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Preparing for Catholic Education Sunday

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!

Related Offices Carillon Religious Education
Related Themes Catholic Schools Catholic Education Family

A Mediator for Humanity

And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.’ –Luke 1:41

The 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima is approaching. It will be a celebration of one of the most dramatic accounts of Marian apparitions in our time. Beginning with three visits by the Angel of Peace in 1916, three shepherd children in Portugal claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary during six apparitions that concluded on the 13th of October 1917. Our Lady had promised to reveal three secrets to the children, and offered a miracle upon her last visit, which was witnessed by upwards of 60,000 people. One of these secrets is said to have predicted the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981. Lucia Dos Santos, the eldest of the three children, later saw an apparition, of the Child Jesus and the Virgin Mary, in her convent room in 1925.

Dating back to the 1500s, the Anglo-French word “aparicion” references the Epiphany as an opening of Heaven to the world. Just as the revelation of the Christ child to the three wise men offered a glimpse of a greater glory, so too can an apparition be understood to open a door to divine understanding. Over time the word has come to be used as a signifier of anything ghostly and unexpected, but it traces itself back to holy origins. Marian apparitions occupy a unique place in our Catholic faith, and pilgrimages to major sites in Lourdes and Tepeyac (near Mexico City, Our Lady of Guadalupe), for example, are legendary.

As important as the visions themselves, are the “messages” Mother Mary is said to have brought, from requests to build churches, to prayers to end a world war. The visions reveal a call to hope, though they also warn of challenges and crises, for which faith is offered as a refuge and an antidote. A particular feature of Marian apparitions is the disclosing of secrets that tell of impending tragedies or momentous events. In the end, such apparitions are powerful reminders of our belief in Mary, and her place as a mediator for humanity – a bridge to Our Lord.

As a university named in her honour, the St. Mary’s community looks forward to the month of May, which is traditionally understood as Our Lady’s month. As Marge Fenelon, writing in the National Catholic Register put it, “The idea of a month dedicated specifically to Mary can be traced back to baroque times. …It was in this era that Mary’s Month and May were combined… with special devotions organized on each day throughout the month. This custom became especially widespread during the nineteenth century and remains in practice until today.” For many, including me, every day is Mary’s day: a time to celebrate a blessing of incredible mystery and approachability. As St. Josemaria Escrivá once said, “When you see the storm, if you seek safety in that firm refuge which is Mary, there will be no danger of your wavering or going down.”

Related Offices Carillon
Related Themes Catholic Education

The Most Humbling Act

Mandatum novum do vobis: I give you a new commandment.– John 13:34

One of my favourite words is Maundy. Growing up I never knew what Maundy Thursday meant. I just knew that it was a pretty serious time during Easter. For a while I used the word interchangeably with maudlin, and came to think of the maundies as relating to sadness and gloom. So it was with some surprise that I eventually learned that it meant commandment, from the Old French mandé, and from the Latin, mandatum. Its connection to church practice comes from Christ’s own words: “Mandātum novum dō vōbīs,” or “I give you a new commandment.”

We celebrate Maundy Thursday during Holy Week, during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It was there that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. You will remember the dramatic retelling of this episode in John 13 when Jesus not only identifies Judas as his betrayer, but also humbles himself to wash the feet of his disciples. Peter appears to bristle at the intent, but Jesus explains: “If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.” The point of the gesture, and one that Jesus insists on, is that this is a moment of communion with the other that must be passed on through all our relationships. “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.”

The obvious contemporary parallel to this behavior has been modeled by Pope Francis, who time and again has chosen to wash the feet of the other, first at a youth detention centre, then prisoners and then women. More than his decision to live outside the Papal palace or to eschew luxury vehicles, the Pope’s washing of the feet is a deeply symbolic connection to Christ’s demonstrated ministry. It is also an example of servant leadership, where the most humbling act brings the highest and lowest to the place of common bond where God first placed us.

It is perhaps because of this that Maundy Thursday matters so much, but also that we need to move past the bristling that Peter showed, especially when we look at those who are not like us: the outsider, the marginal, the struggling and the lost. Our need to look beyond formal rules and regulations and reach out, despite whatever fear or strangeness separates us, is not only important, but mandated. Christ did not come to make us comfortable; he came to make us grow. So when He calls, who are we to turn away?


The Carillon

In the May 2017 edition of The Carillon, an icon of Our Lady of Fatima was featured on the front page. The painter, sacred art artist Vivian Imbruglia, offers us an explanation of the icon and its symbols. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE.

Related Offices Carillon
Related Themes Lent Catholic Education

Reconciling the Art of the Possible

Learn to do good and seek justice. –Isaiah 1:17

In July 2016 Pope Francis declared, “I want to be a spokesperson for the deepest longings of Indigenous peoples. And I want you to add your voice to mine.” In the video announcing his prayer intention, an Indian woman is shown approaching a podium and pleading for the plight of indigenous peoples to be heard. When the camera pans out, however, the auditorium is empty, a metaphor, perhaps, for the deafness of the world to the plight of oppressed people.

