Archbishop Richard Smith celebrates Mass marking 125 years of Catholic Schools in Edmonton.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Archbishop Richard Smith celebrates Mass marking 125 years of Catholic Schools in Edmonton.

June 23, 2014
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Blessed with modern technology, dedicated teachers, administrators and support staff, Edmonton Catholic Schools provides a healthy learning environment for young people.

"But at the centre of it all is that which distinguishes us from all other educational systems: Jesus Christ is the reason for this school," said Archbishop Richard Smith.

Catholic education in Edmonton has a proud tradition that dates back to before Alberta became a province. Edmonton Catholic Schools celebrated its 125 years with a celebratory Mass June 7 at St. Joseph's Basilica.

The Mass was a chance to pause and reflect on that proud tradition. One highlight was the choir from Monsignor Fee Otterson School, directed by Beth Pecson. Assisting in the celebration were Bishop David Motiuk of the Edmonton Ukrainian Eparchy and Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman.

Edmonton Catholic Schools Superintendent Joan Carr agreed with Smith that Catholic education is a "precious gift to walk the path with our God."

"What's so important for us this evening is that it's an opportunity to come together as a Catholic school community, along with our broader community, to celebrate a very significant time in Catholic education – our 125th anniversary," said Carr.

Like the adventurous pioneers of 125 years ago, today's students, parents, staff and trustees in Edmonton Catholic Schools are people filled with the spirit of adventure. Catholic education meets the students' required academic needs, while also teaching values and morals necessary for a full, productive life.

BLESSING OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS

Carr spoke of the blessing of Catholic education and the joy that people bring to their work in the schools.

"There is an absolute tremendous passion, great commitment to Catholic education, and the sense that we're able to bring prayer into our day."

Faith permeates the entire school day and the curriculum, she said.

Catholic schools in Edmonton trace their roots to August 1888 when Catholic parents applied to set up a separate school district. In October that year, three sisters from the Faithful Companions of Jesus travelled from France to Edmonton to open a convent and school.

Those sisters began teaching at St. Joachim Catholic School in November 1888. That first year, they had 23 students, during an era when compulsory schooling began at age seven and was complete by age 12.

Today, 125 years later, Edmonton Catholic Schools has grown from one school with 23 students to 88 schools with about 37,000 students.

During his homily, Smith said Catholic education leads young people to be followers of Jesus Christ, not just while they are students, but throughout their adult lives.

"To make Jesus known and to invite the response of faith – that is the mission that has defined the Church from day one. It is the mission that continues to define us, and it is also the mission in which our Catholic schools participate," he said.

CALL ON HOLY SPIRIT

Smith said as Catholic schools look forward to many more years of providing Catholic education, they must call upon the Holy Spirit regularly "because in our schools, just as in our society, we are encountering a variety of languages. Here I am not speaking of English or French or Ukrainian or Spanish."

On the contrary, the archbishop was referring to the languages of digital culture, the Internet, video games, television programs and celebrity influence.

"From among these many languages today, there are forces other than the Holy Spirit that are fashioning languages, encouraging our young people to speak them, languages which are anything but helpful and very often dangerous," he said.

FALSE 'LANGUAGES'

These languages bring about self-centeredness, hedonism and consumerism and the illusion that we are somehow masters of reality, able to function according to our own desires and whims.

When we encounter Jesus and are transformed by his love, then what arises is one common language that is other than that which is spoken by our surroundings. This language leads us to truth, love, mercy, justice, communion and solidarity, the archbishop said.

"This is the language that we must teach our young people to know, to absorb and to speak. That language has at its centre the encounter with the person of Jesus," said Smith.