Spencer Boudreau

Spencer Boudreau

November 17, 2014

Ontario supporters of Catholic education should heed the lesson of Quebec before it's too late, said a former education professor and ombudsman at McGill University in Montreal.

Spencer Boudreau said one reason for the collapse of Quebec's publicly funded Catholic education system in the 1990s was that Catholic schools "lost their identity."

Speaking to about 150 Catholic educators at an Oct. 20 event at Msgr. Percy Johnson High School in Toronto, Boudreau said the loss of identity was due to the advent of an increasingly secularized society coupled with a push by Catholic schools to become overly accommodating.

"The most homogenous schools in Quebec were the English Catholic schools; they had less baggage than the French Catholic schools," he said. "They tried to accommodate everyone and it eventually became impossible."

Boudreau said he can see the same trend unfolding in Ontario.

"There are people (in Ontario) who say why should we support a Catholic school system?" he said.

A native of New Brunswick, Boudreau spent much of his working life in Quebec and served as a member of the Quebec Superior Council of Education and Religious Affairs.

He was there in 1997 when the provincial government ended funding for Catholic schools after obtaining a constitutional amendment.

Mark Siolek, religion department head at Msgr. Johnson and director of religious courses for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, said a future without publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario is not hard to imagine given how things are going.

The Quebec situation is, in some respects, being mirrored in Ontario, Siolek said.

"In Quebec it was like a slow motion, slow death that could have been prevented," he said. "We have the (Catholic education) system in place right now but it has to be shown that we can't take it for granted because, if we do, it can be gone within the next generation."

Siolek believes faith is being watered down in Catholic high schools.

He cites recent instances of students receiving exemptions from religious courses and programming, the Bill-13 Gay Straight Alliance versus Respecting Differences debate of 2012 and the 1982 full-funding agreement that welcomed non-Catholics into Catholic high schools.

Siolek is not opposed to accommodating non-Catholic students, but says accommodation should not come at the cost of Catholicity.

When Boudreau asked his audience to list the challenges confronting the Catholic identity of schools, three common themes emerged: conflict between Church teachings and educational mandates, colleagues and parents who call themselves Catholic yet do not practise the faith and a general lack of interest among students towards exploring the faith.

That is not to suggest that all hope is lost for the future of publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario, said Boudreau, but prayers alone won't save the system. This is where Quebec went wrong.

"If you care about Catholic education, be vocal about it. Be pro-active," he said. "There is clear proof and research that it is worth the investment. Anything that is concealed will be lost forever."