TORONTO - For the second consecutive year Annaleise Carr, the youngest person to successfully swim across Lake Ontario, has been honoured as an Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year.

Published in Catholic Education

LONDON, ONT. - What does it mean to be a Catholic university in this day and age?

Published in Catholic Education

[Updated at 12/10/12, 10:30 a.m.]

In a rebuke to comments made by Education Minister Lauren Broten, Cardinal Thomas Collins told a packed audience that the identity of Catholic schools must be respected and the mission of Catholic schools includes engaging in pro-life activities.

Collins made his comments to 1,700 people at the annual Cardinal's Dinner on Thursday night a day after Broten suggested that under the province's new anti-bullying legislation Catholic schools should not be teaching that abortion is wrong because "Bill-13 is about tackling misogyny."

"Taking away a woman's right to choose could arguably be considered one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take," she said at a press conference. "I don't think there is a conflict between choosing Catholic education for your children and supporting a woman's right to choose."

Collins did not specifically mention Broten, and neither she nor Premier Dalton McGuinty attended the dinner at Toronto's Metro Convention Centre. The Ontario government was represented by Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Charles Sousa. He heard the cardinal defend the rights of Catholic education in no uncertain terms.

Collins said the Catholic identity of Catholic schools is "recognized and protected" by section 93 of the constitution and by section 1 of the Education Act.

"Both the constitution and the Education Act make it clear that the Catholic identity of the school must be respected," he said.

Then, referring to Bill-13, the government's anti-bullying legislation, he said:

"This is true when it comes to the establishment of anti-bullying groups designed to make the school a better place for all, and in Catholic schools that means following the method outlined in the document Respecting Difference, of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association. It is our mission to speak up for all those who suffer, and especially those who are voiceless, for those who are forgotten.

"It is also true when it comes to protecting the freedom of all in the school community to engage in pro-life activities in order to foster a culture of life in which the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected and honoured throughout their whole life on earth from the moment of conception to natural death.

"Defending the voiceless is our mission."

Collins reminded the audience that Catholic education has been an integral component of Ontario schooling since before Confederation. He said the province was blessed to have a religious and non-religious education system that "work together in co-operation to make education a treasure for which all Ontarians may truly be thankful."

"There is more beauty in the variety of a garden than in the uniform, undifferentiated, monotony of the dull flat surface of a parking lot," he said.

"The complementary variety in our educational system is an advantage for all, producing not only a healthy competition from which all benefit, but also a fruitful collaboration, and the richness of different approaches to the key issues of life.

"That diversity reflects the reality of the differences that exist in our province. The system works."

Broten, who doubles as the minister responsible for women's issues, made her comments on Oct. 10 after Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) held a press conference at Queen's Park to promote weekend rallies that will demand the province stop funding abortion through Ontario health insurance.  The CLC press conference was sponsored by three Conservative MPPs.

In posing a question to Broten, a reporter said "the Catholic school system in this province is teaching the kind of intolerant thought that we saw coming out of that (CLC) press conference. They let kids out of school to go to anti-abortion rallies. Is that appropriate?" When Broten dodges that question, a reporter again asked: "Should schools be encouraging kids to go to anti-abortion rallies?"

"In Ontario, we support Catholic education, support the teaching of love and tolerance in our schools and at the same time we support the right to chose." she replied. "I am one that supports Catholic education and has been adamantly inn support of women's right to chose for many years and I do not see a conflict in those."

Published in Canada

Catholic education, the Jesuit community and the Church suffered a great loss on Sept. 26 with the passing of Fr. Carl Matthews.

"It was the significant end to an era," said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, a Jesuit himself who'd known Fr. Matthews for 50 years. "I saw him in August and noticed how frail he was but he was quite upbeat. He always had a positive attitude."

Fr. Matthews, 80, died peacefully at Rouge Valley Hospital in Ajax, Ont. Since retiring from parish life in 2010, he had lived at the Rene Goupil Jesuit Infirmary where his health deteriorated.

"He would probably thought it quite fitting that he died on the Feast of the Canadian Martyrs; that was an important devotion for him," said Prendergast. "He went very quickly at the end. People were expecting him to hang on for another week or two but the Lord called him home on that feast day."

Fr. Matthews, ordained on June 4, 1966, played many roles within the Catholic community. He was a priest, publisher of The Catholic Register for three years and served for 14 years as a trustee and then chair of the Metropolitan Separate School Board, the precursor of the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He made his most lasting mark in education, where he was an instrumental figure in establishing full funding for Ontario Catholic schools.

