Archbishop Richard Smith enjoys a laugh with principal Paul Corrigan and Grade 4 teacher Yvette Morin as he visits St. John XXIII School in Fort Saskatchewan May 9.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Archbishop Richard Smith enjoys a laugh with principal Paul Corrigan and Grade 4 teacher Yvette Morin as he visits St. John XXIII School in Fort Saskatchewan May 9.

May16, 2016
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Students and staff at St. John XXIII Catholic School in Fort Saskatchewan were overjoyed to receive Archbishop Richard Smith.

"I'm thrilled," said nine-year-old Gretchen Lukie. "It's like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's super exciting."

"I feel really happy I met the archbishop," added Kyan Selte, also nine. "It could be my only time meeting the archbishop."

Smith visited St. John XXIII, a kindergarten to Grade 4 school, May 9. The visit was part of his long-term plan to visit all 182 schools in the Edmonton Archdiocese. So far he has visited more than 50 elementary, junior high and high schools since he started the visits a year ago, said Rita Strauss, his executive assistant.

In an interview last year, Smith said he had set out to visit all Catholic schools in the Edmonton Archdiocese because he believes the schools are a precious gift.

"We have to do all we can do to help the children know the Lord, follow the Lord and love the Lord."

The school visits, Smith said, also provide him with a great opportunity to meet with teachers and principals to assure them, to encourage them and to help them in their role.

All of Archbishop Smith's visits to the 182 schools in the Edmonton Archdiocese will include meetings with students.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

All of Archbishop Smith's visits to the 182 schools in the Edmonton Archdiocese will include meetings with students.

At St. John XXIII, Smith spoke briefly to all 435 students in the gym and then he toured the school, stopping in several classrooms. This school had 15 additional students from Fort McMurray whose families are waiting out the wildfire in Fort Saskatchewan.

"Good morning, Archbishop Smith," the students said in unison as they welcomed Smith to their school.

The archbishop joked with the students, telling them it is unfair they get three recesses per day while he only got one when he attended school "hundreds of years ago." The children laughed and screamed while Smith said, "cool, awesome (but) not fair."

"You have three recesses but you still work hard?" he asked. "Yes," replied the students.

"Do you like all the work you have to do?" he queried. "No," the children replied.

They all agreed with the archbishop, however, that sometimes you have to do things that one might not like. "Why? Because it's the right thing to do."

STAFF WERE NERVOUS

Principal Paul Corrigan, who led the visit, was excited by the opportunity to host the archbishop and so was the rest of his staff. "When I announced it to the staff I was surprised at how excited they were about his visit here," he said. "Some were a bit nervous."

During a meeting with a group of student leaders in the school chapel, Smith said he always makes a point of meeting with students during his visits.

"It's you guys who teach me," he said. "You are students but when I come in you become my teachers because you tell me what is going on in your school."

Archbishop Smith will also have a private chat with staff.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Archbishop Smith will also have a private chat with staff.

The student leaders, all of whom are in Grade 4, provide leadership in areas such as faith, school spirit, health and citizenship. They gave Smith the specifics of their role in each of the areas.

Smith concluded his two-hour visit with a private chat with teachers and staff.

In an interview, the archbishop said the response to his school visits has been positive. "I keep getting positive feedback," he said. "The people seem happy to have that connection with the archbishop, the kids in particular."

However, he said the most positive reception is probably within his own heart as he gets to see firsthand "how good things are in our schools. I guess that's the upshot; there is so much good happening in our schools."

The types of questions Smith gets from students depends largely on the students' age. In Grades 2 to 4, questions can include "How old are you," "Do you have a pet" and "What's an archbishop."

"Those in junior high they are starting to get into some significant life questions," Smith observed. In addition to having questions about human sexuality, they wonder how to deal with depression and suicidal ideation of others.

"Then when you get into high school it's more of the career-life kind of questions," the archbishop explained.

"Every visit is different. I told the schools 'You determine how you want the visit to unfold.'"

Common to all the visits is a chat with the administration and the staff "to get a sense from them of what they are seeing," he added. "It's important to observe because children are a barometer of what's happening in the family today. That gives us an idea of what we need (to be talking about)."