our mind, body, and soul. Deacon Ryan Sales of Edmonton, shared his heartfelt journey to becoming a Deacon and how the journey is just as important as the destination. He reminded students that they are already living God’s plan for them. Finally, we finished the morning off with a video presentation created by Father Rob Galea, an Australian priest and international speaker at youth conferences, who was also a contestant on Australia’s Got Talent. Fr. Rob touched on the pandemic and how technology has been a wonderful way for us to keep in contact with each other but that it cannot replace personal connection and community. All the videos shared were specifically recorded for Bishop David Motiuk's MYP Faith Day, which was such a blessing to our school community. The sessions were directly relevant to and meant for our students during this time of great upheaval.
The execution of the day was a collaboration between several of our staff members who have become experts in navigating the challenges presented by the current pandemic restrictions. Many students shared wonderful reflections on what they heard, saw, and experienced as inspiration as they continued to live by the restrictions of a difficult school year. Many remarked that it was like the presenters were speaking directly to them and what they are going through.
As Catholic educators, we continue to teach through the lens of our faith tradition and our scriptures. We commit ourselves to “bringing Christ into our classrooms” so that students recognize that all of the facets of life and action are imbued by the presence and compassion of our loving Lord. Taking a special day each year to remind our students through the wisdom of great speakers, that we are meant for God, is a privileged opportunity to engage in the ongoing mission of evangelization. Our students are aware that the Lord accompanies them through difficult times, as members of a family, of a larger society, and at school. They know they are loved by God because they see it in action around them, and they hear about it through events such as our MYP Faith Day. What a grace it is to be able to cooperate with the Lord in sharing the beautiful message that reminds students that, “I am here with you always.” Our speakers tell us the truth of this message, and demonstrate through their inspirational talks, just where and how the Lord works in the ordinary, and in the extraordinary events such as a pandemic to draw us closer to the life of faith and hope
Written by Sunata Halliday from Edmonton Catholic School District.
“Those schools in Brooks are sure doing amazing things.” This comment made by my father-in-law started it all. I was four months away from graduating, unsure where I would end up, so I decided to look into ‘those schools’; after all, they were in my hometown.
I remembered the old brick building from my primary school years. Aesthetically, the outside still looked the same, but I would be forever changed by the inside. As I opened the heavy brown metal door, I clearly recall being overcome with an indescribable feeling. My heart fluttered and an overwhelming sense of peace and calm came over me. Even to this day, I cannot explain exactly what I experienced, but I do remember thinking, I need to be here.
The secretary, who is one of the most amazingly kind individuals I have ever met, greeted me at the front office. Her eyes were so welcoming and warm. We exchanged pleasantries and the reason for my visit. I took a seat, and shortly afterwards I was greeted by the principal. She too made an impression on me. Sitting in her office, not knowing her for more than five minutes, I could tell she was a sincere, kind, and compassionate soul, the kind of person anyone would want to work for. I shared my desire to do my teaching practicum at Holy Family Academy. It was a new adventure for the school to take on a practicum student, but she granted me the opportunity. We finalized plans and exchanged information, and that was the beginning of my journey in Catholic Education in Brooks.
Over 20 years later, my journey continues. Throughout the years, I have had the pleasure of teaching at Holy Family Academy and St. Joseph’s Collegiate, and currently I teach at Christ the King Academy. I have taught some of the best students one could ask for in almost every grade and subject. I have also taught the toughest of the tough, the ones others might give up on. Being able to use my faith as a guide, helped me immensely. They were the most challenging group I taught, but they had the biggest impact on me.
I am blessed to see Catholic education come full circle, as I am now teaching the children of some of my past students. The values and morals we instilled in our students then are becoming evident in the parents they are now and are reflected in their children who sit before me in class, an affirmation that we are doing good things here.
I still sense that indescribable feeling every day when I go to work. It fills me with contentment every time I open the doors. I was reignited in my faith and finally felt a sense of purpose, and I will be forever grateful for walking through those doors the first time. Trust me when I say, “Those schools in Brooks are sure doing some amazing things.” You should check them out.
My journey with Catholic education started in St. Catharines, Ontario, at a job fair that was being held by Brock University. Gary Chiste was standing at the Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools’ booth with a pack of Smarties and a contagious smile on his face. “Come for an interview!” he exclaimed. I had never thought about moving to Alberta. My plan in life was to work for the school board I had grown up in. I’d move back to my hometown, teach at my local Catholic high school and likely live with my mom to help around the house. But Christ the Redeemer had Smarties… and I couldn’t resist the Smarties.
I have grown up in Catholic schools all my life because I was blessed with parents who believed in the value of Catholic education. But after spending time with students in the classroom, something was definitely different about the Catholic culture at Christ the King Academy. Each interaction with students was done through a love of Christ and with authenticity. Conversations became more meaningful because of the vulnerability that students and staff experienced. It was evident my colleagues were called to be educators and that they were living out their vocations by having real and genuine interactions that were mastered through the teachings of the Gospel. Even through challenging moments, when students had to be disciplined, they were met with grace and with the understanding that they, too, were a child of God.
What I love most about Catholic education is how we pray before a hard quiz or exam; how we can stop what we are doing to teach a lesson from the Bible, how we discipline with the teachings of Jesus.
What I love most about Catholic education is how we can have prayer services for fish that have died in our classrooms, the love that our students have for one another, despite their differences because they share the same faith.
What I love most about Catholic education is the moments that go unexplained because of the Holy Spirit at work: when a student who is struggling the most “gets it” or when a student who has no connections to friends in the class suddenly gets invited to play at recess.
I am thankful for the many opportunities I have had with students and conversations I have had with staff members. I’m thankful for the moments that have challenged me both personally and professionally. I look forward to what the Holy Spirit has in store for me and my students.
From the perspective of a priest, I, Fr Troy Nguyen, have seen the gift of Catholic education. Beginning with my time as a Deacon, I was able to visit a Catholic school in NW Calgary once a month and dedicate the whole day to speak to different grades in 30 minute intervals. From sharing the mystery of Advent with the little ones to speaking about the rational basis for our faith to the junior high students, it was a great opportunity to share the Gospel.
One of my favourite things to do is to do question period with any grade but particularly the younger kids. They ask a variety of tough questions: who created God? Does the bible talk about dinosaurs? These and many other questions challenge me to translate complicated philosophical and biblical topics into bite size pieces for an 8 year old! Most importantly, it is time just to be with the students in a very human way just like Jesus did. Whether it’s walking through the halls, going to a high school football game or playing sports with the students, it reveals that faith is not contrary to our everyday life.
I had an opportunity during lunch at an elementary school in Christ the Redeemer (CTR) to walk around and was invited to kick the ball for kickball. So I took up the challenge in my priestly attire and smoked that ball into the end of time! The kids were shocked and elated at the same time that a ‘priest’ could play kickball. At a junior high school in CTR during a girls basketball finals game, I was invited to say the opening prayer for the team and give them a blessing to calm their nerves because they were worried about this particular opponent. When they started playing, the girls from CTR played with great freedom, crushed their opponent and won the championship. They were extremely grateful for the spiritual boost and ‘divine intervention.’ To be able to share in the joys of these students with faith is a great gift.
There are many more instances I could describe where Catholic education creates opportunities to encounter our Lord and the Catholic faith. These opportunities to reach out to students are only available to me because the administration and teachers allow me to come to visit the school. It may be much more difficult if not impossible to enter another school not focused on Catholic education.
So, while there is much to be grateful for, there is much to continue to strive for if we want to maintain Catholic education. We need to pray for our teachers and administration and we need to continue to be intentional in forming their faith so that they can evangelize to our children from an authentic heart. We need to remain firm in our Catholic identity so that we can transmit the Catholic faith in its fullness and this is what differentiates us from public education.
Catholic education is a gift, but gifts need to be protected and preserved. So we give thanks to God for the gift of Catholic education, and we ask him to protect and preserve this gift so that all of our children may continue to have the opportunity to know and to love this amazing God.
Even moments of stress can be holy. When complaining about getting the ladder up to put up Christmas lights in the cold, a student re-framed the situation to say at least you have a house and are healthy enough to climb up! By shifting our perspectives slightly, we were able to see ordinary encounters as holy moments.
The impact of teaching and learning through the various waves of the COVID 19 pandemic has impacted everyone and affected us in different ways. We noticed in conversations that at times it was challenging to see the light along the journey. Even as faith-filled educators we had to cope with uncertainty and make sense of God’s intention for us. It is in times like these that our faith can really be our strength, if we look for it.
At our school we started with a reflection on our daily encounters. Rather than simply overlooking a helpful gesture or beautiful sunrise, we wanted to absorb those moments. Those moments can be fleeting, yet so powerful.
To transfer this to students, among several initiatives, we implemented a call to identify holy moments. One of the activities that we had students participate in was a “Holy Moments” chain. Students would add their moments to the chain which was connected and displayed in the hallways.
We found that by intentionally sharing holy moments, perspectives changed. The act of re-framing situations to see the blessings in our midst allowed us to see our call to be joyful people, who act with gratitude. However, joyful participation in the challenges of life isn’t always easy. By identifying holy moments, it has also affirmed the gift that we have in our Catholic school with faith in the Lord at all times. We walk with Jesus every day! It is a blessing to be able to journey through hard times together knowing that God calls us to lift one another up when we are down. When you stop and look for it, even on your hardest day there is a holy moment that will make you smile.
The foundation of our school as a community of faithful has not been more relevant than it is today. We need to know that God is with us. It is up to us to actually pause and notice His presence in our lives. The only question left to ask is, what holy moments have you had today?
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… Despite his upbringing in a strict Hindu Orthodox home in India, Kasiviswanat Ganesan carefully recites the Trinitarian prayer complete with careful hand placements to mark out the sign of the Catholic faith.
Kasiviswanat or ‘Kasi’ as we all know him as, is the Cafeteria Manager at our newest high school in Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools. He has held this position since the school opened and has become well-known throughout the school division for his culinary expertise and the amazing lunches and dinners that he provides as part of the catering responsibilities that his team holds throughout the division. Kasi is also a parent in our division with a son and a daughter in our French Immersion program. This allows him to have a unique perspective and I sought him out to discuss his observations and understanding in relation to Catholic education.
In our conversation, Kasi shared that he works two full time jobs. He is a supervisor at one of the top restaurants in Red Deer. He begins this job everyday after working 8 hours at our high school. Kasi indicated how hard this has been on his relationship with his son, Mukesh, who he often doesn’t even see on a normal workday. He tells me that he is supporting his own extended family back in India as well as in-laws in Indonesia. Kasi also tells me that he has been offered twice as much money at other restaurants or a promotion at the restaurant he currently works at if he would give up his job at St. Joseph’s High School. I asked him why he doesn’t do that especially given the financial obligations he carries. He replies, “I stay because of Mr. Daniel”.
Mr. Daniel is the principal and Kasi goes on to inform me that he learns so much watching Mr. Daniel lead the school community. “He has built a family at our school.” I want to lead like Mr. Daniel who is tough on the outside, but has a really big heart.” I ask Kasi for an example and he describes a time when Mr. Daniel came to him and told him about a young man in their school who has a very difficult home life and was supporting younger siblings basically on his own. “Mr. Daniel told me to quietly give this student a lunch every day and just send the bill to the office and they would take care of it.” Kasi also recalls the time when Kasi, himself, became a Canadian citizen. “I did not tell Mr. Daniel that I was doing this, but the next day, the school had organized a special gathering for me and celebrated my new citizenship.”
Kasi knows that his kids are getting more than just a good education in our Catholic school division. “They are learning how to live in a relationship with others. Catholic school changes their character and puts them on a good path. It is a good thing that they are learning there is one superior power out there guiding them.”
This takes me back to the first line of the article where Kasi perfectly demonstrated the sign of our Catholic faith. Kasi has not joined the Catholic Church nor does he have any current desire to do so, but he knows Catholic education is good for his kids. Kasi explains, “My daughter taught me this as part of her prayers of gratitude she leads when we eat meals together and before she goes to sleep at night.” Kasi’s daughter’s name is Avanthika which means ‘beautiful sky’. She is five years old.
