NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. — Bishop Gerard Bergie urged a select group of Ontario high school students to take up the mantle of leadership and make Catholic education even better for future generations.
"We have an opportunity to take something that is good and make it even better so that we can create better leaders, because we can never rest on our laurels," said the St. Catharines, Ont., bishop.
Bergie made his comments to about 400 Catholic students from Ontario's English and French school boards who attended the inaugural Ontario Catholic Student Leadership Conference March 31 to April 2.
"We can never fall into the trap of complacency," said Bergie, chair of Ontario's Assembly of Catholic Bishops' education commission. "There is so much goodness in our world, but there is also a great deal of confusion, disillusionment, apathy and because of that, we need good, solid, inspirational leaders who can show us the way, who can light the way and dispel the darkness.
"Who are those people? You!" Bergie said to loud applause.
The conference, titled Lighting the Way, was organized by the Niagara Catholic District School Board and supported by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association. In addition to students, the event was attended by trustees, directors of education and teachers.
Olivia Suppa, president of the Catholic Board Council of the Ontario Student Trustees' Association, reminded attendees of the unique nature of Catholic education. "What we sometimes fail to realize is that we have the gift of publicly funded Catholic education in this province," she said.
"I feel like a better person because of it. I have grown in all aspects of my life, intellectually, socially and spiritually. There is something so profoundly unique about Catholic schools."
Speaker after speaker lauded the Catholic education system, including Premier Dalton McGuinty, who delivered a taped video message.
Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association president Nancy Kirby discussed servant leadership. Catholic leaders, she said, "have an extra responsibility that is rooted in our Gospel imperative.
"That Gospel imperative requires all of us not to lead for the sake of power but to lead for other reasons rooted in compassion and service."