In honour of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of our Blessed Mother at Fatima, schools within the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education, as well as the Catholic Education Office, consecrated their buildings, staff and students to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This initiative follows the consecration of our country and dioceses by bishops and parishes by priests earlier this summer.
Director of Religious Education of Medicine Hat Catholic, Jill Wilkinson, assisted administrators of various schools, with parish priests, to officially consecrate the schools in prayer services during the month of October. At St. Michael’s School, students were reminded of the story of the three shepherd children of Fatima and the appearances of Our Lady urging them to pray the rosary for the conversion of souls. Students and staff prayed the rosary followed by a special consecration prayer and school blessing by Fr. Tomy Manjaly.
Our Catholic Faith is so rich in meaningful traditions, which are imperative for our children to experience. The story of Fatima and the examples of St. Jacinta, St. Francisco and soon to be canonized, Lucia, help students to understand our devotion to Mary and how God chooses even children to spread his salvation throughout the world. The consecration celebration held at St. Michael’s on Tuesday, October 10, was part of the school’s ongoing devotion to our Blessed Mother which consists of a weekly rosary making club and rosary lunch club.
We have such a tremendous freedom in our Catholic schools to educate our children in meaningful, life altering experiences. This was one such moment that I pray will remain with our students and staff throughout their schooling experience and in years to follow.
In the hilarious television program Mr. D., the titular character expounds a basic philosophy about teaching. “Mark the smart kid’s exam first and use it as an answer key.” He explains in another episode about the mentoring of practicum students – basically, throw them into the deep end and take a day off. In his standup routine he once told a group of teachers, “I saw a seminar recently, Engaging Students in the 21st Century. It was cancelled. You can’t engage them anymore! Teachers saying, ‘I’m not going to that! That’s impossible.’”
Needless to say, Mr. D. is not actually a role model for us as teachers, though in the way of great parody, he often builds on real situations to make his humour more identifiable. While all of us no doubt prepare diligently for each class, it’s true to say that the workload for teachers is at times overwhelming. And teaching isn’t just about the material anyway. As teachers everywhere understand – it’s how you present information, and how you connect to your students, that can be the difference between failure and success. All this is compounded by the different learning needs and styles of the students themselves. Clarity for one individual can be gobbledygook to another.
For all of these reasons, I think that teaching is one of the toughest gigs on the planet. And yet the world over, masochists keep presenting themselves to take on this challenge. Why? I truly believe that most individuals turn to this remarkable profession because they want to make a difference in the lives of others. Teaching, in the context of a faith tradition, can be even harder. We live in a secular society, and the dynamic messaging of today’s technology, and the contradictory information that flows to our children, is overwhelming.
The Calgary Catholic Education Foundation (CCEF) is one organization that understands the challenge for both teachers and students. Founded in 2008, CCEF is a charitable organization that raises funds for schools in need – innovative educational experiences, technology, literacy projects, and educational environments – to ensure that no child is left behind. And once a year, on Catholic Education Sunday, the organization rallies to raise funds through parishes and the community to help support educational opportunities and initiatives that are otherwise not funded. I’m proud to say that this year our Bachelor of Education students will be playing an active role in helping to promote the Foundation’s objectives, and indeed that one of our Education students, Vanessa Bitoni, is on CCEF’s Board of Directors. Together I am sure that we will work together to ensure that this is one of the most successful years to date for CCEF.
Our job is not just to educate, but also to do this with passion, so that we can help students find theirs. Aristotle once said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” To which I think we can all say: Amen!
Catholic schools are privileged to share in the saving mission of the Church by providing education in the faith. Cultivating wisdom and virtue by nurturing truth, goodness and beauty, students come to know, glorify and love God. In addition to educational content, these attributes are taught and learned through the practice of the faith and learning opportunities, which integrate instruction with service.
The Truth that we share is Jesus Christ and it is expressed in knowing the truth of God’s love and mercy for each person and by fostering a relationship with Jesus Christ. In the Calgary Catholic School District, students grow in truth through such activities as Youth for Christ, Alpha, pilgrimages, retreats, liturgies, prayers, devotions, and by participating in the sacraments.
Knowing the truth of God’s love, students discover their inherent goodness, learning that they and all people have been created in the image of God who alone is good. Goodness is expressed, according to Pope Francis, by drawing near to others. We see this exemplified in schools in many different ways. One school prepared an image of a large cross made up of paper hands of different tones to demonstrate that all people are created equally and must be treated with dignity and respect. One school provided items for newborns while others spent time with seniors or with the L’Arche Community.
Recognizing that all people have dignity, students experience and know beauty by serving others. Service is fueled by joy that gives hope and affirms the work and action of the Holy Spirit. Each school community thoughtfully selects service activities that provide students with service learning opportunities to help them grow in faith. In Calgary Catholic, students have served others through a variety of activities such as food, clothing and coin collections, justice fairs, breakfast clubs, being in solidarity with the homeless, and more. Some schools integrated quotes from Pope Francis’ book, Dear Pope Francis, to reinforce responsibility to care for one another.
By fostering faith through truth, goodness and beauty, Catholic schools perform an invaluable service. In the Calgary Catholic School District, we work to share the Good News of the Gospel with our students, who can then, in turn, share this with the world.
Catholic Education Sunday is a time that allows us to remember how fortunate we are in this province to be able to offer publicly funded Catholic education. Our schools provide our children with an environment where they can learn to be witnesses to the love of Christ, and to keep their eyes ever on Jesus. Since our Faith and our living cannot be separated, our Catholic Faith permeates everything we do as educators.
This year, Holy Spirit Catholic Schools will remain focused on our Faith Plan, Growing in Faith Together (GIFT). Our guiding image for this plan is a beautiful tree that will be revealed over three years. The aim of the plan’s first year was to be “Rooted in Christ,” developing a greater understanding of the foundations of our Faith. This encouraged purposeful study of the Gospels and an appreciation for Christ’s enduring love through the Eucharist. Our second year inspires us to “Grow in Spirit” together. Expanding on our knowledge of Jesus through Scripture, we hope to know Him more deeply in our hearts by nurturing this relationship through prayer.
In celebrating the gift of Catholic Education in Alberta, we are grateful to both God and our provincial parish family that loves us, supports us, and stands up for us. Please continue to pray with us and for us. Along with our students, our families, our staff, and our parishes, we look forward to a beautiful year of Growing in Spirit together!