Every year the students at Christ the King Academy in Brooks, Alberta sign up for a variety of service projects and good works to help prepare their hearts for Christ’s coming during this Advent season. Usually, the students engage in works such as baking muffins, praying for the living and the dead, or cleaning up around the neighbourhood. This year however, we started what we hope to be a new tradition – writing Christmas Cards to our dear retired priests of the Diocese!
The idea came about during the grade six’s religion class, when learning about the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the life of service a priest undertakes. The students were quick to realize that the vow of celibacy meant that for many priests, we as Catholics are their family members! While priests are serving in their parishes, they are surrounded by the many families who help take care them and thank them for their service… but what happens when a priest retires?
The students were surprised to learn that our retired priests are still helping celebrate Mass and administering Sacraments where they can, despite no longer have a parish family around them. We discussed how we can show our love and thanks to these priests who spent their lives working for us, and the answer seemed clear – we would write them Christmas cards! Each student wrote a card to some of the retired priests in the diocese to let them know we are praying for them by name as a class and we are forever grateful for their years serving us.
Recently East Central Alberta Catholic School Division (ECCS) hosted its annual Mission and Ministry Day. The divisional full day faith event is facilitated to help foster and enrich our spiritual journey in loving and serving God. ECCS has developed a four-year faith plan based on the divisional touchstone which reads, “We teach; we share; we learn; we care. Growing in Christ believing that we can make a difference.”
The focus of our year one faith plan is the beginning of the touchstone, “we teach.” During this year, we focus on answering God’s vocational calling to be authentic Catholic educators. The scriptural foundation for the school year’s faith focus is from Romans 8:28, “we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” What a relevant scriptural passage this is in kicking off the four-year faith initiative! We extend to Father Moses of Blessed Sacrament Church in Wainwright, as well as Father Christopher at St. Mary’s Church in Provost, a sincere thank you for wonderfully celebrating our opening liturgy.
Educating within a Catholic school is a God given vocation, a calling, and not just a job. God has given each of us unique abilities, talents, and gifts that we are summoned upon to give freely and to teach the Good News as Jesus Christ did. What a beautiful and tremendously magnificent responsibility this is. Every day we receive the greatest gift, that being the children of God, to which we are called upon to educate, love, care for, and to build God’s kingdom.
Often, the best professional development and faith enrichment comes from those that we work with daily. Every person has a story to tell and we wanted to capture the unique and sometimes challenging faith journeys travelled in answering God’s call to be Catholic educators. With this in mind ECCS along with Dr. Annicchiarico as our guest speaker, facilitated a day centered around the power of story telling. The telling of personal faith stories takes courage. Three administrators and two senior administrators shared their personal testimonials of being called by God. Three story telling topics consisting of being “Called,” “Blessed,” and “Entrusted” were delved into by our presenters. Each testimonial was incredibly personal and each resonated in different ways. All the stories touched upon the truths of humanity, being sinners, facing struggles, enduring hardships, and ultimately finding joy and peace in recognizing and responding to God’s call!
After each testimonial staff members were provided with guiding questions that helped to foster further story telling. The stories told were authentic, sometimes emotional, and there seemed to be a general mood of sincere joy and gratitude. Stories have the power to unite us and they bind us together as witnesses of God’s love and mercy. Heartfelt story telling is a remarkable way of passing on the truth and wisdom gained along our life journey. At the end of the day, we realized that we are all wonderfully created and uniquely gathered to vocationally answer the call of God. We are so very blessed to be a part of His plan.
I left the task of dressing Frank in football equipment until 5 minutes before we had to leave for practice and the pressure was on. My anxiety stemmed from my own football days in which being late for practice was punishable by a variety of creative endurance challenges. When we finally made it to the field 10 minutes late, I was half-relieved that the coach did not demand that I run sprints with one of Frank's 8-year-old teammates on my back.
As our bobble-headed children ran drills in the field, I joined other parents on the sideline, where the typical introductory remarks occurred. Learning that I was a local Catholic school principal, two parents recounted their own Catholic education as they were both alumni of Catholic schools in Alberta.
Obviously, most people do not wish to discuss negative experiences with total strangers, however in my experience, without solicitation, many people enthusiastically share the memories of their Catholic education.
Often it is said of Catholic schools in Alberta that "they feel different" from their public counterparts. This feeling is usually attributed to the obvious religiosity of the building or Holy Spirit's activity in our midst. Since moving further south in Alberta, I have decided that Catholic school alumni also "feel different." Though a bit mysterious and difficult to define, based on many spontaneous conversations, I think that Catholic education in Alberta, at its best, gives students the opportunity to witness Christ's Kingdom being built daily...and it sticks with them.
Most people have some sense of the trappings and routines of catholicity in our schools. While the formalized religious and liturgical programming feeds our spirit and identity, there is an equally important "spiritual osmosis" that occurs to students from the teachers, parents, and priests who model how Catholics think and act in daily life.
The products of Kingdom building are seen in the police officer who still attends school masses and remembers the prayers from his years in Catholic school. The parent who arrived in Canada as a refugee from Bosnia and "prays like a Catholic" because of her schooling, despite being Muslim. A community coach who leads pre-game prayer, because "that's what we always did." The volunteer driver with a van full of teenage boys, who crosses herself when driving by a cemetery or church. The innumerable stories of teenage shenanigans met with merciful responses of both Catholic parents and teachers working to restore peace and justice.
These little conversations are a grace to me knowing that educators, parents, and clergy rarely see the fruits of their work. They are indicators of our students meeting Jesus and being a part of his Kingdom while in our schools. It is an education that sticks with them and reveals God's love.
As a young mom with a daughter ready to attend kindergarten, I was not sure which school I could trust my young and impressionable daughter to. Who would be good enough to teach her? I worked in the public division, yet my heart was being called to the Catholic school. I knew no one who worked there, so I decided to make an appointment to have a tour of Holy Family Academy in Brooks.