"I would say that he was in love with Catholic education and was a brilliant and dogged defender of our Catholic schools and our right to full funding," said historian Michael Power, author of the 2005 biography Jesuit in the Legislative Gallery: A life of Father Carl Matthews, S.J. "He learned a lot from his father who was a school inspector, but he was essentially self taught in the matter of school finances. He engineered the clinching deal on full funding."   

Fr. Matthews' involvement in the funding debate began when Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter returned from Rome in 1979 following his elevation to cardinal by Pope John Paul II. Carter, archbishop of Toronto, pulled Fr. Matthews aside and told him that the one thing he hoped to accomplish as a cardinal was to secure full publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario.

Carter asked Fr. Matthews to draft a brief but compelling argument to present to the government on the matter.

"So he left the room and within three weeks had a 12-page memorandum written," said Power. "He never heard another thing about it until in 1984 he got a call from the Cardinal's office saying listen, the premier has phoned the Cardinal asking for another copy of that memorandum. Shortly thereafter the big announcement was made."

Prior to the 1984 announcement, the province only provided subsidies up to grade 10 for Catholic schools, leaving students in grades 11, 12 and 13 to pay tuition costs.   

Born in Kingston, Ont. Fr. Mattews attended his hometown's Regiopolis College before entering St. Stanislaus Novitiate in Guelph, Ont. in 1951. After first vows and two years of Juniorate, he went on to Regis College in Toronto. Fr. Matthews returned to his former high school and taught for two years before returning to the University of Toronto to formally study education — a life-long vocation of the late father.

Although he will be remembered for his tireless dedication to his many areas of commitment, one pastime took Fr. Matthews mind off everything else — baseball.

"He loved going to the Blue Jays (but) never treated himself to a half-decent seat," said Power, who attended many games with Fr. Matthews after they first met in the early '90s. "We always sat up in the 500 section and I'd say why are you sitting up here? I came all the way from Welland to sit up in the sky?

"So the last game we went to I had four very good tickets, courtesy of a friend of mine, so we sat behind the Blue Jays' dugout. He just marveled."

Power described Fr. Matthews as a true priest, a good man and genuinely humble human being. He drove a small car, had a modest apartment and always gave what he could to those in need.

"He did splurge for his TV, he subscribed to Rogers Sportsnet or whatever it is that carries the Blue Jays games," said Power. "For him that was almost a mortal sin, but I said listen, you like baseball, watch the games."

Fr. Matthews was a lot of things to a lot of people. To Power he was a boss, a man of God and most of all a friend.

"What I'll miss is just Carl, I don't know how else to say it," said Power. "The bond of true friendship is never broken, death cannot break that, but there is a loss. He's not here, he won't be phoning me anymore, he won't be writing me anymore. I will miss him."

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

For the second time, the provincial government has taken over one of the province's Catholic school boards.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board is the latest to fall under provincial control after an external review found board staff was willing to risk a strike to balance its budget. The board's budget was short $2.2 million this year, the fifth time in the past six years it had failed to balance its books. Staff noted that a strike might help to find those savings.

The board had no contingency plan to find the savings, said Deloitte, the consultants who authored the review.

Norbert Hartmann, who oversaw the Toronto Catholic District School Board when the province took it over in 2008, has been appointed to oversee the Windsor board's financial management and administration.

Barbara Holland, chair of the Windsor board, had predicted a takeover was coming in early August. She told The Catholic Register's Evan Boudreau that it wasn't so much financial instability, but more of a retaliatory measure for the board filing for conciliation to resolve the collective bargaining difficulties it was having with its teachers (before the province introduced its Putting Students First legislation Aug. 27).

"I do feel that it is a retaliatory measure and it is retaliation because we spoke out on this issue," said Holland.

Published in Catholic Education

TORONTO - The devil is in the details as far as Catholic school boards are concerned when it comes to side-stepping strikes and lockouts.

The Putting Students First Act, the Liberal government’s legislation to freeze teacher salaries, will require Catholic schools to operate by a different, more restrictive, set of rules than the province’s public boards. And that has the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) up in arms.

Catholic boards will continue to be bound by the deal struck in July between the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Ministry of Education, even though the government legislation has backtracked on some key provisions contained in that agreement.

To get the Conservatives on side with Putting Students First, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals had to remove controversial clauses that would have stripped school boards of some rights related to the hiring of permanent teachers and managerial oversight of diagnostic testing. Public boards will now be able to negotiate locally with teachers on those contentious issues, while the trustees from Ontario’s 29 Catholic boards are stuck with the deal the government negotiated with OECTA.

“The effect of these changes are in fact no change at all,” said Bob Murray, the OCSTA’s director of legislative and political affairs. “It’s subverting the role of trustees.”

