ValLimar Jansen, a singer, composer and recording artist from California, was the energetic and joyful keynote speaker at an opening day for Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools staff held Sept. 1 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon. Jansen joined the choir for mass, leading the opening hymn — “Christ in Me Arise” — a refrain that also formed the “call and response” theme of the day. (Photo by Kiply Yaworski)
SASKATOON — An opening celebration at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon Sept. 1 marked the beginning of the school year for staff of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools.
Starting with the celebration of the eucharist, the program continued with reflections from the GSCS board chair, the director of education and GSCS Foundation chair, and concluded with an energetic presentation from keynote speaker ValLimar Jansen.
A singer, composer and recording artist, Jansen joined the choir for mass, leading the opening hymn — “Christ in Me Arise” — a refrain that also formed the “call and response” theme of the day.
Diocesan administrator Rev. Kevin McGee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon; Rev. Warren Dungen, recently ordained priest for the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon; Bishop Emeritus Gerald Wiesner; and a number of priests from both the Eparchy and the Diocese of Saskatoon to celebrate the opening mass with some 2,000 GSCS leaders, including teachers, administrators, staff members and trustees.
In the homily, Dungen encouraged GSCS staff and administration to think about the effect they have on all those they encounter. “You (have) the potential to leave a huge and lasting impact on a life forever,” he said. In turn, those we encounter “have the capacity to activate something in you, something which you may never even know that you have — Christ himself,” he added.
“Did you know that as a baptized Christian, Christ is alive in you?” But as with sports or education or many other things in life, “it is going to be very difficult to go and make disciples if you’re not staying sharp,” Dungen added, encouraging the assembly to nurture their faith.
Dungen reflected on the impact that a Grade 9 math teacher had on his own life, at a time of pain and difficulty. “This was the beginning of a series of dominos that all fell like a chain reaction in my life, my life and faith, bringing me now to this day,” said the newly ordained eparchial priest.
“You are all bearers of the Gospel. Gospel means good news, and we all know that our students need good news in their lives; they are desperate for it,” he said, urging his listeners to activate, nurture and use the gifts given by God in baptism, even though it is not always easy.
“Whatever your role in the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School division, God has put you in a position to use these gifts. God has graced you. Let us call out to him: Christ in me — arise!”
McGee and Dungen led the assembly in a renewal of commitment, with GSCS leaders pledging to serve the students attending their schools and to help them respond generously to Christ’s call; to recognize and embrace diversity, and “help our students realize that the love of God is forever and for everyone.” Teachers, staff, administration and trustees also pledged “with the humility, gentleness and patience of faithful disciples” to endeavour to be living examples of God’s mercy.
Following mass, Diane Boyko, chair of the GSCS board of education, brought words of encouragement for the year ahead, expressing appreciation for the dedication of staff.
In particular, Boyko expressed thanks to all those who have worked hard to get the division’s six new schools ready for opening this fall: St. Nicholas, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and St. Lorenzo Ruiz Catholic schools in Saskatoon, École Holy Mary Catholic School in Martensville, and Holy Trinity Catholic School in Warman.
Boyko also reflected on the challenges of the past school year, which included a provincial government governance review of education, in which the idea of eliminating local school boards was under discussion; the toughest budget she can remember, with many cuts to education funding; a review of the provincial School Act; and the Theodore court ruling of April 2017 that stated the government of Saskatchewan must end funding for non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools (the provincial government has since placed the decision on hold for at least five years by using a “notwithstanding clause,” and an appeal of the decision has been launched).
“But here we are, still standing,” Boyko said, citing the Scripture passage in Matthew’s Gospel about building a house upon a solid foundation: “the rain fell, the floods came, the winds blew.”
GSCS’s solid foundation lies in the quality of education offered over the past 106 years, in the dedication and professionalism of staff (including many who were being honoured that day for long service), and especially in having Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, she added. “Because our foundation is faith and hope in Jesus our Saviour, we will weather the current storms and whatever comes at us in the future.”
Director of education Greg Chatlain also spoke about the challenges experienced by the school division in the past year, and described his growing realization that in a world buffeted by discouraging news of storms, tensions, terrorism, violence, displacement, and suffering, Catholic education is needed more than ever.
It is important not to lose sight of the big picture, he stressed. “We have a ton of work to do in ministry to our children, our youth, and our families during these times, to bring hope and a vision of a world of peace and joy.”
“I am convinced that our mission is desperately needed now,” Chatlain continued. “How are our children to care for this world? How are they to make any sense of it? Our parents and our community need us, despite the storms that are all around us.”
Chatlain noted educational successes accomplished in the midst of all the challenges of last year — higher student reading levels; higher graduating rates, including for First Nations and Métis students; and higher levels of student engagement across the district. “Thanks to you — the face, the hands, the feet of Catholic education — we are making great strides,” he said. “I thank you for your dedication and commitment.”
Laurie Karwacki, chair of the GSCS Foundation that works in support of Catholic education, also provided an update about upcoming projects, including a new fund-raising campaign entitled “Come to the Table.”
“The threat to Catholic education is real,” she said. “What is our response?”
Keynote speaker Jansen then spoke and sang, bringing a joyful and energetic message of hope and inspiration to conclude the program. Through movement and song, she invited the group’s participation, sharing music, prayer, silence and sacred story.