CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Academic supports help spread the faith

  • May 5, 2023

As another school year nears its end, education partners are sharing a message of hope to educators and students while continuing to spread the spirit of the faith in Ontario’s Catholic schools.

Dean Woodbeck, president of the Catholic School Chaplains of Ontario (CSCO), and Mark Siolek, chair of the Catholic Association of Religious and Family Life Educators of Ontario (CARFLEO), are among those taking steps to ensure faith continues to flourish in the classroom.

“We really need to try to expand what we do and how we do it,” said Woodbeck.

With new internal support planned for the year ahead, Woodbeck is hopeful that the chaplaincy will continue its work of keeping the faith alive in Catholic schools and fulfilling the primary task of being present to and providing a spiritual touchpoint for the next generation of Catholics on their journey of faith. 

“As chaplains, it’s very important for us to really walk with and try to see the giftedness of each student and staff member that’s part of our community and help them to continue their journey,” Woodbeck says.

In late April, CSCO held its annual conference in Gananoque, Ont., with a theme of “Reimagining Ministry.” Expanding ministry to social media platforms and spending more time in small groups are some of the ways chaplaincy ministry looks to adapt to the current times.

With churches and gatherings closed off in the previous years, Woodbeck said chaplaincy is simply focusing on fostering community and bringing people together to gather again in prayer.

“We have to take a look at how we can try to make that (community prayer) more available, comfortable and interesting — not just to the students, but to the families, so we can get reconnected,” said Woodbeck. “I think those are issues that not only chaplaincy in schools needs to look at, but parishes I think also need to look at.”

This year’s conference offered important support for the chaplaincy leaders as well. Gathering again after the isolation of COVID offered a touch point for senior and new chaplains alike that was much anticipated.

“Not having four years of chaplaincy gatherings and annual gatherings meant that there’s a number of chaplains who are new,” explains Woodbeck, “so we’re looking at some new possibilities for some workshops and a package for new chaplains.”

Siolek said CARFLEO is likewise taking steps to help faith flourish in the classroom. His main focus with CARFLEO this year is creating mentorship opportunities for new consultants, coordinators and teachers. To support Catholic teachers, reconstruction of the CARFLEO website is also underway, which will provide easier access to curriculum, religious prayers, religious and family life education. 

For teachers expanding their knowledge base or stretching their expertise to new theological discussion in the classroom, CARFLEO provides the tools to teach confidently and orthodoxically. For those seeking answers, the truth of the faith needs to be fearlessly and explicitly accessible, said Siolek, because of the abundant and overwhelming access to varied interpretations of the faith online.

“Catholic education is a rich gift. It needs to be shared,” said Siolek. “We do amazing things and we raise the next generation of concerned, competent, caring, Catholic citizens.”

With support and easy access to clarity on the teachings of the Church, Siolek is working to build a strong spiritual core in schools and hopes this will empower students to develop a living faith and spirit of charity both inside and out of the classroom. By building confidence in their spirituality, he believes conversations among students, teachers and staff have the potential to inspire, evangelize and draw out the connections between people on all stages of their faith journey.

As Catholic education continues to dynamically respond to the words of the Church, Siolek says that Ontario Catholic education has been involved with the current Synod on Synodality as well. The conversation has drawn out success stories of Catholic education and has opened further conversation to where to improve the teaching of religious education and engagement within the parishes and youth.

“We can only do better by sharing and listening,” said Siolek.

Following Catholic Education Week, parents, chaplains, teachers, administrators and Catholic partners from across the province will be gathering for the Institute for Catholic Education (ICE) Symposium in Toronto May 9 and 10 to share more thoughts, ideas, approaches and strategies for continuing to share and improve Catholic education in Ontario.

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