Catholic boards refute claims of phony Catholics seeking jobs

  • August 12, 2010
GTA school boardsTORONTO - As a recent graduate from teachers’ college, Guelph, Ont.’s Jesse Lloyd, a non-Catholic, applied to teach at a Catholic school a few years ago.

But he says didn’t get the job because of the requirement to be Catholic.

In his college days, he remembers how a few of his colleagues talked about being lapsed Catholics and having to relearn their Catholicism — or at least put up an appearance of Catholicity — in order to qualify for a teaching position at a Catholic school.

An anonymous Niagara Falls, Ont., area teacher quoted by Canadian Press said she went through great lengths just to get a priest’s reference, including lying to a priest during her first confession in 30 years and forcing herself to attend Mass. It may be a sign of the times, with 5,000 teaching positions available last year and 12,000 new teachers looking to fill those spots.

While there may be the odd situation where a teacher becomes “more Catholic” to teach at a Catholic board, some of the province’s largest school boards and Catholic education organizations have refuted news reports of a recent trend of teachers converting to Catholicism to get a job during the economic downturn.

It’s a requirement that employees who work with children in Catholic school boards, especially teachers, must be Catholic. Ontario Catholic boards have a “preferential right” to hire Catholic teachers. According to section 19 (1) of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the rights of separate schools under the 1867 Constitution Act are protected.

According to some parish priests, who approve reference letters for potential teacher candidates, while it is not ideal that some are faking their Catholic credentials, it can open the doors for evangelization. “God works in many interesting ways,” said Fr. Terry Kersch, pastor at Toronto’s St. Basil’s Catholic Church. “Even though the initial motives are questionable, God purifies them through the whole process.”

In the Greater Toronto Area Catholic boards, teacher applicants are required to submit a reference letter from their parish priest. Angela Gauthier, the Toronto board’s academic affairs director, said no job interview is granted without a fully detailed letter. Pastors fill out the form answering questions about how long priests have known the applicant and if they believe the applicant would make a good Catholic leader.

Fr. Keith Wallace, pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Barrie, Ont., said in the past 22 years he’s had about 200 requests for letters. He hasn’t heard of anyone converting to become a Catholic school teacher, but there have been teachers who had the “minimum of Catholic practice” in attending Sunday Mass and ended up becoming more involved in their faith.

“When you  meet with them two to three times (and have) frank discussions with them about the reference letter, the seeds start to blossom really, in terms of their orthodoxy and the understanding of their Catholic faith,” he said.

At St. Basil’s, Kersch said each year he receives about 10 requests and has turned down about half of those because he didn’t know the person well enough.

Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, said none of its member boards have reported false conversions.

“It may happen in one or two cases but we were all under the assumption that it was pretty hard to fake the commitment of being a Catholic at a Catholic school,” she said.

Teacher applicants go through a rigourous screening process, she added, based upon the pastoral letter and job interview when applicants are asked about how they live their faith.

At the Durham Catholic District School Board, Michael Gray, the board’s assistant superintendent of human resources, said the requirement for teachers to be Catholic stems from the board’s mission to “infuse Catholic values into the program we deliver.” Having an understanding of the Church’s values and teachings “reminds us of what we do and why we exist,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association denies a wide-scale problem. President James Ryan said while there might be some who have fallen away from the Church and are now more involved with their faith, that doesn’t necessarily mean their intentions or commitment isn’t genuine.

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