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The great gift of Catholic education

  • June 17, 2007
Editor’s note: Michael Bator, director of education for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board , retired this month after 34 years as teacher, principal, superintendent and director. He offers below a reflection on what Catholic education has meant to him.
My first recollection of Catholic education was in the home. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment in time, but rather, it is a collage of memorable and enduring experiences rooted in the faith practice of a family that believed in God; believed in Jesus Christ as our Saviour.

My parents, Anne and Stan Bator, had brought to life, at the earliest moments of a child’s life, a living legacy of faith, hope and charity. My parents raised eight sons in the Catholic faith, tradition and practice. I can still recall vividly the Sunday evening recitation of the rosary in our humble, yet spiritually rich home.

As my brothers and I grew, my parents introduced us to our church. I recall my first days at Christ the King parish in Long Branch, in the west end of Toronto. I remember with fondness Fr. Bennett, pastor of Christ the King, whose daily strolls through the neighbourhood included the adjacent parochial school. There was a unity of spirit, of caring, of affection and an enduring sense of trust in those clergy and religious who lived their faith and shared their faith and friendship.

As our family grew, so did our faith and the nurturing of our family. My parents were among the founding families of St. Dominic’s parish in the 1950s and thus, my relationship with what was to become today’s Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board began.

My parents believed in Catholic education, not as a matter of convenience, but rather as a matter of conviction. They so believed in Catholic education that there was no hardship too strenuous to prevent them from ensuring that our education would be first and foremost a Catholic education: a Catholic education that considered the beauty of the human spirit, the mysteries of life and the ultimate faith in the life of Jesus Christ. My parents understood the trinity of home, school and parish in an authentic fashion. The simple reality was that we were called to do what needed to be done in order to support and sustain our local Catholic school.

Of course, I remember the many teachers who had an impact on our family. They were “our” teachers and in a wonderfully reciprocal fashion, we were “their” students. Our early days of Catholic education in the Port Credit-Lakeview area of what is today Mississauga were the building years. A new St. Dominic School was built in the late 1950s, followed by the new Queen of Heaven shortly thereafter, to accommodate the increasing demand for Catholic education.

My father became a trustee of the Toronto Township Separate School Board in 1966. It was a natural fit for my dad and mom, because they were so involved in our school life. Raising eight sons, it seemed logical that my dad might somehow have an insight into Catholic education with strong and continuous support and insight from my mother. It was during this time that I began to develop a strong sense of respect for the Catholic school trustee: the late night calls from ratepayers, concerned parents or from someone who simply needed to chat. I remember the campaigns, pouring over assessment roles to identify the separate school supporters, delivering election pamphlets in the rain and going to city hall on election night to await the returns nervously, as poll by poll, they were recorded manually on a large board for all to see. My dad served as a trustee until 1982, but remained forever committed to, and convinced of, Catholic education until he died in 1990.

My university years, of course, would take place at a Catholic university. Where better to find myself than at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto. What a place! I remain so indebted to the many priests who took a personal interest in me as a person, in particular Fr. Donald Finlay, who likely doesn’t realize how much his kind, thoughtful and often humourous interaction influenced who I am today. It is likely that many of my classmates from 1968-1972 at St. Mike’s feel the same way about so many other kind and generous Basilians.

Teaching is a noble profession. Teaching in a Catholic educational environment is a privilege and a sacred trust. I have been blessed to live, work, teach and learn in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board for the last 50 years, first as a student and the last 34 years as teacher, principal, superintendent and director of education. I have had the good fortune to work with and beside many fine teachers, and formed relationships with so many of our dedicated diocesan priests in our parishes. I have marvelled at the success of so many of our students as fine human beings, formed with a sense of justice and peace within our schools.

I have had the good fortune of ensuring that our three children have been beneficiaries of a Catholic education in Dufferin-Peel, where the trustees, faculty and staff come together as a community that practises and honours the traditions of our faith. My three children, naturally and logically, found their way to the University of St. Michael’s College. Of course, they had three choices — St. Mike’s, St. Michael’s College or the University of St. Michael’s College. I left the choice to them.

The many gifts of Catholic education are such that we must never take for granted the gifts of the Catholic community. One such enduring gift, for me, has been the almost continuous connecting and reconnecting with people I have met over the many years in Catholic education — fellow students, teachers, parents of kids I grew up with, religious and priests throughout the diocese — all of whom provide this sense of interdependence and support within and beyond the Catholic community.

Some might suggest that an assessment of Catholic education might have to include the ability to measure and demonstrate the degree to which our students excel academically, athletically, artistically. To be sure, these measures are important. But to me the strength of Catholic education has been, and will continue to be, rooted in a universal acceptance of all who come through our doors. This includes our capacity to help each child, and each family find their way, and on occasion provide “safe passage” to those who might not otherwise find their way on their own. We are a community to whom much has been given and I am grateful for the kindness that has been directed to me and felt by me over the years.

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