Jesus’ example inspires the next generation of Catholic leaders

By 
  • April 27, 2011
For Laura Limarzi, the “sense of caring about others in our daily lives” is one of the things unique to Catholic education. (Photo by Sheila Dabu Nonato)In the hallways of Ontario’s Catholic schools, the next generation of leaders is being formed.

What does it take to be a Catholic leader? Our Catholic faith invites us to look to Jesus’ example and His lessons of faith, humility, compassion and love for God and neighbour.

The hope of Catholic education is in our students who can provide this example of Christian leadership in their volunteer work and spiritual life.

Through Jesus’ words and actions, we learn about the Christian model of servant leadership: A leader who puts His love for God and others ahead of Himself and recognizes that it is through works of charity, compassion and love, which are rooted in faith, where God’s love is manifested.

For Catholic high school students, the challenge of being authentic Catholic witnesses becomes even greater as society becomes more secularized and popular culture presents viewpoints antithetical to Catholic values. An antidote to challenges that can weaken the faith and moral character of Catholic students, is having a solid grounding in spiritual and educational formation. Students need to have a solid foundation in their Catholic faith through an understanding of its rich history, traditions and teachings, with the support and mentorship of their parents and teachers.

Pope Benedict XVI underscored the importance of this educational grounding in the faith in a 2008 address to more than 400 Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America. Teachers “have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church’s magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom,” the Pope said.

Knowledge of the Gospel, the catechism and Catholic spiritual practices such as the rosary and eucharistic adoration also help to form the spiritual foundation of a strong Catholic leader and breathe life into the Church’s teachings on social justice.

In the Ontario Catholic school context, Msgr. Dennis Murphy, founder and first director of the Institute for Catholic Education, wrote about the danger of “religious illiteracy” and highlighted the importance of teaching students about the centrality of the Eucharist in our Catholic life and worship. Moreover, in the formation of Catholic leaders, students need role models to embody these Catholic principles.  

Sergio Morales, a Grade 12 student at St. Joseph’s High School in Barrie, Ont., has found  a role model in his religion teacher.

“(Ms. Jane Rose Kubica) teaches us about Jesus. She tries to engage youth,” said the student trustee for the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic School District.

In addition to teachers, students can also look to the history of the Church and the lives of the saints who have been powerful witnesses of the Christian faith in their work with the poor and marginalized. For Assumption College Catholic High School student Laura Limarzi, Blessed Mother Teresa is such a role model.

“I try to carry her message of compassion and humility,” said the Grade 11 student from Windsor, Ont., who is the Faith Ambassador for the Catholic Board Council of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association.

Throughout her lifetime, Mother Teresa emphasized that the inspiration of her humanitarian work was rooted in her love for Jesus in the Eucharist.

“Tell them we are not here for work, we are here for Jesus,” Mother Teresa once responded when asked if she defined herself as a “social worker.”

In applying the lessons of the Gospel, Catholic students begin to see the connection between  Sunday worship and their works of social justice.

What is unique to Catholic education is the “sense of caring about others in our daily lives” and “referring back to Christ as an example,” Limarzi said.

Furthermore, the formation of Catholic student leaders is solidified by a strong connection between the family, school and parish. Grade 12 St. Francis High School student Rory Vandenbrink of St. Catharines, Ont., sees this connection in his volunteer work at his parish’s children’s liturgy ministry.

In Catholic schools, “we’re allowed to express ourselves” and “express our faith,” he said.

For Brooke Dorin, 17, of Blessed Trinity High School in Grimsby, Ont., being a member of her parish youth group has strengthened her faith.

And Patrick Fowler of Dennis Morris Catholic High School in St. Catharines said that studying at a Catholic school “helps me to translate my faith into reality.”

The 17-year-old is involved with his school’s social justice club and sings in the choir at his parish.

“Faith is what you make it,” he said. “Faith is an important part in Catholic school.”

From his Catholic education, Fowler says he has learned the lessons of empathy and compassion, about “being empowered to help the less fortunate” and respecting everyone “because they are created in the image and likeness of God.”

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