NEPEAN, Ont. — In recognition of a lifetime of dedication to faith and education, Sister Teresita Kambeitz, OSU, of Saskatoon has been named the 2018 Higgins Award Winner by the Canadian Catholic School Trustees’ Association (CCSTA).
Named in memory of a distinguished jurist and school trustee — Justice James Higgins (1913-1974) of St. John’s, Nfld. — the award is presented annually to a person or group that has made an outstanding contribution to Catholic education in Canada.
Nominated by the board of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS), Kambeitz is the seventh women to receive the honour. Her 56-year tenure spans from 1959 when she began teaching in Tramping Lake, Sask., to her present role as assistant director of Religious Education for the Saskatoon extension site of Newman Theological College, Edmonton.
“Sister Teresita was the consummate Catholic teacher,” the GSCS board stated in their nomination letter: “deeply faithful, talented, brilliant, and possessing a charism that inspired in her students a desire to deepen their faith.”
After her teaching career, Kambeitz focused on the development of lay Catholic teachers, recognizing that the teacher is the heart of the school and foundational to the Catholic school’s ability to realize its mission. In 1988, she established the Master of Religious Education degree program at Newman Theological College, and served as both director and professor for 11 years. She also developed the college’s Certificate Program in Catholic School Administration.
She also served 22 years on the board of St. Angela’s Academy at Prelate, Sask., including eight years as chair. She taught summer courses for teachers in the Caribbean, Latvia, and South Africa, and has been the guest speaker at over 300 educational conferences and events.
“Sister Teresita deeply understands the unique demands placed on a Catholic teacher. Unfortunately, those in various levels of government and beyond do not share this understanding. Sister Teresita, in her quiet, but clear and determined manner, challenged many of them,” stated the GSCS board.
She successfully advocated for undergraduate courses in religious education for credit at the University of Saskatchewan, and procured accreditation for graduate courses in theology and religious education with government agencies in both Alberta and Saskatchewan for teacher classification purposes.
When she learned that she had received the Higgins Award, Kambeitz’s feelings were mixed: “Immediately there came to mind several people who were extremely significant in offering new opportunities to me in educational ministry,” she commented. These included Rev. Wilf Murchland, CSC, who, as president of Newman Theological College in the 1980s, invited her to join the faculty and establish the MRE degree program.
Then in 2009, Ken Loehndorf, executive director of the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association, asked Kambeitz to establish the MRE degree for teachers in Saskatchewan, despite “what at the time seemed to be an insurmountable hurdle to get it recognized by government authorities,” Loehndorf recalled.
Prior to Murchland’s invitation, Kambeitz’s superior, Sister Rose-Anne Engel, OSU, had urged her for several years to pursue a doctorate.
“If it had not been for the prompting of others,” she said, “I would probably have remained happily as a high school teacher.”
When asked why it is so important to integrate Catholic teachings into the school experience, she responded: “Each school subject opens a pathway of truth — the truth about ourselves, about our world, about creation, about God. Catholic teaching shines light into the ways these paths converge, thus providing direction and meaning to the whole academic pursuit. Every subject — physics, history, literature — takes on new depths of meaning when undergirded by and integrated in the light of Catholic faith. Students are thereby not only informed, but also formed and transformed into authentic human persons.”
Growing up in the pre-Vatican II church which, as she says, was wonderful in many ways but rather narrow in perspective, led her to struggle as a young sister with the intellectual and spiritual stretching demanded by her initial studies in Vatican II theology.
“It was in this state of turmoil that I was assigned to teach Christian ethics, encountering considerable confusion not only among students but also among teachers,” she said, adding that making the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius was a gift beyond words, shifting her understanding of religion from an ideology to a scriptural/experiential-based faith.
“With a deeper and broader appreciation of Catholicism, and also with further theological studies, I found myself being invited to assume new leadership roles in Catholic education. The doors of opportunity just kept opening.”
Reflecting on how Catholic schools can help build a student’s overall experience in learning and growth, Kambeitz said, “If Catholic schools are to contribute to the well-being of the common good in our increasingly pluralistic society, it is imperative that the teachers in Catholic schools offer religious education in a manner that teaches critical reflection as well as tolerance and respect for all faith traditions.”
Noting that “a study in Alberta 10 years ago warned that ‘religious groups can bring up children in ways that we abhor,’ ” Kambeitz stressed that “teachers must be offered opportunities to grow in a Christocentric faith perspective that avoids indoctrination and encourages critical reflection and openness to other faiths. This is the educational goal to which I am committed. I believe that our schools are genuinely Catholic only if their administrators and teachers are Christ-like role models, grounded in Gospel values and sound Vatican II theology.”
This article is based on a post that can be found at www.ccsta.ca.