When I walked in, I felt something different. There was a sense of peace and calm. A welcoming presence washed over me. The Bible verse, “Let the children come to me” was exactly what I saw myself doing; letting my child go to these teachers. I wanted my daughter’s faith formation to begin with authentic relationships where prayer was spoken and open, and honest conversations were had on a daily basis. When I reflected on who would be good enough to teach my child, it was God. He had to be placed first as an educator and in my daughter’s life. I was grateful to know that I had a choice where my daughter could attend school. I know God led me to Holy Family Academy.
It has been wonderful to watch her grow and to see the amazing woman she has become, mostly due to the teachers who shaped and molded her and taught her of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. This was where the seeds were planted. When our second daughter was born, we knew that she would attend Holy Family Academy as well. No questions asked. The decision was easy to make!
My work at the public school division made it tough for me to share in celebrations and events with her. I remember at a church event on Pentecost Sunday I walked up to the principal of Holy Family Academy and I told her that I was going to work for her one day. Unbelievably, that next year I was hired and I have been with Christ the Redeemer ever since. I have not looked back. Here I can openly pray for a student and make the sign of my faith. I am so grateful to work where my daughters went to school and be a part of their learning. I feel so blessed.
I have learned that God stretches you when you least expect it. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago. He has been at work leading and guiding me, as I walk and pray in ways I had never done before. The opportunities the school has offered me have been such a gift. Face to Face and NET retreats, listening to musicians and guest speakers, school masses, adoration, the Martha Retreat Centre, Faith Days, and Mission trips…all of these experiences have such a special place in my heart. When Mother Mary called me to go to Medjugorje and Knock Ireland, Christ the Redeemer allowed me to go. World Youth Day and the Holy Land were only dreams in my eyes, yet God made it a reality. It is all by the grace of God!
God has stretched me in my classes at work. When teachers have encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try teaching a new class, their words, “I believe you could do this”, made a huge difference. Their encouragement was a gift. My students have been my everything. They are the reason I am called to my vocation. I have joy when I wake up and know I get to do what I love. This is not a job, it is my calling and I am so glad God chose me to be a part of the Brooks Catholic Schools and Catholic Education. God is so good, all the time!
These are words that come to mind when I reflect on my experience of Catholic Education in Brooks. My husband and I didn’t know what to expect coming here with two young children in tow 20 years ago, but this place has a way of grabbing hold, seeping into your heart and not letting go; it has a way of becoming home.
There are many people who have influenced my development as a Catholic educator: administrators who recognized my potential and encouraged me to have faith in my ability; colleagues who were, and are, my greatest role models; and students, who taught me more about life and faith than I could ever teach them and whose experiences showed me what courage really is. What I value most about St Joseph’s Collegiate. is threefold. It’s the people. It’s the presence of the Holy Spirit working on hearts and changing people. It’s a true desire to be “a community, rooted in faith, seeking excellence for all”. It’s a family.
I’d like to share story of a young man I’ll call Cas* who came to St. Joseph's for only one year. He had a great smile, and he loved basketball. He was respectful and attentive but wasn’t achieving very well. One day, Cas approached me and asked for help. He described his life at home with no rules; he could do what he wanted, when he wanted - and he did. Although this might sound great, Cas wasn’t happy. He needed parameters. Together, that day, we created some expectations: he would work in my classroom every day after school, and most importantly, he would call me every night at 10 pm to let me know that he was home. That’s all he needed - someone to care enough to set some boundaries. Cas’ grades and self-esteem improved drastically, and somewhere along the line, he started calling me “mom”. This young man left an indelible mark on my heart and this experience, to me, encapsulates how I feel about Catholic education. We don’t know the impact we have on students - a kind word, a listening ear, an open door. What an incredible responsibility and an incredible privilege!
I feel deep gratitude for my time in Brooks - to be part of all the amazing graduation celebrations and to witness the growth of our school into a vibrant and diverse community. God calls people here for a reason, and I know I was called to be in this place at this time. Leading a school during a pandemic is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and it has challenged me to the core. But I am able to appreciate my freedom, my family, my upbringing, and my faith even more. I am thankful that God trusted me to do His work. What an incredible blessing!
As I move on from this amazing community, I know that the Holy Spirit will continue to be present here, and with that knowledge, there will be many more blessings, more challenges, more gratitude, and more growth. Thank you, Lord, for this incredible gift.
*not his real name
I was born into a faithful farm family who attended church regularly. My sister and I were among the little people who flocked to Sunday School and ran around the church basement while our parents served coffee and visited with other members of the congregation. It was with sincere devotion that I was baptized as an infant and confirmed by my own choice as an adult in the United Church.
My journey continued in the United Church when I was married, and my husband and I welcomed two beautiful children into our family. We were living in Edmonton and I was teaching at a public school when my husband received the news that he was being transferred to work in Calgary. Shortly after arriving there, we needed to look at schools for the children. As a teacher, I started to research the schools in the area and found myself drawn to the Calgary Catholic Board. My husband was baptized Catholic and so we enrolled in the neighbourhood Catholic School.
I was thrilled with the education my children received and even more excited about the learning they were doing in regard to faith. They came home with stories about their lessons and asked questions about what they were learning. The more they asked, the more I thought about my responses and I was not satisfied. I attended liturgies at school and asked questions of my husband but felt like I needed more in order to support my children on this path that I had chosen for them.
Soon, I found myself in the office at St. Albert the Great Parish and enrolled in the RCIA program. “Information is what I need”. “It is for the children”. “I am happy with my faith and the United Church”. These were the lines that I was telling myself and they were what got me started; my feet in the door I guess you could say. As we hear so often, “God works in mysterious ways”. The more I learned at RCIA, and the more I volunteered at the school, the more invested I became.
Wednesday nights became the best night of the week as I joined my sponsor and delved deeper into the faith. RCIA allowed me to grow and expand on the faith that had been fostered in me as a child. As an adult, I am acutely aware of the fact that I had an opportunity to look at faith in a new way and to choose it for myself (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and many other faithful companions). Now, as a Catholic school teacher, I am blessed daily to learn and grow in faith alongside my students. It is with humble appreciation that I embrace each day of learning that will last a lifetime and beyond.
Some of my fondest memories attending a catholic school were walking the 2 blocks or so to St. Mary’s Parish for school mass. Along with the holy mass itself, I enjoyed the brief reprieve from school work, a chance to visit with my classmates while walking, and singing in the school choir. I had learned harmonies from my mom singing at mass on Sundays, (and to Celine Dion at home) and loved to create music alongside my peers. Welcoming people at the door, reading Scripture, playing an instrument, and intercessory prayer; school mass gave us the opportunity to practice using our gifts for the glory of the Lord.
When I was 16, our school sent a bus-load of students to Prud’Homme Saskatchewan to attend a Face to Face Retreat. I later learned that Prud’Homme was also the first retreat my now husband attended, although neither of us remember meeting. At the retreat there were talks about God’s love and the saints, praise and worship sessions, time to attend the Sacrament of Reconciliation, one on one prayer ministry, and musical Adoration. I was moved by the love these young people had for our Lord.
During one of the worship songs, I vividly remember looking at the worship leaders thinking how lucky they were to witness this fire at each retreat. In that moment I whispered under my breath, “Lord, it would be so cool to do that.” The Lord answered that little prayer and 3 years later I was given the privilege of singing and serving with Face to Face Ministries for what would become 4 incredibly faith formative years. During these years, the seeds of service, self-sacrifice, prayer, and faith that my Catholic education had rooted in me, blossomed into an undeviating love for our Lord that continues to grow today.
Now raising our own 4 children, I am so grateful to pass along the good, the true, and beautiful to them through the gift of Catholic education. I am grateful to be able to root their identity in Jesus, our firm foundation, especially as our world faces such confusion of identity today. I am grateful to introduce to them the Sacraments that bring true life and peace to their souls. I am grateful to read to them the lives of the Saints so that they have role-models of virtue, and someone to relate to in times when they fail. I am grateful to teach them the rosary, so that one day they would recognize the importance of prayer and Our Lady’s intercession. I am grateful to bring them to Mass and Adoration so that they know our Lord deserves their time, and so that they know where to go when facing a difficult decision.
In a word, I am grateful for Catholic education because it was an extension of my domestic church; it cultivated the virtues my parents instilled in us at home while preparing me for a life of docility to the Spirit.
For a second year in a row, gathering restrictions will prevent graduates from Calgary Catholic high schools from participating in the types of graduation ceremonies that many of us associate with a typical Grade 12 year. Gone are the cap and gown ceremonies with families packed into the auditorium, the valedictory address delivered to thunderous cheers from the assembly and the banquet meal shared together with peers. In our Catholic high schools, this also means that the traditional celebration of a school graduation Mass with classmates and faculty will not be proceeding. Many of us remember these traditions fondly and feel a sense of remorse for this year’s graduates that they will miss these familiar rites of passage.
However, school communities have responded to the challenges with innovative solutions and alternatives. Graduation is too important to miss – this is the culmination of many years of effort for students and their families. Graduation also holds a hopeful promise for the future, a time where young women and men further explore their place in the world and come to a deeper understanding of themselves and God’s creation. As a Catholic community, we fail to respond to the goodness and blessings abundantly displayed around us when we miss the opportunity to celebrate our graduates.
This year, our high schools are building on what they learned last year to create personal and meaningful celebrations to acknowledge students and their families. A special Mass for graduates was celebrated by Bishop McGrattan at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of the Rockies and the recording will be shared with every graduate and their families. Schools have recorded valedictory speeches and greetings from school staff to share electronically. And, taking advantage of good weather and abundant space outdoors, schools are arranging “drive-through” events and photo opportunities for students to receive their certificates in a safe manner.
Far from being a token celebration, this adapted way of marking graduations allows for an intimate and personal celebration for each individual. As Bishop McNally High School principal, Neil O’Flaherty affirms, “Despite students being asked to repeatedly acclimate to the uncertainty of the coronavirus, celebrating one’s graduation, with family members lovingly alongside, is one tradition that COVID 19 could not prevent. Each high school has made the event uniquely their own and, as we have done at Bishop McNally, each student’s personal accomplishment has been individually (and collectively as a class) celebrated, in a safe manner, with a creative and memorable flair befitting any graduation, past or present.”
Catholic schools have felt particularly called to create spaces of welcome and encouragement for our students during the pandemic. Faced with restrictions on gathering, we are paying special attention to engaging, seeing and celebrating each student. Mackenzie McManus graduated in 2020 from All Saints High School under similar conditions. Her grad class was the first graduating year from the high school in Calgary’s deep south and she fondly remembers the experience of the drive-through grad. “The important part of graduation for me was to be able to walk the stage and get a picture in my cap and gown”, says McManus, “The drive-through grad did that quite nicely.” She noted how much effort it took for staff to arrange the drive-through. Allowing that special time for each graduate extended the event to three days for teachers and support staff who took turns holding congratulations signs and cheering for each student who came through.
Please pray for all Catholic school graduates and their families during this month of June. May the experience in our schools equip them with the knowledge and wisdom they need to continue to grow, learn and serve.
A prayer for Graduates
Lord God, giver of all wisdom and grace,
bless the students who have worked diligently
to prepare for graduation.
Guide and direct them as they go forth
to encounter new opportunities and challenges in the world.
As they continue to nurture their gifts,
help them to stand up for their Christian beliefs
and to further develop values and virtues
that promote communities of fellowship and caring.
May they always act with responsibility and practice integrity
that they may be living witnesses of your word
and instruments of your peace.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen
The vocation to teach is a great gift. To authentically live one’s faith life in a Catholic School unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit, drawing those who are searching, those who are yearning to grow toward God together. Being a witness to the mighty power of the Spirit I can testify to the fact that the Spirit is moving in our schools. I have been blessed to minister to the children through weekly gatherings in our gym under the auspices of “Hymn Sing” – a time of preparation for our school liturgical life – through song, scripture, and prayer. The tiny seeds that are sown grow in places and in ways that are surprising and lovely to behold.
It was after a long weekend that a grade 3 student came running toward me in the hallway one bright Monday morning. “Mme, I have to talk to you. I had a dream last night and God wants us to have a Jesus Club at our school. I know that I love Jesus and I know that there are other kids who love Jesus too, but Mme, I don’t know who they are! We need to have a place, we need to have a time where we can find those kids and talk about this. Can you help?”
This was the beginning of our school’s Jesus Club – an idea inspired by the Holy Spirit through the enthusiasm and energy of a child who wished to live her faith authentically. Throughout that school year, 108 students, one third of our school’s population, journeyed through our lunchtime Jesus Club, growing through scripture, prayer and games to walk more closely with Our Lord.
The following school year we began, through our Hymn Sing time, to explore how to live the corporal works of mercy as a response to that year’s faith theme “Knock and the door will be opened.” The call for us to care for the needs of the poor, the need of the sick, the needs of those who are enslaved resonated deeply with the students, especially with one boy. An idea began brewing within him. A call to action soon followed. He harnessed the energy and enthusiasm of 5 of his school mates, and they formed “Little Saints: the corporal works of mercy in action”. These children championed one bottle drive each month to raise money for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Mustard Seed, and Feed the Hungry before COVID closed our schools last year. Through their promotion of each bottle drive, they spoke to the student body, made posters, counted, and sorted bottles and made hundreds of friendship pins and bracelets as rewards for participants.
These children who receive the Word with such loving fervor are examples to us all. They are the fertile ground on which the good seed falls and bears fruit. Their openness to the power of the Holy Spirit inspires their actions and forming tomorrow’s leaders. I am privileged to work with children every day in our Catholic schools. Their enthusiasm serves to inspire us to become like little children who receive the Word wholeheartedly and run with abandon into the vineyard of the Lord – helping His Kingdom come.
“You must be Olivia. We’ve been waiting for you!” These words stand out as the first time in my life I had felt genuinely welcomed. I was a cradle Catholic, but I was hesitant about faith. I’d accepted a position at a Catholic school under the guise that I’d gone to a Catholic school, so I could surely teach at one. I didn’t even really want to be a teacher – my practicum experiences had left a sour taste in my mouth (seemed apropos, given the general trajectory of my life – disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.)
Imagine my surprise when, after a totally-unexpected job offer, I walked into St. Joseph’s Collegiate in Brooks, Alberta, ready for more disappointment, only to be welcomed with the most genuine of greetings: “We’ve been waiting for you!”
Waiting? Waiting for me? For me? What for? I was a disappointment. Never good enough. Never accomplished enough. I’d always been convinced that the only thing those around me saw was my failure. I worked so, so hard to combat these beliefs, but my strength wasn’t enough. The harder I worked to prove myself, the stronger the lies about my identity piled up. I believed that I would never amount to anything worthy of love.
Those lies brought me to the brink on a regular basis. I was fractured. Cracked. Even so, the light got in. Before the Holy Spirit nudged me not-so-gently from Nova Scotia to Brooks, chance meetings with those who knew Jesus punctuated my life: Sarah, a classmate in a first-year English class at university, whose quiet faith both intrigued and unsettled me.
She’d invite me to faith activities on campus, but that just “wasn’t my style.” Claudette and Theresa, two religious sisters who frequented the gym at which I was employed. They were so, so kind, and I always felt that they saw the real me – the me that even I was incapable of fully accepting. But I never followed where I now know they were praying for my heart to be led: to Jesus.
God brought me to Brooks. Slowly but surely, He’s been delivering me from the weight of the lies I’d carried around my entire life. Over the course of the last decade and a half, He’s shown me what love looks like, and He’s revealed that love in a myriad of ways.
Don’t get me wrong. I still struggle, but now I see the lies that I believed for so long for what they are. The sure knowledge that they are lies and that God is healing me makes the weight of suffering manageable. Jesus says “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” – this is the absolute truth.
It was with arms wide open that I was invited into my new place of employment, my new city, my new life. It was with arms wide open that I was invited to experience the miraculous healing of a loving Saviour. I’ve been a teacher with Christ The Redeemer Catholic Schools in Brooks for 14 years, and even though I have a myriad of stories that reveal the amazing opportunities Catholic education has afforded me, it’s that greeting the moment I first stepped into St. Joseph’s Collegiate – a greeting that so very much juxtaposed with the life I’d lived up until that point – that will forever be my first and most fundamental memory of Catholic Education in Brooks. It’s a love that I know intimately now, and a love that allows me to welcome others - with open arms, naturally.
In times we couldn’t imagine, even just a year ago, we have found many different ways to rely on and share our faith. Working in a Catholic school division has provided me with many opportunities to pray and grow with my fellow staff and students. This year has been no exception. At a time when physically being together is not acceptable, we have found ways to still gather in our faith. In Fort McMurray Catholic Schools, this has taken on many new forms.
School liturgies have always been an integral part of who we are as a Catholic school. At Father Mercredi High School, liturgies are predominantly led by a student liturgy team. We wondered what this would look like this year. How would we keep this very important part of our prayer life alive?
We have found ways to celebrate together, from our individual classrooms. We have hosted several school-wide liturgies using Google meet. I, along with my student liturgy team, have continued to lead the school in prayer, each from our own classroom. Students now know how to speak to a computer screen, and yet when we listen, we can hear the collective prayers through the hallways as all students join in response.
As a Division, we also felt it was more important than ever this year to share faith with our families. In the past, families would be invited into the schools for our liturgies, so this year we needed a new plan. During the initial public health restrictions last March, we started Thankful Thursday Liturgies, where I would go live on the Fort McMurray Catholic Schools’ Facebook account from the Chapel at our school. The liturgies were well received and we felt this was an excellent way to continue the engagement of our community and families this year.
This year has also brought me many opportunities to learn from other members of our staff, as we continue to look for new ways to engage the students in their faith from afar. When we went back to off-site learning at the end of November, just as Advent was beginning, it was important that we find ways to not only observe the importance of the Advent season, but to have students reflect on the meaning of the season. This prompted a series of short videos made in my home, with the help of my 9 year old daughter. These videos included the lighting of our family Advent wreath and a series of images depicting the theme of the week with an explanation of what each week symbolized in our Advent journey. Teachers shared these videos in their google classrooms, along with a google form asking all staff and students to respond to the weekly theme. Responses were compiled into a weekly image, which was shared on our social media, prompting more conversation and discussion within our community.
Personally, I have learned over the last number of months, that while we may not be able to gather in large school groups, or even be in the building together; our faith, which is such an important part of who we are as a Catholic School Community, has continued to grow and blossom.
In ‘The Idea of a University,’ John Henry Newman (now Saint) outlined his vision of a liberal education that spoke of the virtues and purpose of a university. Originally an Oxford man, his famed conflict at Oriel College where he argued with the Provost that a tutor needed more engagement with undergraduates, resulted in Newman being cast out of his beloved institution and turning instead to a life of research. It wasn’t until many years later that he was drawn back directly into the academy when he was invited to help found the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin. And although there were too many obstacles for the university to succeed, it galvanized Newman’s love for and understanding of the unique gifts of Catholic education. Indeed, in his Letters and Diaries he is quoted as saying, ‘from the very first month of my Catholic existence … I wished for a Catholic University.’
Newman’s now famous treatise reminds us of the unique charter of a liberal arts, and of a Catholic, university: ‘the end of University Education,’ he tells us, is to provide ‘a comprehensive view of truth in all its branches, of the relations of science to science, of their mutual bearings, and their respective values.’ Newman recognizes that true education is about the ‘real cultivation of the mind’, one that ‘grasps what it perceives through the senses … which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey.’ Newman was not advocating for a narrow definition of one area of study but for the importance of developing critical thinking skills, a well-rounded understanding of poets, historians, philosophers, mathematicians, theologians and more. It is this comprehensive field of understanding, embedded in an unshakable moral foundation, that would allow graduates to enter ‘with comparative ease into any subject of thought, and of taking up with aptitude any science or profession.’
This flexibility and transferability is often what our Catholic universities use to defend and define the liberal arts education that we provide. In response to the demand, at times from Government itself, that we should focus exclusively on the trades or jettison the arts writ large to focus on true vocational training for jobs, pundits like myself write impassioned articles debunking the false notion that our graduates fail to forge incredible careers. We cite extensive evidence of the impact that Arts graduates have at the top of Fortune 500 companies, heading top law firms, and more. And while this defensiveness is predictable if tedious, it is a reminder of the danger of contemporary society’s devaluation of the principles of a Catholic, liberal education.
Beyond the public apologia, however, our Catholic institutions in Canada do more than defend against narrow pigeonholing. The true work of our institutions is to create holistic learning hubs, where intellectual culture is not chauvinistic but pluralistic by nature; where social capital isn’t defined by dollars but by public accountability; and acts of charity are not tax write-offs but imbedded in the very purpose of human understanding and behaviour. Yes, we want our students to have incredible careers, and they do — but we remind them always that they have a higher calling, which is to transform society for the better and to advocate for the common good.
For John Cappucci, the Principal of Assumption University, ‘the greatest challenge facing Catholic higher education is demonstrating that attending a Catholic university or college is more than just learning about Catholicism. It is about linking Catholicism to the challenges of the daily work. For example, following the example of Pope Francis’ Laudado Si’. Peter Meehan, President at St. Jerome’s University, argues that ‘the journey to truth includes both faith and reason. Uniting the heart and the mind, faith and reason allow us to explore the questions facing humanity, from biological and business ethics, ecumenism, ageing, death and dying, to the ecology, globalization and issues of responsible citizenship and government. Confident in Christian truth without being proselytizing or triumphal, we see liberal arts education as underlying a deeper human need to grasp the world in all of its complexities.’
These values are timeless, but they are also relevant to our contemporary challenges. David Sylvester, President of the University of St. Michael’s College makes this point about the pandemic itself: ‘Catholic universities, because they are fundamentally oriented to building up the common good and their long-standing community partnerships, have been at the forefront of the COVID response and have been real pillars of hope not just for their students, staff and alumni, but for their neighbours. It really did expose the need for the work that Catholic universities undertake and the servant leadership our students and faculty provide.’
Catholic colleges and universities have also been at the heart of creating important ecumenical conversations, understanding that dialogue between faith communities is critical to an empowered and empathetic world. One of the challenges that Catholic postsecondary institutions often face is that they are assumed to be theological schools or exclusive enclaves. In fact, our institutions are open to all, and they revel in the conversation that they generate with different faith communities, and indeed with the wider world itself, secular or otherwise. In the end, our institutions focus on the life of the student, pushing for a holistic education: mind, body and spirit. It is not unusual for students to flourish in our environment when they have felt uncomfortable in the public institutions.
Recently, at St. Mary’s University in Calgary, I was delighted to receive two letters from both a parent and a former student, thanking the institution for the foundational learning, and the comprehensive education, we provide. The reason for the correspondence: the student had just completed both an internship at the Indiana University School of Medicine and graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a PhD in Clinical Psychology, and then accepted a postdoctoral fellowship position with the Harvard School of Medicine and Boston Children’s Hospital, the top-ranked paediatric hospital in the U.S. For the father, our small Catholic university allowed his daughter ‘to develop academically, emotionally, personally and spiritually.’ He concluded, ‘As the Chinese proverb says, “When you drink water, think of its source.’” For his daughter, it was the pastoral and individualized experience that allowed a ‘soft-spoken’ and shy individual ‘to grow and gain courage to participate and ask questions.’ She concluded: ‘The path towards a Ph.D. truly takes a village, and I am privileged to have had you all as teachers and mentors.’
The twenty-two Catholic institutions represented by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Canada all look to this type of testimonial to encapsulate the goal and the values of our institutions. As Pope Francis has argued, Catholic education is called to build a humanism that ‘proposes a vision of society centred on the human person,’ and that draws on ‘the great testimonies of the saints and holy educators, whose example is a beacon’ that can illuminate our service, and that is dedicated to the ‘mission of offering horizons that are open to transcendence.’ That surely is the ‘end’ of Catholic higher education — and in that respect our work is just beginning.
