Getting schools thinking about how and why they are Catholic is essential to protecting the system, TCDSB chair Barbara Poplawski said at the pastoral plan launch May 9. Photo by Michael Swan

Three-year plan puts Toronto Catholic schools to the test

By 
  • May 17, 2018

A new, three-year pastoral plan will drive Toronto’s 195 Catholic schools and 91,000 Catholic students to a deeper sense of who they are and what they are meant to be, even as campaigning Ontario politicians promise to tinker with school curricula to gain votes.

There were 730 students, teachers, principals and administrators of the Toronto Catholic District School Board on hand in a north Toronto banquet hall for the launch of the pastoral plan May 9. Headlined “We belong, we believe, we become,” the plan will encourage schools to explore and express each of the three “B”s between now and 2020. 

In terms of theology and values, in 2018 schools will concentrate on belonging, in 2019 on believing and in 2020 on becoming. The three-part plan succeeds the “Family, parish, school” theme of the last three years, which succeeded the “Faith, hope and charity” pastoral plan that guided 2012-2015.

“When all is said and done, our new plan is not so new after all,” director of education Rory McGuckin told the representatives from schools around the city. “We all have the potential to become the unique and beautiful human being God intended us to be…. Every day is Catholic education day. Every week is Catholic education week. We live it and practise it every day.”

The pastoral plan is about more than posting theme words above classroom blackboards and providing a focus for school Masses and assemblies, said Spritan Fr. Obinna Ifeanyi of the board’s religion and family life team. It’s about deepening the Catholic identity of the schools regardless of the political climate surrounding education in Ontario.

“This is not about politics. This is about the wholeness and holiness of the child,” said Ifeanyi.

Trustees are aware that on the campaign trail Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford has already promised to revise a sex education and family life curriculum that took years to develop and adapt to Catholic schools, said Trustee Nancy Crawford. Ford also promises to have Queen’s Park direct teachers how to teach math. Trustees are also aware of renewed attacks in the media on full funding for Catholic education and active campaigns to slim down Ontario’s four public education systems (English Catholic, English public, French Catholic and French public) to a single, secular system.

“We are not complacent. We’re well aware of the problems,” Crawford said.

The pastoral plan is an opportunity to assert the uniqueness of the Catholic system and protect the schools from the winds of political change, according to Crawford.

“There’s always potential for difficulty in change, particularly if it’s not thoughtfully done — if it’s done in a reactionary way,” she said.

All three major political parties in Ontario remain committed to the existing education system and are aware of the costs of any major disruption, said the veteran trustee.

Getting schools thinking about how and why they are Catholic is essential to protecting the system, said TCDSB chair Barbara Poplawski.

“We have always recognized that our schools are not just brick and mortar,” she told the gathering.

While they may sound vague, three-year pastoral plans are taken seriously by school principals like Kimberly Dixon at St. Columba Catholic School in Scarborough. 

“Our vision for our students focuses on our faith,” Dixon said. “Our pastoral plan guides us… It can’t be too specific so that I don’t have that wiggle room.”

To know where we belong, what we believe and what we must become are not trivial matters, Cardinal Thomas Collins told the gathering.

“You’ve got to become more than you are, more than you think you can be,” Collins said. “We need to become something extraordinary.”

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