In his initial response to the Alberta Bishop’s Pastoral Letter on “shared” or joint facilities, Catholic Education: Becoming Salt and Light for the World, Premier Klein said: “I see absolutely nothing wrong with this (a proposal to cut costs) ... what is the difference between a Catholic paper clip and a Protestant paper clip—nothing—but when you buy two and multiply that, it adds to the cost.” A nice sound bite, but the comment reflects a serious misunderstanding of what Catholic education is all about. It’s about much more than paper clips.
The Congregation for Catholic Education in The Catholic School remarked that “Christ is the foundation of the whole educational enterprise in a Catholic school. His revelation gives new meaning to life and helps us to direct our thoughts, actions and wills according to the Gospel, making the beatitudes the norm of our lives. The fact that in their own individual ways all members of the school community share this Christian vision, makes the school ‘Catholic’; principles of the Gospel in this manner become the educational norms since the school then has them as its internal motivation and final goal.”
Distinctiveness of Catholic Schools
Parents have no difficulty in identifying the distinctiveness of Catholic Schools as they point to following distinctive characteristics:
- their Catholicity, defined as the visible signs of the faith within the school, the reality of a caring Christian school community, the shared faith of all members, the freedom to express that faith, and the important, cooperative relationship between the home, the school and the parish
- their relatively strict discipline policies which are based on principles of forgiveness and reconciliation
- their vision of the need for education of the whole child, body, mind and spirit
- their emphasis on social justice teachings
- their values – Gospel and family values that reinforce those taught at home
Values of Catholic Schools
When surveyed about what they value about our schools, they point to:
- our traditions and history – they want students to share the positive experience they associate with their own Catholic education. They want the history of Catholic schools and the rich traditions of the Church preserved
- the freedom our schools afford for expressing and sharing the Catholic faith in prayer, teaching, and celebration
- our holistic education in which the Gospel values taught, mirroring those in the home
- the sense of community evident in our schools
- the opportunity Catholic schools provide for evangelization of students and parents
Hopes for Catholic Education
When asked about their hopes for Catholic Education, they cite:
- the need for Catholic schools to continue to exist.
- a need for more parental involvement in schools. That the role of school councils be enhanced in various ways, including helping define the school’s mission, being more involved in the spiritual aspects of school life, providing active links to the parish, and having more opportunities to participate as decisions are made which impact them. Consider the formation of a provincial association for Catholic school councils.
- that the system will remain obviously faith-driven and Christ-centred, led by teachers and administrators committed to the faith; that our graduates will emerge as Catholic leaders who help to serve and transform their community; and that the relationship between school and parish will be strengthened, through a greater presence of the clergy in the schools, more adult faith formation, and more youth ministry in parishes.
Major Issues Facing Catholic Education
They identify the following major issues facing Catholic education:
- the continued existence of Catholic schools is the single most important issue. Some worry that the government agenda of cost cutting will lead to our demise; others fear that increasing numbers of non-Catholic students and “unchurched” Catholic students will dilute our distinctiveness, that joint or “shared” facilities will undercut our mission.
- other issues include the need for resources, both financial and human, including adequacy and flexibility in funding and a sufficient supply of Catholic teachers of strong faith; the apparent apathy, indifference and disunity of members of the Catholic community
- teacher morale
Preserving Catholic Education
Parents also have definite ideas on how to preserve Catholic education for the future:
- we must begin to actively promote Catholic education and to initiate widespread communication and dialogue about Catholic schools locally and provincially. There is a desire for accurate and timely information on issues. Communication must begin within the Catholic education community itself, within the home-school-parish partnership, and at the provincial level, among the trustees, bishops and ATA. There is a need for collaboration and a unified Catholic voice on important issues. We must increase our public visibility through greater use of media, and must become more active politically if necessary.
- there is a call for strong leadership from the bishops and clergy, from ATA and from school councils, as well as for a complement of committed Catholic teachers, supported and assisted in their faith journey by administrators and trustees.
Given all of the above, it’s hard to put any credence whatsoever in the Premier’s opinion that Alberta Catholics should be singing the praises of a provincial recommendation that separate and public school students share facilities.
☩ Frederick Henry