SASKATOON — Go Make Disciples was the theme of an opening day celebration for some 2,000 Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) teachers and staff Aug. 28 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.
“Looking around, I am reminded of what a diverse group we are,” said Diane Boyko, GSCS board of education chair. “The readings in the different languages remind me of Pentecost. Here we are, Christ's followers, gathered together, anticipating a new beginning - the beginning of our school year.”
Boyko stressed the important role of each staff member in the mission of Catholic education, quoting St. Teresa of Avila: “Know that Christ has no hands or feet but yours.” She added, “You are how God serves the world . . . you create a nurturing, welcoming environment, an environment in which the seeds that are planted can sprout and flourish.”
Every school year includes challenges, she acknowledged, listing efforts to meet a range of diverse needs and an ongoing struggle to find resources. Priorities in the coming year will include construction starts on six new schools. The elementary schools will be built in the communities of Warman and Martensville and in the Saskatoon neighbourhoods of Stonebridge, Rosewood, Hampton Village and Evergreen, with an anticipated 2017 opening date, Boyko said.
She described board efforts to advocate for education funding, the ongoing and important fundraising support of the GSCS Foundation, and the work of the school district's Together in Faith and Action committee to support and enhance service projects and social initiatives, faith formation of staff, and connections between home, school and parish.
“It is in a spirit of humble service, compassion, mercy and forgiveness that our schools in faith walk together toward our common goal of educating children, rooting them in the Catholic faith and identity, helping them to grow and to think as disciples themselves, so they in turn will reach out and transform the world,” Boyko said.
GSCS Director of Education Greg Chatlain reflected on the “why” of Saskatoon Catholic schools, focusing on the parable of the last judgment from Matthew 25.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta described the Gospel in five words, one for each finger: “You did it for me,” Chatlain said. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is our 'Why.' This is our call, regardless of our role in Catholic education.”
The call to feed the hungry is lived out in Catholic schools in a myriad of ways, such as the extra lunches and clothing provided by teachers out of their own resources to students in need, as well as the intellectual, social, emotional, physical and spiritual formation provided each day in schools, Chatlain said.
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” is the call to accept every child unconditionally, he continued. “Unless students feel that welcome and acceptance, very little learning will happen.”
In Catholic education, “I was naked and you clothed me,” involves all that is done to help protect the vulnerable, he added. “The worst part of my job is receiving reports in my office about suspected or reported abuse of children,” he said, adding that he takes comfort knowing that teachers and staff are there to protect the vulnerable, to be their voice and to walk with them in love, care and respect.
“At those times when you can become dismayed or disillusioned at the cruelty of our society, our call brings us back renewed and continuing to be that voice, to struggle for peace, to struggle for justice, to struggle for harmony, for change,” Chatlain said.
Living the call of “you did it for me” provides hope to students, families and the community, he added. “We seek God and we hope that we will some day rest in the Lord. In the meantime, our students encounter hope every day because of the good in you and in our schools. Through living our call, our students and our families experience real hope.”
Other speakers at the opening celebration were Laurie Karwacki, chair of the GSCS Foundation, and keynote speaker Colm Leyne, co-ordinator of youth ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
The young father of two urged GSCS teachers and staff to ground themselves in the real reason for all they do - the love of Jesus Christ. “The children that you will receive in your schools next week are God's gift to you,” he said.
“When you know God's love and mercy, you can give it,” Leyne added “When they look in your eyes, will they truly see the light of Christ?”