The OECTA deal leaves virtually no room for local collective bargaining because all the substantive issues were settled without input from the province’s trustees.

“Under the proposed legislation no local collective bargaining will happen,” Murray said. “It’s an agreement that local trustees never agreed to.”

On July 4, following six months of unsuccessful bargaining, the Catholic trustees walked away from the table. That left the government and OECTA to strike a deal that imposed a two-year wage freeze, a reduction in sick days from 20 to 10, and elimination of the right to bank sick days until retirement. But the deal also gave the union greater input in hiring permanent teachers and some control over diagnostic testing.

“We said from the beginning that Ontario has a problem fiscally and something had to be done and we were willing to help out,” said Marino Gazzola, president of OCSTA.

“I think our concerns are the same now as they were before any proposed changes.”

He said that in negotiations with the government, OCSTA has consistently opposed ceding rights to the union on the issues of hiring and diagnostic testing. He said it’s not for him to say if the Liberals finally changed their position due to pressure from the Conservatives.

“If I had the answer to that I would probably be a millionaire,” he said. “We’ve been voicing these concerns all along and we’ve been firm in our position and we’ve been strong and consistent in our position.”

Those concerns were that provisions surrounding the hiring practices and diagnostic testing removed managerial rights and significant checks and balances from the boards. Under the changes, the trustees believe hiring now gives seniority greater weight than overall qualification, while granting teachers control of diagnostic testing gives them the ability to hide under-performing students.

“All students in Ontario should be able to receive an education from the most qualified teachers and benefit from the insight gained from the use of system-wide diagnostic tests that include parents,” said Gazzola. “School boards in this province have serious concerns about the proposed legislation.”

OCSTA was surprised to learn that the amendments to Putting Students First would not apply to the Catholic boards. They are now calling for additional revisions to essentially veto the controversial areas of the OECTA agreement so that Catholic boards have the same ability as public boards to negotiate locally with teacher unions.

“This legislation will create inequity in our system,” said Gazzola. “We urgently call on your government to amend the legislation to honestly reflect the changes proposed by the opposition.”

Published in Catholic Education

TORONTO - The Basilian Fathers are working on a professional development curriculum for teachers that will focus on the distinctiveness of Catholic education.

“We are moving from being the teacher of the students to the teacher of the teachers,” said Fr. George Smith, C.S.B., who pitched the new curriculum at a Basilian conference held last March. “It’s easier for us to be the teachers of the teachers because there are fewer of them (than students).”

Using contemporary adult eduction techniques, which Smith described as “animation and facilitation,” the course aims to re-evangelize teachers, including those in administrative positions.

“We want to bring teachers together to explain what they do. Hear what is distinct about the school that we teach in,” said Smith. “It’s about empowering teachers to stand up and say ‘I’m a teacher in a Catholic school and here is why.’ ”

Expected to be ready for the fall of 2013, the curriculum will first appear in North America’s three Basilian-owned high schools: Toronto’s St. Michael’s College School, St. Thomas High School in Texas and Catholic Central High School in Detroit.

The curriculum will be explained to staff by two Basilian Fathers who will facilitate the program. They will be among 10 to be selected for the role during a Basilian conference in Houston in December.

During the professional development days, the Basilian facilitators will offer their opinion of what a Catholic education should be. The aim is to have teachers re-energized about their faith, which Smith said has become “lukewarm” for most.

In the paper he presented in January, Smith blamed advances in social communications, scientific and technical research, problems of globalization, new and emerging political, economic and religious forces and secularization for weakening the faith among teachers. By reigniting the teachers’ faith, Smith hopes to see a trickle-down effect throughout schools.

“I really see this as a wonderful example of the New Evangelization,” said Smith. “We’re trying to create an environment where children feel as if they’re in a community of faith.”

Although only Basilian schools will be offered this service at first, the intention is to make it available to publicly funded Catholic schools in the long run.

“When I look five years down the road I would like to see this (curriculum introduced) into areas with socio-economic challenges,” said Smith, calling this a preservation of the Basilian roots of educating the impoverished.

But this is about more than preserving Basilian ideologies, said Smith, referring to the “educational  emergency” of a Catholic school system that is growing weaker in the faith, a topic Pope Benedict XVI has often discussed.

“We are convinced that if our teachers don’t know why Catholic education is distinctive, then Catholic education will disappear in this country within a generation,” said Smith, adding that it’s the Catholic system’s attention to values which sets it apart.

Published in Catholic Education

Catholic schools exist to assist committed families and their parishes celebrate and live their faith in our communities. But people sometimes say this triad of school, church and family is no longer functional. Yes, it can be challenging to keep all the partners working in harmony, but it is a challenge we must never abandon because the result of failure is a weakening of our faith community.

