Janet Campbell, pastoral associate at Edmonton's Resurrection and Assumption parishes, visits with students at St. Gabriel's School.


Janet Campbell, pastoral associate at Edmonton's Resurrection and Assumption parishes, visits with students at St. Gabriel's School.

June 1, 2015

Some parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese see Catholic schools within their boundaries as an important evangelization ground. Consequently, their ministry in the schools is a priority.

"If we want to spread the Good News, as we are called to do, the schools are the vineyard," declares Father Jim Corrigan, pastor of St. Theresa Parish in the Millwoods area of Edmonton.

"They are a priority because that's where the young adults of tomorrow are. Give them a good experience and who knows what the Holy Spirit is going to be able to do with that."

Twelve schools are in St. Theresa's Family of Schools, eight of them elementary or elementary-junior high.

The principals of these schools gather at St. Theresa's Church five times a year, and "we talk about initiatives and we talk about what we can do to assist our students," explains Corrigan.

"So there is a really collaborative perspective, where principals and clergy get together and talk about what we can do together for our kids."

The parish is also part of many school celebrations throughout the year, including Easter and Advent. "Either we are in the school with them for the celebrations or they are here in the church," noted Corrigan, one of three priests at St. Theresa who take turns visiting the schools.

"The key is that we have a scheduled time to be in each school each week."


Corrigan makes up the schedule in advance and shares it with the principals so they know who is coming and when. "(The visiting) has to be organized; otherwise it's too easy to let it slide."

One key to success is consistency, the priest said. "When you make a commitment to be in a school every Wednesday at 11:15 a.m., you need to be there so the staff and the students know that Father Jim is going to be there at 11:15 a.m."

Fr. Jozef Wroblewski

Fr. Jozef Wroblewski

During their school visits the priests from St. Theresa often expand on what students are learning in religion class or simply answer questions.

"If we weren't in their schools, probably 75 per cent of these kids wouldn't know who we are because they weren't at church on Sunday morning," Corrigan lamented.

Does the parish see the fruits of its labour? "I believe that we do," said Corrigan, pointing out that on May 16, following two Saturdays of catechesis at the church, 60 students gathered at St. Theresa to receive First Communion.

"For me, the Catholic school is a vineyard that's ripe and ready to evangelize," he said.

In a similar vein, bestselling author and pastor Father James Mulligan of Welland, Ont., believes "it would be dumb for a parish to ignore or fail to see the evangelizing potential that Catholic schools offer."

In his new book, A Pastor's Journal, Mulligan contends that most students in Catholic schools today are children of parents who are occasional Catholics. "This means that school and parish have to do all we can when so little religious education seems to happen at home."

Mulligan details the relationship between his Welland parish and its schools, which he describes as "a great social and faith capital" for the parish.


The Catholic school cannot define itself independently of the parish, he contends. "It must be seen as working in harmony and cooperation with the parish."

Mulligan recommends pastors and lay evangelizers visit the school frequently and offer encouragement and affirmation to teachers in their ministry.

Father Jozef Wroblewski, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Red Deer, considers the five schools in his parish so important that he ministers to them himself. He has a sacramental preparation coordinator who prepares children for Baptism, First Communion, Reconciliation and Confirmation. But visiting schools is his thing.

"When you have a pastoral associate visiting the schools, that's the priest saying 'I don't place a high priority on visiting the schools,'" he said. "The priest should place a high priority on visiting the classrooms."

Wroblewski recently met separately with all the grades, kindergarten included, in an elementary school. He also blessed the prayer centres of three other schools.

Fr. James Mulligan

Fr. James Mulligan

"Schools are vital because the children are very inquisitive, they have open minds and they learn more in elementary than they do for the rest of their lives," he said. "They learn their morals; they learn their values and everything else."

Children think very simply, contends Wroblewski.


"They think the Church is God's house, and the priest, since he lives in God's house must be a close friend of Jesus," he said. "So it is very important to have a good rapport between the school and the parish.

