May 2, 2012

A Spiritual High Five from the Toronto Catholic District School Board!

We have a precious gift with publicly funded Catholic schools in our province that provide us an opportunity to weave the thread of faith through the halls and classroom of schools throughout Ontario. In the Archdiocese of Toronto, we have five english Catholic school boards and one french Catholic board that make up 500 schools with more than 300,000 students.

May 6-11 is Catholic Education Week with a host of activities planned to highlight the extensive contributions made by Catholic schools in strengthening our entire community. Parishes throughout the Archdiocese will use this weekend to offer special prayers for our Catholic schools with many welcoming a speaker from a parish school to speak to the importance of the system.

I had a chance to be part of a special gathering May 2, 2012 in anticipation of Catholic Education Week by attending the Toronto Catholic District School Board's Witness to Faith Symposium. The gathering wrapped up the most recent three year Pastoral Plan: Word, Worship, Witness while, at the same time, launching the next three year pastoral plan drawing on the virtues of Faith, Hope & Charity.

It was a wonderful day, bringing together close to 1,000 partners in education from across the school board. These included students, educators and parents as well as clergy representing every school in the board along with other partners who play a key role in strengthening our family of faith.

It was great to visit with many tables, seeing pastors and associates alongside parents, teachers and students, modelling the triad of parish, home and school, a refrain we often speak about but witnessed first hand from table to table throughout the room.

A highlight for many was the "Nurturing our Catholic Community" panel discussion, moderated by Christina Quach, a student from Madonna Catholic Secondary School. Six speakers had the chance to offer their own reflections on the impact of Catholic Education in their own words.

Fr. Jimmy Zammit, a franciscan friar and pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Toronto spoke of his joy in visiting parish schools, in particular special needs students and the wonderful partnership that has existed between his parish, educational community and parents. He speaks from experience, having been a product of the Toronto Catholic schools as a young boy, reflecting to this day on visits from parish priests years ago.

Susan Hookong-Taylor, a talented teacher, composer and musician spoke poignantly of her experience in writing the Song of the Cross, first used at World Youth Day 2002 and now an anthem for many faith gatherings. She also discussed her love of vocation in reaching out to other young people as a teacher, passing on the seeds of faith to students and how God uses her as an instrument (fitting) to reach others.

David Rodriguez, representing Catholic parents, reflected on his 12 year old daughter and her awareness of social justice issues, discussing them regularly at home and even making her way to school for 7:30 a.m. morning meetings to tackle issues that are close to her heart.

Steve DeQuintal, teacher at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton, discussed how service and the gift of our talents being shared with others has impacted his own life. He lives in the Parkdale area in downtown Toronto and spoke of the outreach efforts initiated by the Missionaries of Charity and other charitable organizations looking to connect with young people. What Steve didn't mention is that he is one of the most generous and humble people I know, always reaching out to offer an encouraging word to others, inspiring his students and community through his dedication to serving others and for spearheading literally dozens of projects reaching out to those in need each month. If you want to help someone and aren't sure what to do, Steve is a servicepedia for outreach.

We also heard two powerful witness talks from students currently in the system. Isabel Ng-Lai, a student from Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School, who spoke of her experience traveling overseas to India and her involvement in community service projects in Calcutta and Darjeeling. She took it a step further, returning home to Toronto and starting a non-profit organization, "1Focus" with the goal of raising $10,000 to provide assistance to young people living in poverty back in India, specifically focusing on three schools. This is the 2011/2012 project - Isabel and her co-founder Miranda Dela Cruz, plan on identifying a different project each year. You can learn more about their organization through their website here.

Jennifer Reginold, a student at Francis Libermann Catholic Secondary School, spoke of her own experience in starting an initiative, entitled, "Sucks No Socks" with the intention of providing every homeless young person in Toronto with fresh socks. Started in 2010, Jennifer has worked with local youth shelters and Catholic schools to raise awareness around the issue of homeless youth not having the basic necessities of life. The first year she managed to collect and distribute 9,000 socks with this past year expanding to the involvement of 24 elementary schools collecting and distributing 24,000 pairs of socks. Awesome!

You couldn't help but be inspired by the personal witness, passion and humble example of these young students in truly answering the call of Christ to love and serve.

Cardinal Collins wrapped up the day with a reflection on the new pastoral plan, "Faith, Hope & Charity" providing some memorable imagery to go along with these virtues. My personal fave: "Faith is like turning on the headlights to see what is ahead of us and what is around us."

Director of Education, Bruce Rodrigues, also shared his own insights poignantly telling all gathered to kick off the day that, "Each of you makes our schools a place of excellence where Christ is alive."

All in all, a great way to rev up for Catholic Education Week. There truly are amazing things happening in our Catholic schools. Are they perfect? No. Just like each one of us, they are all works in progress. Yet we need to stop and remind ourselves at times that we truly have a precious gift in Catholic Education in Ontario and if we look for stories inspired by our faith, they're not hard to find. If you're ever looking for more positive stories about our system, check out the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association Good News Blog which is constantly providing inspiring stories about Catholic schools throughout the province - you can access the blog here.

For those of us who are products of the system, we can certainly reflect on those teachers, parents, priests and classmates who inspired us then and many who continue to give selflessly of themselves to put others first, seeing the face of Christ in all those we encounter.

As Cardinal Collins put it in his talk, "We don't need to like everyone we meet in life, we need to love them." Well there was a lot of love in the room with the Toronto Catholic District School Board and its faith partners this week. A love we all hope will spread in abundance each and every day.

Thanks to all involved in this day for a memorable spiritual bouquet of stories, prayer and enormous blessings! Definitely a spiritual high five!


Anonymous said...

I couldn't help but notice that all the testimonials given in this article revolve around social justice and charitable works. This is all well and good but it isn't something limited to Catholics. The Separate schools of today have a reputation for failing to communicate a specifically Catholic Identity including what might be refered to as the nuts and blolts of being a Catholic.

I see nothing in this article to suggest otherwise.

Neil MacCarthy said...

Anonymous. I can assure you that the Cardinal's 30 minute address on the virtues of faith, hope and love (charity), the Director's remarks and numerous others directly spoke of our Catholic identity. Sorry you couldn't be there to hear it personally.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Cardinal is doing an amazing job as he really is a Roman Catholic, it is the other Catholics in positions of authority that are not always following Christ as we are supposed to. For example what does Holloween have to do with being Catholic? Students and Teachers spend money and two or three weeks of school time on it and completely ignore All Saints except for the few who are Roman Catholic.

toronto airport taxi said...

ontario is a great place with allot of communities education system .
The Separate schools of today have a reputation for failing to communicate a specifically Catholic Identity including what might be refered to as the nuts and blolts of being a Catholic.