Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 3, 1999
Schools face new role in spreading faith
Acheson says they must 'fill the void' created by parish restructuring
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Catholic schools must be ready to "fill the void" in the faith development of young people, says the author of the Transformation of Parishes report.
While the issue of Catholic education is beyond the mandate of the ToPs report, Dr. John Acheson said parish restructuring "will definitely impinge on Catholic schools because they are part of the saving mission of the Church."
In a presentation to the Edmonton Catholic school board April 26, Acheson said a shortage of priests in the archdiocese is inevitable. And that means some aspects of faith development will fall through the cracks.
"People may feel the priests should be more available to visit schools, and more visible in the schools, but in terms of personnel, there just aren't enough of them."
"Priests might assume that students will be completely prepared for Confirmation and Reconciliation, but that's not the case," he said. In turn, schools might assume students are learning the faith from their parents and through the parish. But for most students, this does not happen.
"But evangelization must go on, regardless of the formal structure of the Church," he told the board. "Our kids need a message of hope, and we have the message of hope."
Acheson suggested schools will be more effective at evangelizing than parishes, primarily because they have access to the students. "But also, to a very great extent, parents send their children to Catholic schools for evangelization."
Getting the message of Christ across, he said, will depend on teachers who are "faith-filled, committed, well-prepared and supported."
That means the school board should provide continuing education for teachers and principals, administrative and curricular support, and opportunities for personal faith development.
Acheson, a former teacher, human resources consultant, and area superintendent for the Edmonton district, said special training, such as a bachelor of religious education, provides an in-depth background for teachers.
This better prepares them to deal with issues such as bioethics with a clear understanding of Church teaching.
Father Stephen Wojcichowsky, coordinator of religion services for the district, called Acheson's presentation "refreshing."
Wojcichowsky said teacher preparation has always been a priority for the religious studies department. Currently, the board supports a $185,000 a year bursary program which enables eight teachers to study full-time at Newman Theological College.
"At a time when people are scrutinizing every penny you spend, that definitely makes a statement."
Trustee Judy Buddle agreed that teachers need preparation and support to be able to carry the message of Christ into the classroom.
"But that message has to be reinforced by the parents," she added. "If it's not supported by the parents, it's not going to be effective."
Acheson pointed out that in the past, faith development took place primarily in the home.
"We believe parents are the primary educators of their children, but we may have to redefine that role, because it may not be happening."
Buddle said sacramental preparation is an ideal time for parents to get involved in their children's faith development, and provides an opportunity to link with both the school and the parish.
Buddle said she believes the questions raised during Acheson's presentation will be discussed at length by the board.
For his part, Acheson congratulated the board on initiating the discussion, but suggested that action is needed.
"You need to identify the questions, come up with answers, and then act," he told the board. "Sooner or later, someone is going to have to do something."