When examining the early Church and how Jesus lived with His disciples we find six consistent elements of their life together. They were welcoming, celebrating, learning, reconciling, serving and praying with each other and the larger community. We must seek the same things in our parish-school relationships.

There are many teachers, parents and priests working to make this relationship more meaningful. It is a task the entire Catholic community must embrace if it is to achieve continuous improvement of our schools. At Vatican II, the Church shifted its emphasis from institution to community. Its Declaration on Education said a “Catholic school is distinguished by an attempt to build community, permeated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and love.” But this concept of community should never be truncated to just the local school. It must include the larger concept of community, embracing the parish, the school and the family. We cannot think of our Catholic community without recognizing that a community only exists if it includes all three of these pillars.

Building this community requires hard work and common sense. First, it obligates us to see the importance of this relationship and strive to make it work. It means abandoning traditional ways of doing things and not imposing our will on others (“thy will be done,” not my will be done.)

Second, let’s recognize our strength when we work together, acknowledging each other’s importance but not exclusive right. It is precisely because we form a partnership that we should be freed from the egoism and self-centred and controlling ways that often mark the secular world.

Finally, we need to seek opportunities to illustrate this partnership to students, teachers and parishioners. Our community must see the concrete ways this relationship can be made viable and enriching for all. We become stronger as a Catholic community when we give words to what we profess. But we must be mindful that this relationship is often fractured when adult concerns are imposed on our schools and when we ignore the unique role filled by Catholic schools.

The need for parish, school and home to work together has never been greater. Below are suggestions to help achieve that goal:

  • o At registration, principals should invite the parish priest to help greet new parents.  There should be a letter of welcome from the pastor as well as the principal, and recognition that registration is an opportunity to demonstrate to parents the importance of co-operation between parish, school and home.

  • o Meetings are a reality of modern life so make them productive. The local priest should be invited to address the faculty at one of their first meetings and the principal should be invited to speak to the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Women’s League or the parish council. Principals and pastors should meet quarterly, possibly over lunch or breakfast.

  • o Schools should be unwavering advocates for the parish and likewise the parish for its Catholic schools.

  • o While there may be issues of a larger nature confronting the school system or Church, work at improving one parish and one school at a time.

  • o Building relationships is essential, so even in large parishes one priest should be designated as the contact for each school and, likewise, the principal should be the main contact with the parish, not a chaplain, other school administrator or teacher.

  • o The parish bulletin should provide space each month for information about what is occurring in schools from a religious perspective, and the school newsletter should provide space for the pastor to provide information about the liturgical cycle, upcoming feast days, prayers, etc.

  • o Schools and parishes should work together on holding missions or retreat days that can include a talk by the local priest, student involvement and community prayer and fellowship.

  • o Create a pastoral plan in September that outlines events that the parish and school will do jointly and publish the calendar in the parish and school bulletins.

  • o Parishes should provide a bulletin board for schools to show off student achievements and share school news, and schools should do likewise for parishes to promote church events.

  • o All school newsletters should contain the parish Masses and organizations and all parish bulletins should contain school information.

  • o In the event of significant curriculum changes, school officials should discuss them with the priest, just as the priest should discuss with principals any new approaches to the celebration of the sacraments.

  • o Link parish youth ministers with the local school and work together on events and ministry.

  • o Priests should regularly proclaim from the pulpit the value of Catholic education, and become regular visitors to secondary schools. The local priest should not be a stranger to the community.

  • o School councils should have a parish rep to facilitate two-way communication, keeping the pastor informed on school matters and the school informed on parish issues.

  • o Vocation days or vocation weeks should be a hallmark of our schools. Schools should have a vocation plan beginning in elementary school that stresses lay vocations and the vocation to religious life.

  • o Schools should encourage faculty after-school retreats as a way for staff to link to the local parish and engage in prayer, socializing and sharing a common mission.

  • o Schools should consider holding drop-in Fridays, where a parish priest can drop by as school is dismissing to talk to staff. No agenda, just coffee, treats and dialogue between the staff and the priest.

  • o Involve the local school trustees by inviting them to meet with the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Women’s League, address the parish after Mass or speak at schools on an information night.

  • o The pastor and the principal should be on each other’s speed dial.

People looking for perfection in our Catholic homes, schools and churches will be horribly disappointed. They all are populated with struggling people. So make a list of complaints if you must, but then tear it up, because there is already too much to do and so much at stake.

(John B. Kostoff is the Director of Education for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and the author of Auditing Our Schools.)

Published in Catholic Education