My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A friend of mine recently told me a story about the joy of taking the family to dinner.
Their father was in an advanced state of dementia. His care became more than his family could provide at home, so they were forced to place him in a nursing home. But they remain devoted. Dad was always easy to love, and still is, even when the greater part of him is gone.
One night the family visited and stayed to have dinner with him. It was the usual generic dining hall fare. Dad had little to say. In his younger days he was bone-shakingly funny and the tireless, unapologetic cheerleader for his children; now he mostly repeats simple questions.
When dinner was over and everyone was getting up to leave, Dad suddenly became agitated. No one could understand what was wrong nor could he articulate his distress. Then his wise daughter-in-law had an idea. She handed him a paper napkin and a pen. He scratched away, at peace, and handed the napkin back.
The napkin was the cheque for the meal and he was paying for it. His joy was to take his family to dinner.
At that moment, his family saw their dad both as he had been and what he had become. In the fog of Alzheimer's, the essence of his old and protective habit of love survived. Everyone also learned something from the loving insight and action of the daughter-in-law.
The love that Jesus demands of us, his disciples, is that simple and profound. He asks us to love one another as he has loved us: to put ourselves second to others, to seek our joy in bringing joy to others, to honor and cherish others simply because they are sons and daughters of the God of mercy and love. This loving father continues to teach his children the transforming love of Christ.
It is the responsibility of all members of the faith community to heed the call to serve and support the formation of our children, whether that call is Catholic school trustee, educator, parent, priest, bishop, or community supporter. The responsibility to show Christ to our students lies on all our shoulders.
As we prepare for another municipal election this fall, it is important that we reflect on the important role of Catholic trustees and their vocation of service.
The role itself can be described in a variety of ways - politician, goal setter, policymaker, planner, communicator, information receiver and disseminator, advocate for education, and role model.
Catholic school trustees are a vital link between the school, the church, the community, and the government, and they provide an essential Catholic oversight of the school division or district. The Catholic school trustee, answering the vocation of trusteeship, is a steward for the Catholic school. This vocation is a call from the Church and the community to bring together faith and political life to share in the central mission of the Church: passing our Catholic faith on to our children.
The Congregation for Catholic Education puts it this way: "The heart and soul of Catholic education is Jesus Christ, and our school system finds its very reason for existence in its communication of the Christian message."
To be a Catholic school trustee represents a dual challenge: trustees must ensure that students are provided an education, while at the same time ensuring that Catholic principles and values are reflected in policies and practices of the school board, thus establishing an education system that is permeated by faith. In practice, this plays out in trustees being accountable to both government legislation as well as Canon Law (Church law).
Through legislation, the government rightly delegates much of its authority for the governance of education to locally elected boards in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. Catholic school boards are also accountable to the bishop in their diocese.
Canon 806(1) states: "The diocesan Bishop has the right to watch over and inspect the Catholic schools situated in his territory, even those established or directed by members of religious institutes. He also has the right to issue directives concerning the general regulations of Catholic school."
The ability to fulfill both a faith role and a political role without compromise is paramount for Catholic school trustees. Their position as leaders in the faith community requires understanding, a willingness to grow, and a commitment to bear daily witness to the faith.
Finally, the trustee is an important link in the partnership of home, school and parish. As representatives of the Catholic community to the government, trustees have the opportunity and responsibility to model their faith in the political arena. Implicit in that role is the responsibility to speak out when legislation or political action threatens to compromise the unique nature of Catholic education. Catholic school trustees must continually call for a discerning, visionary, and purposeful interpretation of legislation that recognizes the essence of Catholic education and its significance to society.
Candidates desiring to run for the position of Catholic trustee should consult the Local Authorities Election Act and the School Act for further information.
All eligible members of the Catholic community have the responsibility to vote on October 16, 2010 and to become involved in decisions regarding Catholic education.
☩ F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary