Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
November 5, 2001
Catholic spirit in Calgary schools
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
CALGARY — It's called Faith Day. For the second year in a row, more than 4,000 people — teachers and custodians, school trustees and superintendents, administrative and support staff — came together on All Saints Day (Nov. 1) for a full day of study, prayer, singing, reflection and celebration of their Catholic faith.
The participants were members of Calgary Roman Catholic Separate School District and Faith Day is one way in which the district ensures that Catholicism permeates every aspect of school life.
But there are many other ways the district emphasizes its Catholicity — through prayer, service, liturgies, hiring policies, religious education, artwork and architectural features, as well as programs like Kara, Catholic Community of Caring and even its Critical Incidence Response Team.
Moreover, the district believes it's important to provide leadership on the issue of Catholicity through its involvement in everything from World Youth Day to the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association.
"It (Catholicism) is embodied and included in every thing we do," says Judy McKay, superintendent of instructional services. "It is both explicit and implicit.
"What that really means is that throughout the course of the day, our Catholic schools try to live the essence of Catholicism."
With the theme, One in the Spirit, the day-long Faith Day at the Stampede Roundup Centre began with a multi-media presentation atop a stage with a crucifix at the centre, flanked by banners portraying a dove and the Jubilee Doors. Then Father Brian Cavanaugh, a Franciscan priest from Steubenville, Ohio, talked about spirituality and leadership.
"In light of the brokenness in our world that we have witnessed from the events which occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, the theme of Faith Day urges us to consider the truth that God reaches out, through us, to respond to the cries of his people," said Denise DeNeve, the district's supervisor for religious education and family life.
"The feast of All Saints Day reminds us of our call to generosity of spirit and a call to consistency and heroism," she said in her quarterly newsletter, Religious Educator. "This feast day challenges us to be ever aware of our vulnerability, conscious of our need for God's action in our lives and alert to the role of God's generosity in human existence."
Prayer, regular liturgical celebrations and special retreats are other ways the district emphasizes its spirituality. Every morning in every one of its 91 schools, students pray before classes begin. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a special prayer service was prepared and two days later, students stopped at 10 a.m. to pray collectively across the district.
Furthermore, more and more the Calgary Catholic Community of Caring Schools program has become another foundation stone. It is based upon the Community of Caring program started in the U.S. by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. It works to implement and encourage five values — trust, family, respect, caring and responsibility — in schools.
The Calgary district took the program and adapted it by inculcating it with Catholic values. Calgary is the only Catholic school system in North America using the program.
For instance, a hand represents the program with a finger for each of the five values. The Calgary district added a six element, faith, at the centre — in the palm of the hand.
Today the caring community program has been introduced into 41 schools, including 13 new schools this fall. It focuses on developing and improving interaction between young people and adults. It's a program with a process that encourages students to increase their commitment to school, encourage productive work habits, involve them in community service and plan for the future.
"We want to focus on . . . making Catholicism 'a lived reality'," says coordinating teacher Cheryl Finlay. "We want to teach kids what it means to be Catholic and practise their faith. We want our kids to live Catholic values on a daily basis."
After the Sept. 11 events, a number of schools asked how they could make contact with schools in the U.S.
Finlay contacted the Community of Caring in Washington, D.C., to establish a link with schools that are only a few blocks from the Pentagon.
They are examining ways of making contact, everything from sending off "Bags of Hope" to setting up a pen pal program.
But there are other ways schools develop those values. They stock food hampers for St. Vincent de Paul Society; establish Caring Clubs where students receive "Cool to be Kind" awards; and decorate their foyers and hallways with works of art depicting elements and symbols of the Catholic faith.
In mid-October, students at John Paul II Elementary in Castleridge kicked off their second year in the program by examining a second tier of virtues: Be safe, kind, peaceful, respectful and cooperative. They then carved pumpkins and made banners illustrating those themes.
A precursor to the Community of Caring program was the Kara program for pregnant and parenting students and their families. The first Kara Centre opened in 1991 at Bishop Grandin High School. Today, there are now three centres in the district fully integrated into the schools.
The program emphasizes several Catholic themes from its pro-life stance to the idea of being a "welcoming Church," says Linda Blasetti, chair of the board of trustees.
"This is one of the shining stars of our district," she said. "It says to the students in the classroom, 'Here are some of your friends who need your help.' It teaches students about being part of a caring community. It is one of the best programs we have."
All teachers hired by the district are Catholic. All subjects are taught through a Catholic lens.
"We really see a part of our mandate is to help students understand and address contemporary issues so they understand Catholic doctrine and belief in a world that doesn't match our values," says McKay. "We prepare them as students and parents and members of that society."
For instance, a science course might reflect on the subject of genetic engineering in light of Catholic ethical and moral teachings.
Even the district's critical response teams, comprising chaplains and guidance counsellors, draw on their Catholic roots to help students.
"It provides us with an opportunity to emphasize our faith," says McKay, "and to provide the strength and comfort that comes with that faith."
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