SASKATOON — The Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan recently circulated a letter of support for Catholic schools and their fundraising efforts to cover the legal costs of appealing the Theodore court case ruling.
“As your bishops, we encourage you to pray for Catholic education in our province, a privilege we presently have and now strive to protect,” states the letter circulated to parishes across the province. “We would also invite you to prayerfully consider a financial donation to the ‘Schools You Can Believe In’ fundraising campaign. Your support will allow Catholic school divisions to continue to focus on quality Catholic education for all those who enter our schools.”
The campaign is necessary to cover the legal costs associated with appealing an April 2017 court decision which ruled that the government of Saskatchewan should no longer fund non-Catholics attending Catholic schools, said the letter signed by the five Saskatchewan bishops: Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina, Bishop Bryan Bayda of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon, Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas, Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, and Bishop Albert Thévenot of Prince Albert.
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools has joined the other seven Catholic school divisions in the province now seeking support to cover the legal costs of appealing the ruling.
The controversial court decision to fund only Catholic students attending Catholic schools stated that a Catholic baptismal certificate would be necessary for students to attend Catholic schools throughout the province. Catholic school boards across the province have asserted that this narrow and restrictive definition does not reflect the inclusive and ecumenical nature of Catholic education, nor does it consider the diversity of the family in modern society.
The ruling has been appealed by both the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association (SCSBA) and the Government of Saskatchewan. On Nov. 8 the provincial government introduced legislation invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to give a temporary, five-year reprieve from the ruling. However, a permanent reversal through the appeals process is needed.
“We feel strongly that education funding should stay where it belongs, in our classrooms, but at the same time, we need to pursue an appeal of the court decision to ensure Catholic education is an option for all parents who want it,” said SCSBA president Vicky Bonnell in a media release. “So, we are reaching out to our supporters for their help.”
Under the theme “Schools You Can Believe In,” the fundraising campaign, with a goal of $300,000, will cover the cost of appealing the decision up to the Supreme Court of Canada, should that become necessary. All Catholic school divisions in Saskatchewan are participating and are looking to parents and guardians, families, parishioners, provincial Catholic organizations, clergy and friends of Catholic education for donations.
Diane Boyko, Board of Education chair for Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, said, “We have much to gain through a successful appeal. Support will help ensure Catholic education is available to all who choose it, no matter the reason, for future generations.”
Boyko noted that, as Saskatchewan’s largest Catholic School division, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools’ share of the provincial initiative would be about $140,000 — roughly $7 per student.
“Our role as Catholic educators goes far beyond helping parents and guardians equip their children as leaders of tomorrow,” she stressed. “We have the responsibility to walk with students along their faith journey, and help them realize their inherent dignity as children of God and know the hope to which he calls them.”
In their letter, the bishops noted that “Catholic schools in Saskatchewan are founded on a common faith in Jesus Christ as understood within the Catholic tradition. Religious instruction, religious practice, value formation and faith development are integral to every area of the curriculum in a Catholic school. These faith communities provide a learning environment in which each student’s unique, God-given gifts and talents are fostered.”
Catholic schools have a mandate to share the Gospel and be open to all those seeking Catholic education, the bishops wrote. “The Catholic Church and Catholic schools have a social mandate rooted in Gospel values to be open to all, especially the most vulnerable in our society. Catholic schools have a two-pronged obligation to remain grounded in the tradition and teachings of the Catholic Church, and to be receptive to families who choose Catholic education for their children. Just as it is part of the mission of the church to welcome all, no matter where one is on their faith journey, it would be a great blessing if Catholic schools could keep their doors open to families who seek those elements that make Catholic education distinct.”
Information about the fundraising campaign is available at www.catholicspirit.ca. Donations can be made through the website or through the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools Foundation at https://foundation.gscs.ca.