Catholic schools kept chaplains despite cutbacks

Marcia Dolinski, chaplain at Holy Family Elementary/Junior High, works with Grade 2 students.

PHOTO SUPPLIED

Marcia Dolinski, chaplain at Holy Family Elementary/Junior High, works with Grade 2 students.

November 25, 2013
PATTI LIOGIER
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

What is a chaplain and what are they doing in junior high and senior high schools in Edmonton Catholic Schools (ECSD)?

In March 2000, ECSD put forth a proposal through the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) to fund the Ambassadors of Hope initiative.

The proposal asked for funding to provide each of the seven high schools with a full-time chaplain. The chaplain was to provide leadership in meeting the spiritual needs of the school.

The chaplains' responsibilities may also include acting as a spiritual advisor to staff and students, coordinating prayer and liturgical celebrations, providing faith formation for staff, planning student and staff retreats, providing guidance on theological and moral issues, assisting with social justice activities and enhancing partnerships with the parishes.

When the AISI funding was cut, ECSD made a commitment to continue the chaplaincy position in the high schools.

In September 2012, Superintendent Joan Carr took another step and asked for each junior high school to designate a chaplain. Although neither position is a full-time, they have become an invaluable component of our Catholic schools.

DISTRICT CHAPLAIN

The district has a chaplain, Father Mike Mireau, who is also chaplain for St. Francis Xavier Catholic High School.

Kim Breault, chaplain at Edmonton's Austin O'Brien High School, blesses a student during the school's Easter Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica.

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Kim Breault, chaplain at Edmonton's Austin O'Brien High School, blesses a student during the school's Easter Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica.

Father Mike believes that whether the chaplain is a priest or a layperson, it is important for youth to have the presence of someone publicly and visually devoted to faith. Having a person whose faith is a major part of their life sets a tone and a culture of leading a faith-filled life.

Marcia Dolinski, chaplain at Holy Family School, is the go-to person for "things spiritual, religious and Catholic." Dolinski holds a graduate diploma in religious education from Newman Theological College and says that her work at Newman has been vital to her in this position.

She received her diploma through the cohort program sponsored by ECSD. The chaplain position gives Dolinski the opportunity to give back to the district by being able to share her expertise with staff and students.

Whether it is helping staff create a liturgical celebration, collaborating with teachers about permeating the curriculum with the Catholic faith or answering questions a student has brought forward regarding their faith, Dolinski is there.

DEVELOPING TRUST

Because the chaplains have developed relationships in their schools, a level of trust has already been established.

Mother Margaret Mary chaplain, Sandra Esposito, says that this "opens the doors to a spiritual talk" that is safe and non-judgmental. The students and staff have someone who is a part of their community that they can talk with when seeking spiritual counseling.

It is Carr's dream to have a chaplain in every school. With the last set of education cutbacks, she made it a priority to keep all chaplains.

The importance of this person in the school is important and instrumental in providing a faith filled education for the students of ECSD. It is the hope of Edmonton Catholic Schools that one day the dream of a chaplain in every school will be a reality.

(Patti Liogier is religious education consultant with Edmonton Catholic Schools.)