Crowd comes out in support of Catholic education in Ontario

By  Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
  • April 23, 2007
TORONTO - About 500 Catholic parents, pastors and teachers in Toronto staked a claim on the future of Catholic schools in the last of a province-wide series of consultations by the Institute for Catholic Education seeking community insight into future directions for Catholic education in Ontario.
The April 17 crowd was clearly a surprise to overwhelmed administrators at the Toronto Catholic District School Board who scrambled to find space for all those who wanted their say on the “value and future of Catholic education.”

The big draw for the Tuesday night crowd was Toronto’s still new Archbishop Thomas Collins.

Collins warmed up the audience with his own recollections and reflections on 26 years of Catholic education in Guelph and London, Ont. He urged people to seek “wisdom and fervour going into the future.”

The value and distinctive feature of Catholic education is that it is about more than utilitarian job training or the transmission of data to students. A truly Catholic education puts students in sync with their identity and heritage, said the archbishop.

“The lips speak to the ears, the heart speaks to the heart,” he said.

He also emphasized to the crowd that Catholic schools aren’t the exclusive property of Catholics, but a gift of the Catholic community to the whole of society.

“It’s a powerful, beautiful thread that runs through the whole community of Ontario.”

Organizer Robert Selvadurai of the Toronto Association of Parents in Catholic Education said he was not entirely surprised, but still gratified, to see so many, including retired people who don’t have children in schools, coming out to have a say and learn more about the political and financial challenges facing the system.

“They understood there is something they needed to come here and find out about,” said Selvadurai.

Many of those in attendance felt it was necessary to rally support for the schools in case politicians or independent campaigners start calling for amalgamating the Catholic and public school boards.

“I think it (Catholic education) is under threat,” said Patricia Cassaldo.

“Look what happened in Newfoundland,” chimed in Rosalie Marcelino-Mukai.

Setting the tone for discussions, veteran TCDSB administrator Angelo Pelotta outlined a series of external forces working against Catholic education. His list included:

  • funding disparities which force Catholic school trustees to shift money around to pay for chaplains, religious education and chapels;
  • declining infrastructure;
  • the 1999 United Nations ruling that public funding for Catholic schools is unfair unless other religious communities are extended the same benefit;
  • calls among some French Catholic and French public school boards for reconfiguring education in Ontario along language lines rather than religion;
  • public perceptions that Catholic schools really aren’t significantly different from public schools; and
  • continued calls for confederated school boards from organizations such as the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association president Bernard Murray was anxious to dispel the idea that Catholic education is in any peril. All three parties at Queen’s Park support the right of Catholics to have their own school system, he said.

“The Catholic system has been around for 160 years. There have always been threats,” Murray said.

Ultimately the best defence of Catholic education is that the schools do a good job educating young people and that people around the province recognize the Catholic system for education excellence, he said.

“We bring something to this province of ours,” Murray said.

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