"That's why priests who don't prioritize school visits are making an error in judgment."

Wroblewski believes the school in many places is both the home and the Church to the young student. "So the school is the important place; that's where they learn. Everything they are going to learn about God, the Church and the family they will learn in elementary."

Work between the parish and the school is based on mutual respect, according to the Red Deer pastor.

One thing a pastor should never do is to show up at a school unexpectedly and say, "Hi, I'm here to talk about Mary." Priests, he said, have to follow the agreed schedule because schools are busy places. "You have to respect the teaching practices of the school."

Wroblewski said new priests must pay a visit to the school and introduce themselves to the principal and staff. Reflecting on Mulligan's book, he said, "If you ignore the school, you are causing damage that can never be repaired."


Corrigan, St. Theresa's pastor, believes young people, especially in elementary and the early junior high grades, are thirsty. "They want to learn and the more we can be present to them and teach them just how much they are loved, there is a pretty good chance they are going to be loving to others."

Janet Campbell, pastoral assistant at the twinned Resurrection/Assumption parishes in Edmonton, is in charge of the relationship between the parish, schools and family. "I focus on the three because it's really hard for the school and the parish to work in isolation without the parents."

This is a dynamic, living relationship that takes time and effort to build, Campbell said. One must first build trust, establish connections and be prepared to "be flexible from year to year, even from month to month."

Like the evangelists, she says, we keep throwing our fire out there in the hope that "maybe somebody gets a little lit up."

A former Catholic school principal, Campbell loves her job because it allows her the opportunity to evangelize and to provide faith formation to children, parents and staff.

"I work very closely with the schools to welcome parents and children into the sacraments of the Church," she declares. "We would be foolish not to try to capitalize on the (evangelizing) potential that Catholic schools offer."

Resurrection and Assumption do faith formation for school children as well as parents. The program has an adult component and a child component and is given by a large team of catechists from both parishes.


Campbell visits the area schools regularly to teach and establish connections. Then Father Mitch Fidyka, the pastor, comes to do the sacramental aspect, namely the Eucharist.

Recently at St. James School, Campbell taught the parts of the Mass to children, staff and some parents over four visits. Then Fidyka culminated that program with a Mass at the Korean Catholic Church nearby.

"The kids were all there and now they get involved because they see that they are part of something that they understand."

Things work well between the parish and its schools "because we are very fortunate in all of our settings," explained Campbell. St. James School has access to the Korean Catholic Church; St. Gabriel School is only a block away from Resurrection Church and St. Kevin School is within walking distance of Assumption Church.

She maintains if the parish doesn't work with the Catholic schools in its boundaries, the church would be lifeless and flat on Sunday morning.

St. Alphonsus and St. Clare parishes have seven schools within their boundaries, six of them elementary and one junior high. Father John Gallagher, one of two Basilian priests who run the twinned parish, says ministering to these schools is a priority.

Gallagher says every year a priest attends certain functions at the school such as Easter and Thanksgiving and presides over Masses that schools organize.


"Sometimes students from schools that are close to our churches come to the church for the Mass, (including) Easter Mass or Christmas Mass," Gallagher noted. "Then Ben Calf Robe School, which is right next to St. Clare's Church, sends one class most weeks on Wednesday for the regular Mass."

Gallagher, who is associate pastor, takes his turn visiting the schools "but nothing that regular. I am 81 years old so I don't have a lot of energy." His school-related activities come on top of saying Mass, visiting the sick, helping with marriage preparation and RCIA at the parish.

"We are at the schools several times each semester for an exercise of some kind or other, which is religious in nature," he explained. "Occasionally, we talk to individual classes but more than anything it is the whole student body assembled for a celebration in the gym."

In Gallagher's experience, most school principals are very cooperative. "But I think some are much more tuned in to what is required than others because most have not being trained in evangelization."

The Basilian said any serious evangelization effort in schools would necessarily have to involve parents, and he would welcome a school program that would help the parish priest meet the parents.