Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 18, 2009
Report urges extensive changes to Bible school
Finances, administration, counselling methods, student selection all come under fire
WCR FILE PHOTO
The Behold the Lamb travelling ministry was but one ministry that grew out of the John Paul II Bible School.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
RADWAY – The John Paul II Bible School requires “extensive and far-reaching” changes, says a report written by a three-person visitation team appointed by St. Paul Bishop Luc Bouchard.
The team, headed by Toronto Auxiliary Bishop Richard Grecco, the Canadian bishops’ liaison with the charismatic renewal, made 36 recommendations for changes in virtually every aspect of the school’s operations from administration to the pastoral counselling of students.
However, the board of directors overseeing the school decided that instead of implementing the recommendations, it would close the school after the current school year.
Other members of the team, which visited the school March 23 to 27, were Sister Frances MacDougall, a pastoral theologian at Newman Theological College in Edmonton, and Deacon Joe McMorrow, director of social justice for the St. Paul Diocese.
The report said the team interviewed or consulted more than 70 alumni, four former and current school directors, members of the current and past board of directors, lecturers, and current staff and students.
The visitation team report said “there has been much to be grateful for in the school’s history.”
The vast majority of the school’s alumni interviewed for the report say it played a positive, life-changing role for them. Some graduates have been ordained to the priesthood or entered religious life, while others serve parishes in paid or volunteer roles.
The visitation team also paid tribute to the strong community bonds among students and the three hours a day of prayer in which students engage.
However, it pointed to the need for far-reaching changes, changes it said that even many of the school’s supporters also desire.
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
The school, it said, lacks “a board of governors that provides effective oversight and control of the school’s operations and administration.”
It called for establishment of “a working board with a very hands-on orientation” that includes members with training in law, education and accounting.
The school’s financial state “raises serious concerns,” the report stated. The school depends on the St. Paul Diocese for its financial viability and the diocese is unable to provide further support.
As well, the school needs a minimum of 25 to 30 students a year to be financially viable and it should provide “adequate compensation for quality lecturers and staff.”
Currently, there are nine full-time and two part-time students at the school.
Kilian O’Donovan, Bible school director, said there were 21 students the previous year and 44 as recently as 2005-06.
He attributed the decline in enrollment to a booming economy and said all indications were that enrollment would increase to a much higher level if the school had remained open next fall.
The report suggested closing the school for one year, reorganizing it and developing a long-term financial plan before “starting anew” in 2010-11.
Peter Thompson, a member of the school’s board, said the board was prepared to implement some of the recommendations gradually and wanted to discuss others.
Both he and O’Donovan said implementing all of the recommendations would have changed the focus of the Bible school from a year of spiritual formation to a more academic approach.
The report also said the school has at times had students “whose personal difficulties exceeded the school’s resources.”
It called for more thorough screening of applicants and greater effort to inform students of the school’s “no dating” rules as well as its restrictions on secular music, cell phones and media.
The report called on the board to have a role in hiring staff and for “a clear majority of lecturers on religious subjects” to have recognized theology degrees.
Thompson, who has taught at the school for 19 years and served on the board for three years, said the school already meets the recommendation that most lecturers have theology degrees.
McMorrow agreed that that was true, but said there were concerns about some lecturers who were “winging it without a solid foundation” of knowledge.
The visitation report was also critical of pastoral counselling at the Bible school and called for “extensive revision.”
It called for a counselling approach called theophostics to be dropped as well as similar materials developed by Elijah House.
McMorrow described theophostics as a type of “memory recovery” which includes both prayer and counselling to help students heal emotional pain based on false beliefs about past experiences.
“If people were not psychologists were running such a program, it held great danger,” he said.
The report also called for protocols for healing prayer to be developed in line with international charismatic guidelines and to be approved by the bishop of St. Paul.
And it recommended that students be introduced to a biblically based Roman Catholic program of personal prayer and discernment.
The full report of the visitation team is available on the St. Paul Diocese’s website, www.dioceseofstpaul.ca.