Dufferin-Peel educators united in faith

  • November 16, 2007
{mosimage}MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - “Today we tell the world that Catholic education is indispensible,” said Ralph Borrelli in his welcoming address to more than 7,800 Dufferin-Peel District Catholic School Board teachers and staff on Nov. 7 in the first board-wide faith formation day in 20 years.

While planning for the event started about a year ago, it happened to coincide with October’s provincial election debate about the future of publicly funded Catholic education.  

“I think with all the challenges in the last election this will help put a public face on us,” said Shelagh Peterson, one of the lead organizers and co-ordinator of religious education and faith formation for the board.

Dufferin-Peel is one of the largest school boards in Ontario with 88,000 students in 144 schools in Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon and Orangeville.

Priests, principals, trustees and teachers were among the thousands gathered at the International Centre in Mississauga for morning Mass followed by a keynote address by Sr. Miriam Martin, PBVM, a full-time theology professor at Saint Paul University in Ottawa.

Toronto Auxiliary Bishop John Boissonneau and Ukrainian Eparch Stephen Chmilar concelebrated Mass with Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto.

Collins urged the crowd to make choices that are life-giving. “The choice of life is substantial, all the rest is an illusion,” said Collins.

He encouraged the crowd to steer away from selfishness. When we become self-absorbed, we celebrate the unholy trinity of me, myself and I, said Collins, adding the theme song of the devil is “I did it my way.”

“What God made is good, but it’s we who’ve brought evil in this world,” he said.

Collins challenged the crowd to make small, everyday, life-affirming choices.

“The choice of life is practical, not just from the shoulders up. It’s washing dirty feet. It’s head, heart and hands. It’s making Christ present,” said Collins.

Choosing a life of generosity and love means living a life of service in practical ways like visiting the sick, being kind to people and noticing those in need, said Collins.

Following Mass Martin explored the conference theme, “The Human Face of God,” using the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth taken from the Gospel of Luke as a reference point. She challenged the crowd to be awake, alert, attentive, active and amazed just as the two biblical women were.  

“They are Catholic, these teachings. They are in word and deed different and this is what will sustain Catholic schools in Ontario,” said Martin.

Martin addressed the threat to publicly funded Catholic schools in Ontario by drawing on her own experience teaching in Newfoundland’s Catholic schools before public funding for the denominational system was removed from the Constitution in 1997. Newfoundland “lost the opportunity to educate the whole child in body, mind and spirit,” said Martin.

She said that aside from manipulation from the government and the media regarding sexual abuse cases, a lack of teacher formation and poor home, school and parish relationship led to the demise of the denominational education system.  

Martin said she recently spoke with Cecil Critch, principal at St. Bonaventure’s College, one of the three private Catholic schools in Newfoundland. He reiterated the need for teacher and support staff formation and added the need to recognize the gift of vocation and ministry in Catholic schools, to pay attention to what’s going on socially and that having funding in the Constitution is no guarantee.

Martin also emphasized networking with the broader community.

“Outreach to the wider world is what keeps us vital as Catholics,” said Martin.  

“The arts need to have their rightful place in Catholic education. Music, storytelling, writing, drama, poetry, this brings the soul of our past to future generations,” she said. “It’s awe and wonder that we touch into the fullness of life for all.”

She ended her speech singing a song, “Welcome in the poets, the lovers, the dreamers...”

Staff returned to their schools and offices in the afternoon for workshops on using the Our Father to address challenges, addressing the unique challenges of high schools and making schools safe and inclusive.

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