“In praise”, that is, of the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese. Our Catholic schools are at the fore-front of my mind these days, since now is the time when parents apply for the admission of their children to our schools for the next academic year. This morning, I was at Notre Dame Regional High School to preside the 8:00 a.m. Eucharist. At precisely 8:30, just after mass ended, a bell rang, and everybody froze in their tracks, right where they were. It was as though someone had pressed the “pause” button during a video. We heard the national anthem being sung over the intercom, and then a prayer, read by students. It moved me to witness this. I was moved this morning, as I always am when I venture into a Catholic school, by the beautiful Catholicity of the environment. Our Catholic children are so blessed as to attend school in a very safe and very Catholic environment. They attend a school that includes, among many other religious features, a chapel where they can actually attend mass before school begins. I’m sure most of them are unaware of the magnitude of this blessing, but I’m also sure they will realize one day just how blessed they were.
The only shadow in the reality of our Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Vancouver is that we can’t possibly accommodate all our Catholic children. It’s an imperfect world. We do the best we can. We keep tuition fees as low as we can, we provide tuition subsidies for parents who are going through tough times and who need help. Here at St. Mary’s Parish, we are doing everything we can to come up with a building plan that will allow us to double-stream our school and therefore accept twice the number of students we now have. It’s a struggle in every parish that has a school, but the miracle just keeps on going…
I have already wondered, and I know that a great many people wonder whether the massive investment of financial and other resources that we pour into our Catholic school system is justifiable, given the reality of the absence from parish life of so many of the families for the benefit of whom we keep our schools open. It’s a fair question. We can argue without end on this issue, but I get my answer to this question when I venture into any one of our schools, and I see its Catholicity. Our children live their academic lives in an environment which is both public and Catholic. This is a precious thing, in a world in which our Church is ever more marginalized, ever more “private”. At the very least, we are laying the groundwork for a future return to the Church for all these kids.
This is not to take anything away from other schools, either Christian or public. I have no doubt that there are many excellent schools out there, schools that surpass ours in terms of resources and of pedagogical excellence. My point is simply this: they’re not Catholic. Ours are definitely Catholic, aided in this by our situation of deprivation of government funding. As a result, our schools are filled with staff who are prepared to take a cut in pay and in benefits because they want to teach in a Catholic school. And they are filled with the children of parents who are prepared to make financial sacrifices and do volunteer work so that their children can be in a Catholic school. That, more than anything else, I believe, is what makes our schools so truly Catholic.
Blessed be God for the ongoing miracle of the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese.