Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 4, 1999
Maintain Catholic school identity
The Edmonton Catholic school board has taken a strident approach to defending the integrity of Catholic schools with its decision not to build a new school in cooperation with the Edmonton public board in the Twin Brooks area. The principle on which the Catholic board has taken a strong stand is one with which Catholics ought to agree - that any Catholic school building ought to be built in such a way that Catholic beliefs can permeate the whole school day.
It is not enough, as has often been said, for a Catholic school to have half an hour a day of religious instruction. Catholic beliefs and a Catholic spirit ought to permeate the whole curriculum. They also ought to permeate the way in which teachers, staff, parents and students relate to each other.
In the years following the Second Vatican Council, Catholic schools had great trouble with this. There had been a fairly rapid turnover of the schools from religious to lay people. The Church itself was in a state of confusion as to how it ought to relate to a rapidly-secularizing culture. Many, many people fell away from the public practice of the faith. Many others continued to practise but held beliefs inconsistent with the Church's teaching.
All of this had a convulsive effect throughout the Church, perhaps especially in publicly-funded Catholic schools.
Over the last 20 years, we have seen a steady effort to make the permeation of Catholic values in the school system more than a nice idea.
There have been numerous province-wide conferences, faith enrichment days, lay-led prayer services in schools, serious efforts at curriculum improvement, and the development of student service programs which put faith into action.
Alberta's Catholic schools may not have achieved permeation, but they are moving in that direction.
This is no small accomplishment given that the surrounding culture is moving in the opposite direction - away from any awareness of the transcendent and more towards treating people like things.
Still, recent events should cause one to pause.
When Calgary's Catholic teachers work to rule and reject a mediator's report and then the trustees lock them out of work, we must ask how Catholic values are permeating the school system. Pope John Paul once wrote that while Church teaching allows that strikes may be justified, they should be regarded as "an extreme means." The same might be said even more so for lockouts.
Children lost a day of school because of the lockout; even worse, they witnessed the deplorable example of those who should be modelling the faith unable to reach a mutual agreement without an acrimonious use of force.
With Calgary's Catholic schools, this is the second time in less than two years that a major breakdown has occurred between the board and employees. It is a sad example of faith failing to permeate the schools.
We must also question the persistence of school parent councils using gambling as a means of fundraising. Provincial government cutbacks to education in the mid-1990s were severe. But were they so severe that Catholic schools have been reduced to exploiting the most vulnerable members of society in order to meet their perceived needs and wants? Catholic school boards, to their great shame, have refused to take a stand against gambling as a means of fundraising.
More important than the enemy without is the enemy within. We need to ensure that school buildings allow for the practice of the Catholic faith. But once we have a building it is incumbent on the Catholic community to ensure that the Catholic faith is taught and lived within its walls.
We can't be satisfied when school councils run casinos and school boards wash their hands of the scandal. Nor can we be happy when school boards are often at loggerheads with their employees. If we believe that our faith permeates education then we ought to ensure it permeates all activities, including fundraising and labour relations.
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