The passage of a new Education Act by the Alberta Legislature affords the opportunity for the Catholic community to give pause and to reflect on the great gift of Catholic education that we have here in Alberta. This is a gift that gives the Catholic communities of Alberta the right to organize and run their own Catholic schools – and this with full funding from the province.
Catholic schools are not a gift that we should take for granted, for there is always the danger that we could lose them. This is not a concern without substance because we have seen this occur in both Newfoundland and Quebec.
While we have stronger constitutional protection for our schools in Alberta than in those other provinces, this is not an absolute guarantee that they will continue. Their demise, if this were to occur, would result not so much from legislative changes but because we, as a Catholic community, would let them go or because they would lose their distinctive identity.
Much could be said about both the external threats and the more serious internal threats but let it be said for now that we must remain vigilant regarding our Catholic schools.
But why, why do we need these schools?
We need Catholic schools because we live in a society in which a tacit atheism prevails. This society is marked, in many quarters, by self-absorption, secularism and consumerism. In and of themselves, none of these sociological phenomena are harmful or intrinsically evil. They become problems when they are manifested in their extremes.
When they do become extreme they are socially, physically and spiritually damaging – for us as adults but more so for our children. We can be assured that this conclusion is supported by empirical research and is not only a reflection of Church teaching.
Because these phenomena are so pervasive in our society, it is argued that the Church needs Catholic schools more today than when we were an immigrant church. Anne Graham (evangelist Billy Graham's daughter) gives support to this argument by offering a response to the question, Why does God let happen all the terrible things that are occurring in our society?
The answer is that we shouldn't be surprised because for years we have been telling God to get out of our schools, get out of our government, get out of our families and get out of our lives.
We have seen this manifested in our society in a variety of ways:
When we see all this and similar capitulations it is obvious that we need institutions that will be countercultural and who will say, "No, these things are not OK."
Catholic schools are well-positioned to be countercultural on such matters.
They have a mandate to be countercultural, they have historically been countercultural, and they must have the courage to remain countercultural in the future.
These are among the reasons our children and our society need Catholic schools. This great gift therefore indeed requires the continuing attention of all in the Catholic community. If we are not careful and are not prepared to stand up for them we could lose our schools and our Church would lose a great resource.
(John Acheson, PhD, is a trustee of Edmonton Catholic Schools.)