Hamilton board leads way in getting pro-life message out

  • December 11, 2009
{mosimage}When it comes to pro-life teachings in Ontario, most are casting their eyes to the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board as a model.

Nearly six years ago, leaders established a board-run Culture of Life committee that has had its students interested in issues such as abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research ever since.

“We wanted to enhance the program we already had and put life issues on the front burner, particularly in our high schools,” said Barry Mombourquette, a teacher in Hamilton.

Mombourquette initially drafted the proposal for the Culture of Life Committee with Theresa Hartnet, an employee of the diocese who now chairs the committee with him.

Because of funding the Culture of Life committee receives from the Hamilton-Wentworth board, they have been able to send busloads of high school students to events related to the culture of life such as the March for Life in Ottawa and its accompanying youth conference, Life Chain and a yearly rally in the archdiocese with international pro-life speakers.

Students have put their knowledge into action by establishing pro-life clubs and helping the community through diaper drives, visiting the elderly in nursing homes and much more.

Among other initiatives, the board hosts educational assemblies for students in all its seven high schools. Grade 9 students learn about chastity and sexuality. Grade 10s get a pro-life presentation to increase their knowledge of the current issues. Grade 11s learn the ethics behind life issues and Grade 12s receive a mixture of ethics and sexuality to assist them as they prepare to go out into the world.

“I’ve been teaching for 30 years or so and I find that the youth want to be told the truth and they want to get involved when something’s not right,” Mombourquette said. “And their involvement brings them closer to God. When they’re this close to the truth, they’re closer to God and I think that’s a must.”

Mombourquette said not only has this excited the students, but it will hopefully enhance the Catholic education system so that it stands apart from the public boards.

“There’s so much talk these days on the public side that we don’t need both a separate system and a public system,” he said. “Our witness on (life) issues is going to make us distinct and distinctly Catholic.”

But Hamilton is not the only board with pro-life leanings. Following in Hamilton’s footsteps, teachers in the Halton Catholic board spearheaded a committee to get students involved in September 2008. Mary Muller, a teacher at St. Ignatius of Loyola High School in Oakville, is a member of the Halton board’s grassroots pro-life committee who is glad to see students finally getting the message formally. She realized the need was great when she began teaching full time in the 1990s.

“I was shocked when I had Grade 12 students who really knew nothing about abortion and euthanasia,” Muller said.

They’ve generally had a good response to efforts in the past year, Muller said, particularly from the students themselves.

“Our students are really driving our clubs that have just taken off,” she said. “Once the message gets across to our kids they want to do something about it and they just need a facilitator.”

In Ottawa, the Catholic board hosted its first gathering this month for about 30 of the 200 students who attended the March for Life last year. It was to consist of a half-day “de-briefing,” said Jan Bentham, religious education and curriculum leader.

“They will reflect on what they can do further from a social justice perspective,” Bentham said. “For example we have a school in our board for teenage mothers which they might fund- raise for.”

She said it would be an opportunity to begin broadening their understanding on “the seamless garment of the church teaching” and broaden their language for discussing these issues with compassion.

Christian Elia, director of the Office of Catholic Youth of the archdiocese of Toronto, said he wishes the pro-life message was more prominent within the Toronto Catholic board.

“I think that a lot of times people are attracted to social justice issues that seem exotic — for example travelling to a developing nation and participating in a project, building a well, building a school,” he said. “These are very important initiatives of course that as Catholics we should be engaged in, but we have to realize that right here at home in the developed world and in western nations, there are terrible, terrible injustices which are taking place against the unborn and pretty soon against the elderly and the sick and the dying.”

He hopes the Toronto board, like Catholic boards surrounding Toronto, will promote Pope John Paul II’s “Culture of Life” teachings.

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