St. Brigid’s students’ environmental commitment ‘a spiritual imperative’

By 
  • May 25, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - As Mass ended under bright sunshine outdoors and teacher-librarian Kathryn Zaleski-Cox announced St. Brigid’s Elementary School had made the grade as an Ontario EcoSchool, a cheer went up. For the 580 students of east-end Toronto’s St. Brigid’s Elementary, their teachers and two dozen parents participating in the May 17 Mass, they weren’t just cheering for something students had accomplished with a year’s worth of litterless lunches, reduced energy consumption and heightened ecological awareness. The cheer also recognized prayers answered.
There’s nothing merely fashionable about the Catholic school’s commitment to the environment, said Zaleski-Cox.

“It’s actually a spiritual imperative,” she said.

St. Brigid’s ecological curriculum began with a Toronto Catholic teachers’ day of reflection at St. Gabriel’s parish, where teachers discovered the church’s teaching of respect and care for the Earth in documents issued by popes, Vatican bodies and conferences of bishops.

“It’s very important as a Catholic school that we don’t go down that pantheistic road,” said Zaleski-Cox.

For Grade 8 student Katarina Muir the Catholic theology of ecological stewardship is obvious and basic.

“It’s the Creator of everything who gave us His Son as a human being,” she said shortly after reading the concluding prayer for the school Mass.

Muir loves to read at Mass, and she thought the concluding prayer spoke an obvious truth when it said, “The presence of Jesus among us is a certain sign of your love for humanity, and your love for all of the created world.”

In other words, Catholic commitment to preserving the environment is all about the incarnation.

“It helps you to realize how much Jesus is among us,” said Muir.

The Mass to commemorate a school year dedicated to the environment was not only conducted under bright sun that defied official forecasts of rain, but the backdrop behind the altar was a multipanelled, two-metre tall painting by Grades 1, 2 and 5 students. The painting, called Urban Paradise, depicts the students and their community in harmony with nature. The project was financed by Arts for the Children of Toronto.

The EcoSchool program isn’t some teacher-driven propaganda that students have to play along with, said St. Brigid’s vice principal Lily Lio.

“They’re excited (about being an EcoSchool). There’s no resistance,” said Lio. “They feel they’re part of a movement.”

Lio is also convinced students are evangelizing their parents, two dozen of whom showed up to help organize and provide music for the school Mass.

“They listen to their kids. I would listen to my children,” she said.

The students also know the year spent trying to shrink the school’s environmental footprint represents a genuine accomplishment, said Lio. Constant monitoring and surprise visits by the EcoSchool staff at the Toronto Catholic District School Board kept the school community on its toes.

“They see whether we’re bluffing or not,” Lio said.

“Our school is the best school,” Grade 8 student Ryan Rambarran confidently declared to a visitor.

Challenged to say why, Rambarran shot back, “Because we’re an EcoSchool.”

Grade 7 student Issey Abraha backed him up with a long list of the school’s accomplishments — a Free the Children club which runs Toonie Tuesdays helping to build a school in Africa, the Eco Club, litterless lunches and more.

For Liana Paixao, a parent with three children at St. Brigid’s, the EcoSchool program is an example of a school that knows how to engage students and the community. Paixao wrote a concluding song just for St. Brigid’s EcoSchool Mass. She had the school choir in full voice with a message about how we have treated God’s creation.

“Basta, no more of this,” sang the students.

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