WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Stefan Michniewski told Newman grads that Catholic schools should have beautiful chapels.
Catholic education is about inviting young people to a relationship with Jesus, Stefan Michniewski told graduating students at Newman Theological College Oct. 19.
"The Catholic tradition, especially in Canada, calls us to invite young people to confess their faith in Jesus Christ," the former executive director of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association said at the college's 44th annual convocation ceremony, held in St. Joseph's Seminary Chapel.
"It's always about Jesus. It's always about inviting a relationship to Jesus," he said.
Who graduated this year from Newman College?
MASTER OF THEOLOGY
MASTER OF DIVINITY
MASTER OF THEOLOGICAL STUDIES
BACHELOR OF THEOLOGY
MASTER OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
*graduating with distinction
Speaking to the many teachers who graduated from the master of religious education program, Michniewski said teachers are critical in the formation of students in the faith because they spend a great part of the day with them.
"Be witnesses to Christ and the Gospel," he told the graduates. "The spirit with which you carry out your service should be a Christian witness to all of those who are in contact with you. What you do and how you do it will teach as much to the student about living the Gospel as anything they will hear in the classroom."
He mentioned a Catholic school in Red Deer that has a large sign in the hallway declaring that "Jesus is the reason for this school." The school also featured icons, statues and crucifixes that can be seen by everybody who enters.
Michniewski said many of the teachers receiving degrees at the convocation will become leaders in the Catholic education system and he called them to build beautiful school buildings and beautiful chapels. He also urged them to protect and enhance the Catholic identity of their schools.
"Even the school building should speak to us of Jesus," he said. "I've been in a lot of schools and you can tell when there is a (Christian) atmosphere."
Beautiful chapels should also be part of Catholic schools. "Over the years I've done evaluations of schools, (including) one where the chapel had inadvertently become the Grade 12 coffee room."
Conversely, in the Christ the Redeemer School Division, one school is connected to the parish church by the stations of the cross. "It's a wonderful example of how some creative engineers put together this school."
The number of Catholics students is rising, partly due to immigration from the east and from Muslim countries.
An imam from the Edmonton Muslim community once told Michniewski that the Muslim community generally recommends their children attend Catholic schools "because we know they are getting two of the sacred books – the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. We deal with the Koran at home."
There are many Muslim children in Edmonton Catholic Schools, which goes to show that "we serve more people than just the Catholics," Michniewski said.
We show we are Catholic by how we treat these children and by how we live out our faith with them. "Pray with them. That be the strongest piece of advice that I give you."
Parents continue to choose Catholic schools and Michniewski thinks teachers and school staff have to have a welcoming attitude towards them.
Teachers must do whatever is necessary to support parents who, although unsure of their faith, care enough to want their children to attend schools that promote Catholic values, he said.
Paraphrasing the bishops of Canada, Michniewski told his audience, "Parents entrust their sons and daughters to you for a large part of the day. Society (entrusts) its future citizens to you. The Church entrusts members of the body of Christ to your care.
"Perhaps that is why we expect so much of you – not only professional competence and care but also the integrity of the Christian life"
Looking directly at the graduating class, Michniewski said only through faith development can teachers hope to meet the challenges of this moment. "We have to make faith formation a priority."
There is no such a thing as a job in a Catholic school, he said. "There are only various forms of Christian service, each calling for extraordinary dedication."
During the convocation, Dr. Mona-Lee Feehan, Archbishop Richard Smith and Jason West, president of Newman College, presented the Joseph N. MacNeil Award to Suzanne Marie Foisy-Moquin for her outstanding service to the Catholic community and society while completing her religious education studies at Newman.
Former college professors Msgr. Frank Patsula and Dr. Gwen Miller were made professors emeriti for their distinguished service to the college and to the Church.