Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 14, 1999
Three school superintendents retire
They see need for more support for Catholic education
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Catholic schools in the Edmonton, Elk Island and East Central school divisions will be under new leadership in September.
The superintendents of all three districts, with more than 30 years of experience between them, have announced plans to retire or move on to other projects.
And all three agree that while Catholic education is alive and well in Alberta, their successors will face big challenges.
"Catholic education is really valued in our province and it's important that it continue to be valued, not only for the Catholic community, but for the whole community," says George Bunz, superintendent of East Central for 19 years.
"I think our future depends on the value we hold for society."
Patrick Maguire agrees. As superintendent of Elk Island, which includes Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan, he sees the continued growth in Catholic school enrollment as a positive sign.
"I don't think there's any question that the community sees Catholic schools as good places to be. . . . There's a great deal of public confidence in what we do."
But he adds there is growing concern among some groups that the political will in support of Catholic education across Canada is fragile.
If the Catholic community as a whole were aware, involved and persuaded of the value of Catholic schools, it would be able to communicate that message clearly to politicians, Maguire says.
"What increasingly is needed is a forum where parish organizations and parent organizations can come together to learn about and discuss the mission and ministry of Catholic schools," Bunz says, adding that such a process is currently in the development stage.
For Terry Fortin, superintendent of Catholic schools in Edmonton and Vegreville, one great challenge will be to develop a "true learning Catholic faith community."
"We have to maintain a community focus, meaning we serve all the children. We have to make sure continually to focus on the disadvantaged and those without resources."
Bunz says the very nature of Catholic education means Catholic schools must be open to all.
"Our mission statement is that we are open to all to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, that we are unconditionally loved by Jesus Christ, and called to act as Jesus Christ to each other.
"Any time we become exclusive, we set up walls that are impenetrable. . . . But by opening doors I don't necessarily mean compromising our values; we are there for people who desire to be there to learn."
Sharing facilities with public schools, for example, is an idea which could work on one level, Bunz says.
"But when it infringes upon our ability to be who we are, it doesn't work. Sharing a CTS lab is a far cry from sharing decisions about the mission and ministry of the school."
All three say one positive sign for Catholic schools is the increasing confidence among teachers and support staff to share their faith with students.
Better preparation through courses at St. Joseph's College of the University of Alberta has made a difference, as have opportunities for experienced teachers to study at Newman Theological College.
"I believe the laity are committed to sharing their faith," Fortin says. "You can see principals taking on a leadership role and encouraging others to serve, and it's beautiful to see.
"We need to show the passion of our faith to our students. That's what they're going to remember, so when they leave the school after Grade 12 they are on fire with their faith."
The effort needed to provide spiritual growth opportunities for teachers and support staff is worth it, says Bunz.
"We've seen the fruits of it in the relationships some of our staff share with their students.
"Our vision of God is the stimulus of how we act - it shapes how we treat each other. If we see God as a vengeful God, and we believe we are called to act in the image of God, what's to stop a student from reacting in a violent way?
"But if we see God as always being there, an unconditionally loving God, that's the message we carry to our students. And it's there far more than people realize.
"With so many of our students, I am amazed at what I see as the spirit of these people. It's more than going to Church - it's seeing God in others, and this is what we convey to them. We have every reason to be proud of our students graduating from Catholic schools."
Maguire echoes the sentiment.
"We just graduated close to 300 kids who have been through the Catholic education system and are now going out in the community to become pipefitters and doctors and secretaries and so on, and that has to influence the community in a positive way."