“We are called to be in the middle of things as things are, not as we would like them to be.” This quote serves as the mantra of well-known Catholic education writer Rev. Jim Mulligan, CSC, but could also serve as a mantra for all Catholic schools and parishes. Mulligan addressed the trustees and administrators of Regina Catholic Schools along with some priests and pastoral assistants from Regina, as well as some invited guests from Holy Family and Christ the Teacher Catholic Schools Divisions, on the topic of Catholic Schools and Parishes Working Together, on Jan. 29, 2016.
Mulligan began his presentation by describing the reality of the changing cultural and church context, which presents greater challenges to Catholic schools and parishes than ever before. Despite these challenges, Mulligan encouraged Catholic schools and parishes not to despair but rather to be in the middle of things as they are and build on the “slivers of faith” among those parents who bring their children to Catholic schools, but not to Sunday eucharist.
With great passion and humour, Mulligan reminded his audience of the call of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium for all Catholics to “renew our personal encounter with Jesus Christ daily” and to share the joy of the gospel with everyone whom we encounter. Mulligan then shared what Catholic schools, parishes and parents need from each other to help in their duty to educate and form children in the faith. He invited his audience to share questions, concerns and examples of how Catholic schools and parishes are working together.
One of our attendees, Rev. John Weckend, shared how he responded to a person who asked how large the priest’s staff was. He replied, “Over 100 people,” and added, “I minister to two Catholic elementary schools in Regina but I am not the only minister. Every staff member at these schools is also a minister so I consider them to be part of my staff.” Weckend continued that he also had a special commissioning service for the school staffs at Sunday eucharist at the beginning of each school year. In this way, his parishioners saw the important role that the school staff members played in evangelizing and catechizing children.
Weckend also shared how the local elementary school had worked hard to connect the staff and students with the parish. Students were brought to the church for school celebrations of the eucharist. Both staff and students volunteered to “look after” a mass once a month meaning that they would fill all of the ministries for that particular mass. As well, students chose an Advent service project which consisted of cleaning and decorating the church in preparation for Christmas. Weckend felt that the relationship between the school and parish was excellent and that both groups were benefiting from the endeavour.
Weckend concluded his remarks by sharing how the excellent relationship with the school had resulted in a marked increase in baptisms. He explained that those parents who have been away from the church for a while often feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about approaching the church to have their child baptized. Thus, he decided to meet the parents at school where they felt comfortable. He attended parent evenings (meet the teacher night, reading nights) and spoke to the parents about having their child baptized. He then met at the school with those parents who were interested in having their child baptized. Some of the baptismal preparation was done with the parents at the school and some at the parish. The child was then baptized at the church.
Weckend shared that at all stages the school had been incredibly supportive in a number of ways: 1) The school invited parents to come and see what baptism would mean for their child. 2) In religion class, teachers reinforced what the students were learning in their baptismal preparation sessions. 3) A number of staff members served as godparents for the students. Weckend concluded that he couldn’t have hoped for a better relationship between the church and school.
A Regina principal shared how the pastoral presence of Rev. Basil Malowany, a local Ukrainian Catholic priest, has had a wonderful effect on both staff and students. Malowany has invited and welcomed staff and students to his parish where he has taught them about the Ukrainian Catholic rite and celebrated divine liturgy with them. In addition, he has visited the school regularly just to get to know the staff and students. His warm, gentle and welcoming nature left a positive impression about the church on staff, students and their parents.
It is indeed encouraging to hear such stories of Catholic schools and parishes being in the middle of things as they are, building on the “sliver of faith” of those to whom they minister, and working together to share the good news with students and parents.
I also thank God every day for the gift and privilege of working in a Catholic school division whose staff and students make it a priority to be “Growing in wisdom and grace.”
Meyers is co-ordinator of Catholic Education Services for Regina Catholic Schools.