G.K. Chesterton was a British writer of vast influence in the early 20th century, penning plays, novels, poems, and hundreds of articles and essays. He employed humour, intelligence, and humility in defense of sanity, of Christianity, and particularly of his chosen faith: Catholicism, and his work remains in wide circulation today, in many languages, touching Catholics and other Christians around the world. His writing trains the mind, challenges our preconceptions, and brings many closer to Christ.
St. Isidore Learning Center in Elk Island Catholic Schools, is a relatively new online school, and in some respects we were still looking for our particular charism when, in the fall of 2019, we started talking with some folks from the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton in the United States about their network of Chesterton Academies. The Chesterton Schools Network delivers a joyful, Catholic, classical curriculum through which students explore Literature and History, from the ancient to the modern, along with Theology, Philosophy, Latin, and the Fine Arts. A classical education, but in the Chesterton spirit: faithful, full of wonder and humour, without the stuffiness many would assume comes with such subjects.
“Are any of your schools online?” we asked. The answer was no. “Would you be open to the possibility of working with a publicly funded Catholic, online school from Canada?” we wondered. Yes indeed! Conversations ensued and relationships grew, and in time we submitted a proposal, which was in essence a concordance of the two curricula, ultimately a way to deliver Alberta Education courses, meeting Alberta outcomes and requirements, but doing so in a Chestertonian manner that met all the knowledge outcomes and the sequenced approach employed by Chesterton Academies.
That led us to this year. We launched as a school within a school, the Chesterton Academy of St. Isidore, with a cohort of over 60 students from across the province, a truly joyous and invigorating group of teenagers who are keen to learn and laugh together, studying online. We recently placed students in the traditional House system, a joyous occasion, in their Houses of Ambrose, Augustine, Athanasius, and Chrysostom. We’ve chosen Prefects, and started our first extracurricular club (a Philosophy club, and initiated by teenagers!) We’re already hearing from new parents, interested in next year.
Alberta is a place of educational choice, and among Alberta schools one can find Sports Academies, Fine Arts Academies, Outdoor based education, Academic Excellence and Vocational training - all manner of programming. And now, in a public separate school, we have a classical Catholic school: a Chesterton Academy.
When I am asked to define what makes a Catholic school unique, aside from Religion classes, I often reply that it’s about the faith-based education, which is wholistic and permeates each subject, each class, each doorway, each heart. It’s a feeling.
For years, I didn’t know how to explain the “feeling” to those who hadn’t experienced it for themselves. Then I returned to school and completed a degree in Journalism, and it was my new career that helped derive that explanation.
As a community news reporter I have been invited into several schools in Okotoks and area, and though still intangible there is a different feel to walking inside the Catholic schools as opposed to the public. There is warmth; one can sense the presence of God in the smiles that greet them, in the crosses and images that mark the entrance to the school. This is not to say public schools are cold and unfeeling places, but the faith, the gifts of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the halls of a Catholic school are palpable.
Perhaps nothing spoke to me more than Christmas concert season, during which reporters take in concerts from each school over the course of three weeks. I noted a marked difference in the calm, the reverence and respect in the air of Advent celebrations – whether in church sanctuaries or school gyms – as opposed to the hectic, often chaotic public productions that focused more on snow and gifts than the birth of Jesus.
In those moments, in the peace I feel as I enter a Catholic school, I am grateful for the education I received in these same halls years ago. I am grateful for the opportunity to have my children grace the same schools, feel that same embrace of faith in their education journey, know that God is ever-present, and learn to treat one another as the images of the Lord we are.
The values they espouse, the empathy they have gained, and the ability to see God’s work in every day life are treasures I hope they cherish throughout their lives.
Some still do not understand what I mean when I describe the feeling of walking into a Catholic school – of the warmth that overwhelms the senses; of appreciating you have entered a house of faith and pure, real joy; of knowing your children are in safely in God’s hands as their teachers guide them, as they learn and shape their life view and growing minds.
But I understand, and my children understand – and we will be forever grateful for the opportunity to benefit from a Catholic education.
Living and working in Brooks, about one hour west of Medicine Hat on the Trans-Canada highway, results in long bus trips for school teams. The longest bus trips are reserved for the 6-man football team. This is because the league is province-wide, so travelling to and from Edmonton in one day for a game is not out of the ordinary.
It’s interesting to remember the conversations that occur on bus trips that long. I have had the opportunity to drive the bus for the football team on several occasions. Usually, the rides are juxtaposed by periods of silent snoring and cacophonous adolescent male singing, but sometimes conversations of substance emerge.
I remember driving home from a game one day a couple of years ago when two of our senior players were sitting near the front with the head coach and myself. I was driving. The topic of relationships came up. These two players were tough, intelligent men. They were survivors. They had come to Canada a few years before from Colombia. Neither had a father that was active in their lives, and both exuded swagger and machismo. Both were involved in long-term relationships with young women, also from Colombia.
In the process of the conversation, the question of love, and what it really meant, came up. What does it mean to truly love another person? The coach and I embraced this opportunity to reflect on and explain the sacrificial nature of love that comes from Christ and that we are called to mirror this kind of love in our relationships with others. These two boys were engrossed in the conversation. They really wanted to know how to be a good partner to their girlfriends, how to love them properly. They knew that secular society’s explanation for love was incomplete, and they were thirsting for wisdom and truth.
The beauty of Catholic education is that these conversations can happen openly and honestly, even on a long bus ride back from a football game. The truth of Christ’s love for us and how that love is the exemplar for our relationships was fully shared and with God’s grace, settled in the hearts of those two men. Almost three years later, both these men are excelling in post-secondary education and both are still with the girlfriends they had when that conversation occurred. Hopefully, one day, I will be invited to a wedding or two!
As Catholic educators, it’s important to take time this Lent to embrace opportunities to share your faith with your students. Christ truly is the way, the truth, and the life! It may even make a long, tiring bus ride one of the most memorable moments in your car.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers