Calgary Bishop William McGrattan

Church-school bond remains priority despite pandemic

  • August 29, 2020

Canadian Catholic school boards are about to embark upon a September unlike any other due to COVID-19.  

Uncertainty looms on many fronts: How will social distancing be ensured in classrooms with over 25 students? How many cases will trigger a classroom or school closure? Will there be enough personal protective equipment on hand to help schools navigate the 2020-21 school year?

Amongst this uncertainty, Catholic school leaders from coast to coast are certain that upholding a tight-knit bond with the Church is paramount. 

Large school Masses at the local parish, a staple of Catholic education, will not be a component of this relationship — at least for the first couple of months — in most provinces. Instead, dioceses like Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Toronto will provide schools with digital content, which could include video messages, live-streamed services and pre-recorded seminars.

But parishes in the Winnipeg archdiocese are bucking that trend and intend to open their doors to celebrate the liturgy with students. Robert Praznik, the superintendent of Manitoba Catholic Schools, said the number of Masses will increase, with fewer in attendance, to ensure the abiding of all public health orders. 

“You can have 30 per cent of your capacity if you ensure social distancing. You can have one metre of distance (between students) if you have cohorts, and all of our schools will have cohorts, which is usually about 75 people.”

Every tentative plan for collaboration between church and school board will be prone to adjustment as the novel coronavirus’ effect during the traditional cold and flu season looms as a big unknown. Manitoba Public Schools and the Archdiocese of Winnipeg will continue to monitor the rapid surge of COVID-19 in the province over the past six weeks. After starting July with a 13-day COVID-19 shutout, cases have been on the upswing in Manitoba since July 14.

Calgary Bishop William McGrattan said the re-introduction of in-parish school Masses would receive more serious consideration once Alberta transitions to phase three of the provincial relaunch strategy. The bishop said he’ll miss witnessing the optimistic energy of a new school year up close.

“There is always excitement at those school opening Masses or at the liturgies that are organized. There is a sense of new beginnings and a feeling of hope for the students, parents and teachers. With this present pandemic, these in-person experiences will not be involved in the reopening. There will be something different, something missing, but we’re trying to reach out in new ways.”

Twylla West, a spokesperson for the Regina Catholic School Division, says Church leaders and clergy are welcome presences in schools because “they are a source of inspiration and information for students.” West said the tenets of Catholicism are intrinsic in every school activity. 

“The faith piece is a part of everything we do…. it is infused in everything we do so that the kids can see what it means to live life in the Catholic faith.”

Barry White, education liaison for the Toronto archdiocese, says information packages were devised in the spring to offer priests wisdom on how to support the schools. Tech-savvy parishioners have been recruited to help priests with limited digital experience to generate video content.

“Even though we won’t have public Masses, there are ways for priests to be present to support schools in whatever way they can. It requires working collaboratively with the principal to ensure all school board, local and provincial guidelines can be met,” said White.

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