Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 3, 2003
Faith foundation builds leaders
Community leaders reflect on the richness of their spiritual schooling
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
More than 100 years after the legal rights Alberta Catholic schools were defined, hundreds of thousands of former and current students continue to inspire the people around them.
Leading by example through countless hours of service and sacrifice, many Catholics in the Edmonton Archdiocese have drawn deeply from their experiences in Catholic schools. Their belief in God motivates their daily activities and as such, has enriched the lives of others.
Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Madam Justice Cecilia Johnstone knew she wanted to be a lawyer before she reached her teens.
The former president of the Canadian Bar Association and current chancellor of Newman Theological College, Johnstone said the values instilled in her as a child have opened many doors in her career.
"My Catholic education had a profound effect on me," she said.
"I was raised and educated in a fairly strong, disciplined environment. Many of my teachers were Ursuline sisters, both at St. James, which was a block from my home, and at St. Mary's High School.
I've been blessed
"I remember one of the principals was Mother Mary Janet. Many teachers were graduates of St. Francis Xavier College. They were wonderful educators. I've been blessed," she said. "They made us want to learn."
Grounded in a strong desire to be educated, Johnstone said the catechism she received, and the method by which it was delivered, proved the basis for her success.
"The sisters were very strict, but I learned a disciplined way of studying that I think helped when I entered university. I was left completely alone and I needed self-discipline."
Johnstone said she grew up in a predominantly Protestant neighbourhood (King Edward Park near Bonnie Doon) where other children would ask, "Did you learn anything in school other than religion?"
"We only had one class of religion that made it different. And we went to church on Good Friday at St. James Church, which was only a block from home. My mom still lives in the same house where I was raised," she said.
"There was always the presence of the priest and the Church."
With fond memories of the sisters and the support they gave her, Johnstone said that by Grade 7, she saw her future in law.
"I don't know why. No one in my family was a lawyer so I had no idea what that meant. Maybe watching too many Perry Mason episodes," she quipped.
"In high school, Mother Mary Janet knew that was my aspiration so she insisted I take Latin. But I disappointed her greatly because I took typing when I thought it would be more practical for me to have the ability to type my own papers in university than take Latin."
Whether she would have realized her current success if she weren't Catholic, Johnstone said it was not for her to say. But having been influenced by so many faithful people has had a significant bearing. "Objectively, I was a very driven child - very focused. It was my faith, and my belief, that I could become a lawyer. I also had the desire to help other people. I still believe this profession does assist people."
Johnstone gives credit to her association with Archbishop (emeritus) Joseph MacNeil and Father Mike McCaffery.
The archbishop suggested, and sometimes appointed, Johnstone to positions where previously there had been no women. She believes the archbishop and McCaffery suggested she assume the role of chancellor at Newman.
"Doors were opened for me because of my involvement with these individuals. They have become great friends," she said. "The experience as chancellor has been very rewarding. I feel honoured to be in that role."
Tim Spelliscy became one of the most recognizable faces in the Edmonton area as a reporter for ITV. He is now general manager and news director for Global TV.
He said he appreciates his Catholic education because he had to change provinces to receive it. "I certainly realize the value of it," said Spelliscy.
"Our family came from B.C. where you had to pay extra for a Catholic education. It wasn't government supported. You felt like a second-class citizen.
"But in Alberta, you realize you are at par with everyone else. It was a real boost for my self-esteem and self-worth."
After attending St. Rose School, which his son now attends, Spelliscy graduated from St. Francis Xavier High School in 1973. He admits the education might not have a direct bearing on his job externally, but it does internally on how he conducts himself on a daily basis.
"It was great to have the faith and religion class as part of my everyday experience. It's made a difference. It's hard to get exposure just by going to church on Sunday.
"You realize later in life just how important a Catholic education is when you become a parent," he said.
Criminal defence lawyer Mona Duckett cites serving as chair of Catholic Social Services' Sign of Hope campaign and as a member of the board of governors at St. Joseph's College, among many roles she has assumed in both Church and community.
"My Catholic education has influenced my secular life because as I was going to school, Catholicism, Christianity, knowing, loving and respecting God were pervasive in my life, both at home and at school," she said.
Children on the path
Her three children are currently enrolled at St. Brendan's, where Duckett attended Grades 1 to 9. She later graduated from Austin O'Brien High School.
"At the moment, given the commitments in my professional life and to my children, I'm limited to my parish in an active sense," she said.
"I continue to be a firm believer in the importance of Catholic education. I think there are greater pulls in the secular world these days towards individualism, a lack of community, a lack of spirituality and a separation of Church and state which I don't think is particularly healthy. "To combat it, we need to strengthen our religious convictions, activities and attitudes within our parishes, homes and schools.
"We can't be downloading the obligation for instilling Catholic values into our children to the schools. People with busy lives and kids in all sorts of non-religious activities, still need to take the time to ensure they are practising their faith in their home. You can't just expect the schools to do it all."
East Central Alberta regional schools superintendent David Keohane grew up in Edmonton, and now shares his experiences from his Wainwright office.
A graduate of Louis St. Laurent High School in 1978, Keohane agrees it is incumbent upon the school, family and Church to provide a student with the value system for a healthy spiritual life.
"I do not believe that my personal faith journey would be as strong as it is if I didn't have the opportunity to not only experience Catholic education as a student, but most importantly, if I didn't have the opportunity to be employed with a Catholic education," he said. "I tell this frequently to our teachers, about what a gift this job is to us as individuals.
"What we do is a great benefit to communities and to Church."
A Catholic education gives people within education the opportunity to live their faith journey on a daily basis, Keohane said.
"It's an incredible thing. What we find awesome about Catholic education is when a student learns something - perhaps a Thanksgiving prayer - and then brings it home to the family. It gets brought up and the family becomes stronger. And then the student brings back something learned from his family."
Singling out then high school religion teacher Patrick McDonald as an inspiring faith model and the reason he wanted to become a teacher, Keohane has remained true to his conviction that love of faith begets love of faith.
"A great thing about Catholic education is that you can be inspired by other people's faith journey who work with kids. There is an ocean of talent out there working with our kids.
"Catholic education in this province is an absolute gift. It's not offered the same in all provinces. It's publicly funded. Not only is it a right for Catholics to have, but it's an awesome form of evangelization," he said.
"I think our teachers really understand that the role of evangelization is strong. What we hope is that when a student graduates, when he makes a business decision, when he decides to get married, when he is doing something with his own child, he can think about something he learned through the role models in this own classroom."