Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 6, 2000
Parish, schools walk hand-in-hand
West-side group is focal point for promoting Catholic education
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to WCR
A lot of people talk about strengthening the link between home, school and parish, but at least one group of Edmonton parents is doing something about it.
Their name is straightforward: St. John's Parish School Council Liaison Committee. So is their goal: to facilitate communication between the west-end Edmonton parish and the five schools within its boundaries.
But what can happen as a result of that link is more intangible - like reaching out to families who aren't active in the parish and inviting them in.
"Sometimes it's a little overwhelming, if you haven't been to church in a while," says Lori McDonough, who represents St. Vincent School on the committee.
"If you're not a Catholic, it can be even more so. We try to make it inviting."
Catholic Education Sunday is a major focus for the committee, says Sophie Ogle.
"It's part of promoting Catholic education, and celebrating it." Having students from each of the schools participate in the Mass and various events offers an opportunity for their parents to participate too, she adds.
The committee offers an open invitation to all parents, lets them know their children will be involved in the Mass, and asks them to be involved too, by bringing baking to share after Mass, for example.
What happens once that link is made can be remarkable.
"I've seen one child who now brings her family to church every week because she wants to go to the children's liturgy," Ogle says.
"I know for me, and I think for all parents, our children really strengthen our faith."
Sandi Sherman can relate. She had considered joining the RCIA for several years, but it wasn't until she and her husband enrolled their daughter in a Catholic school that she decided "it was time to get serious about this."
After completing the RCIA program, Sherman finds she now has a connection with other parents who are considering doing the same thing. "Invariably, you find people who say they've been thinking about it . . . and there are some Catholics who say they could learn more about their faith by going through the program."
Sherman now represents Our Lady of Victories School on the liaison committee. As part of its commitment to the committee, the school designates one member of its school council as the school-parish liaison.
The group meets monthly, not only to plan events around Catholic Education Sunday, but also to talk about what's happening in the schools and share ideas. Events such as Shrove Tuesday pancake breakfasts, Advent wreath making and visits to St. Joseph Seminary have all come about as a result of that sharing.
"These are opportunities for parents and kids to learn about faith in a non-threatening way," McDonough says.
The feedback from the parish is positive too, adds Ogle. "Especially on Catholic Education Sunday, I hear from older parishioners who don't have school-aged children - and the feedback is that it's so good to see these little kids here."
The committee began in September 1997 as a parent-driven initiative, and it immediately received strong support from the parish through then pastoral assistant Sister Anne-Marie Fransco.
There had previously been some informal communication between the parish and schools, but "there was the need for a stronger link, for consistent two-way communication," McDonough says.
It's part of the committee members' formal job description to ensure information flows freely between the parish and the school, and is shared with parents through school newsletters.
But it's the personal connection that makes the difference, McDonough says.
"I think it's true of everyone who has been on this committee from the beginning - we are all very approachable people."
Parents who may not be sure about whether to register their child for sacramental preparation, for example, will come up to her and ask her about it, McDonough says.
"And while I won't say 'yes, you should' or 'no,' I can let them know it's okay, and lend a listening ear.
"That's a very informal way we provide that link."
"It's nice for parents to know they have that connection with the parish, especially one like St. John's, with so many schools," says Ursula Roy, who represents St. Rose Junior High School.
Roy volunteered to sit on the liaison committee, although in junior high school, the focus shifts more to the students beginning to take responsibility for their own faith life, she says.
The link between home, school and parish is essential, Sherman says.
"I don't want my kids to think that faith is something that only happens at church. It's part of their school life and their home life, and their whole life."