It reminded me of a similar moment many years ago in Australia at a conference on listening to the Aboriginal voice, when a young Indigenous scholar appeared before a large crowd of sympathetic white academics and played a video of an activist reading protest poetry. The sound was muted and the video was allowed to play, silently, for a full 15 minutes. All the while the presenter stared at the increasingly uncomfortable crowd. Then he turned off the TV and announced, before he stormed from the room, “This is what you’ve heard from Indigenous peoples at this conference.” Horrified organizers realized, in that moment, that no Aboriginal guests had been invited to discuss the issue of Indigenous voices. It was a blunder that was not soon repeated.


the greatest antidote
to silence is dialogue


I use the latter example because it occurred in the context of incredibly well-meaning, learned and completely supportive academics at a conference specifically called to address acknowledged silence. Despite this, they still neglected to invite the people at the heart of the concern. It is a lesson that I have never forgotten: that the greatest antidote to silence is dialogue, not speeches – action not intentions. Even the most well meaning will be deaf to change unless we learn to listen.

In the context of the United Nations’ declaration for Indigenous peoples — the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee just completed, the announced inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls, and the most recent controversy over the Canadian Catholic Church’s handling of reparations owed over the handling of the Residential Schools debacle — it seems more important than ever that conversations increase, not decrease.

For St. Mary’s University here in Calgary, this meant the development of an Aboriginal Strategic Plan some three years ago, one that led to the establishment of an Elders on Campus program, an Indigenous Advisory Board, an experiential learning program at Ghost River for staff, faculty and students, and the incorporation of a blanket exercise modeling the devastating impact of colonialism, held at a university retreat where 98% of the institution participated. And in mid-January the University was chosen to host the 3-day National Truth & Reconciliation roundtable.

Needless to say, there is still much to do. What is heartening, however, is how fully the university as a whole has embraced this dialogue, and more importantly, how generously Indigenous communities have welcomed St. Mary’s into the dialogue, sharing their knowledge, their talents and their generosity of spirit. Dialogue together with action is the first step towards reconciliation and healing. Our hope is that this journey towards reconciliation becomes widespread and all pervasive.

As Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations recently pointed out, “Make room in your heart, your soul and your spirit.” Or as Pope Francis put it at a ceremony in Chiapas, Mexico: “How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, ‘Forgive me!’”

Related Offices Carillon
Related Themes Catholic Education

A Noble Man

While driving to work on the 4th of January I heard on the radio that the Pope had officially accepted Bishop Henry’s resignation. While I had an inkling that this was coming, it was still a great shock to hear the news confirmed. After 19 years, Bishop Fred Henry, was resigning, due to his serious health issues. As Chancellor of St. Mary’s University, he and I have worked together closely for five and a half years. This activity has included Convocations, blessings at fundraisers and five Bishop’s Dinners. I even recall, with some trepidation, a lone phone call very early in my presidency, where Bishop Henry asked me to join his foursome at a charity golf tournament. When the Bishop calls, you say yes! So, I did. After hanging up I announced to my kids, “I have to learn how to play golf!”

You’re on your own.

Needless to say, that tournament was one of the most stressful public events I have ever attended. To suggest that my game was execrable is to be charitable. As I moved towards the cart someone leaned towards me. “He got two holes-in-one last year,” the man whispered, no doubt trying to inspire confidence. “You know Bishop,” I said as we approached the first hole, “ you’ll need to be a bit patient, this is the first time I’ve ever golfed.” Bishop Henry stared at me with those piercing eyes that would drive a lesser man to repent for sins undone: “Charity is for church,” he declared, “This is golf. You’re on your own.” And as he prepared to tee off he added: “You know, I got two holes-in-one last year…” It should be said that Bishop Henry often mentioned my golf game and St. Jude in the same breath. I never knew why….

In interviews about Bishop Henry I have been asked what people will most remember about his time in office. The gist of my answer is that we will remember a man of principle, of conviction and energy, a man of faith and good will; a man unafraid to speak his mind and to defend the mission of the church, who spoke up for the voiceless, and advocated for the homeless, and who believed passionately in the importance of education. He is a man who inspires confidence and conviction; a brilliant raconteur, who is welcoming in his humour and insight, and who is never afraid to stand his ground.

But this is not a eulogy. Bishop Henry will remain a dynamic voice for the Catholic Church, for the underdog, and for those who need his activism. In this sense, I know that he will not go quietly into that good night. He will continue to champion our causes, and to generously offer his prayers and support … except, possibly, on the golf course. There, you’re on your own!

Related Offices Carillon
Related Themes Catholic Education
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