REGINA — Archbishop Donald Bolen was kept busy in September blessing three new schools that officially opened for the 2017 - 2018 school year.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha School was blessed Sept. 19, St. Elizabeth School on Sept. 20 and St. Nicholas School on Sept. 22. Each of these new Catholic schools is partnered with a public school as part of the Saskatchewan Government’s joint-use schools dictum that saw 18 new schools built throughout the province — in Regina, Saskatoon, Warman and Martensville. All were built under the Public-Private Partnership (P3) model.
The archbishop spoke briefly at each school prior to the blessing, giving a bit of history of the saint each school is named for. The ceremony began with students processing into the gymnasium with the school’s cross, which they placed in front of the podium. Then the Bolen and Deacon Joe Lang began the blessing ceremony.
At St. Kateri Tekakwitha School, the archbishop told the students that St. Kateri had a difficult life. “Her parents died when she was very young and she suffered from smallpox that disfigured her face. When she became a Christian, she wasn’t wholly in her indigenous community and not wholly in the mission community, so she lived in two worlds and that was not easy. So, St. Kateri knows what it is to have a bad day.” Bolen advised the students that if they have a bad day, St. Kateri is a good person to pray to because she understands.
“As an iindigenous person, St. Kateri teaches us about reconciliation; she teaches us how to live together,” said Bolen. “She teaches us a new way to live together, to love each other.”
St. Kateri is a dual-track school, teaching in both English and French, and is located in the Harbour Landing neighbourhood of southwest Regina. The archbishop used both languages in his pre-blessing talk and his opening prayer for the school.
St. Elizabeth is a French immersion school in the newly developed east side of the city, and the archbishop’s initial remarks were in French. Students learned that, while St. Elizabeth is a common name among archdiocesan schools and churches, most are named after St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
“Your school is named after St. Elizabeth, who had a special relationship with Jesus; they were cousins.”
He related the story of how Mary, pregnant with Jesus, went to visit Elizabeth. “Mary was not married and her community wasn’t so sure about that.” But Elizabeth welcomed Mary and made her feel at home.
“So Elizabeth is a person who welcomes, she welcomes everyone,” said Bolen, but she also recognizes that Jesus is present in Mary. “When we build community, we do well to try to be nice to people, but also recognize that Jesus is present in every person we meet.”
It was at St. Elizabeth that the archbishop first introduced Maurille Hammond and his wife, Alice. Hammond hand-sculpted three crosses, each from a single block of wood, each about one metre high, featuring the risen Christ. He donated a cross to each new school. At St. Nicholas school, Bolen showed off the bishop’s shepherd’s staff, also crafted by Hammond and given as a gift.
St. Nicholas is a single-track English-language school located in the northwest area of Regina. Here the archbishop engaged the students about what they thought about St. Nicholas. Students quickly identified him as Santa Claus; Bolen replied that St. Nicholas was certainly connected to Santa Claus, but was not Santa.
Bolen said he liked Nicholas because he was a great bishop, and Nicholas was the first name of the archbishop’s grandfather. He went on: “Nicholas is about giving, sharing the gifts that he has been given. He is a helper in his community and you, too, can be helpers, sharing the gifts God has given you and helping in the community.”
The format was similar at each school: the archbishop began by briefly explaining what Jesus is teaching in the day’s Gospel, and related those teachings to what they mean to them as students and to their school community. He then blessed an icon of the saint whose name the school bears, followed by the blessing of the school cross and building.
May Desnomie, a Cree elder, was introduced and she said a prayer in her native language. Bolen related her presence to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and gave a brief explanation of the TRC and its importance.
The priests in attendance at each school were then invited by Bolen to join him on stage, as well as school board trustees who were present for the blessing. Together, they extended their right hands in the blessing of the school.
As part of his visit to each school, the archbishop visited and blessed the administration offices and each classroom, briefly engaging the students as he went along. He was accompanied by Lang, who assisted the archbishop at all three schools.
An official opening for each school took place separately, on another day and time from the blessing. The official opening was an opportunity for politicians, the mayor and city delegates, school board officials, and interested citizens to take part in the opening and a tour of the school.