Archbishop Prendergast supports private Catholic schools

The following are remarks given by Archbishop Prendergast at the Wayside Academy Gala on Saturday, 8 June 2013. You can read an account and transcript on Wayside’s website here.

Your Excellency Bishop De Angelis, brother priests, Dr. Janine Langan—inaugural Semper Altius Award recipient, Principal Mr. Adam Parker, parents, benefactors, and friends of Wayside Academy … my dear brothers and sisters in the Lord: greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ:

First, I want to thank you for the invitation to attend this festive occasion. I will take this opportunity to congratulate all of you, as members of Christ’s Church, for the labours and sacrifices, inspirations, fidelity, and creativity you have contributed by your dedication to your school.

A school like Wayside Academy is more than just a place of learning, but is also a centre of faith, a nucleus of culture, and a pole of the Christian community. The fruits of schools such as Wayside are many and varied, and cannot always be measured. But I am convinced that without them, our Church and our society would be impoverished. Even in your relative “poverty,” you are an incomparable richness to the people of God in our land.

Why do schools such as yours—and Our Lady of Schools in Halifax, which I helped to establish during my time there as bishop—offer such a paradoxical richness? As I consider the history and achievements of Wayside Academy over the years, some key reasons become clear:

1) The primary school was founded in 1995 by a group of parents concerned about giving their children a Catholic education in an environment that was humane, that was in proportion with and in the spirit of the home—an extension of the home. Here, teachers would know they were acting in loco parentis: temporarily in place of the parents, operating with their trust and mandate. This was the main building block of all the other strengths that have followed. The Church teaches that Catholic education is “an extension of parental education; it is extended and cooperative home schooling.” Parents, not schools, not the State, and not the Church, have the primary moral responsibility of educating children to adulthood.

The principle of subsidiarity must always govern relations between families and the Church and the State in this regard. Pope John Paul II, in his Letter to Families, went as far as to say this about education, “For subsidiarity to be effective, families and those to whom they entrust a share in their educational responsibilities must enjoy true liberty about how their children are to be educated. This means that “in principle, a State monopoly of education is not permissible, and that only a pluralism of school systems will respect the fundamental right and the freedom of individuals—although the exercise of this right may be conditioned by a multiplicity of factors, according to the social realities of each country.” If, as the Church believes, parents are the primary educators of their children, then the fact that your school was founded by parents, and remains largely directed by parents is a sign of the seriousness with which you take the task that has been entrusted to you.

2) In the early 2000s, you began to expand the scope of your school, and added high school grades, one year at a time. You began to embrace more fully the vision of a vital, Christian and classical curriculum. You took seriously the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages of learning, and even pioneered ways of approaching subject matter that took these natural aptitudes of children into account. You paid attention to the glory of your natural surroundings. You highlighted the “poetry of human existence.” You brought sacred music into your school, something that Vatican II hoped the faithful would embrace, to keep the liturgy both sacred and sing-able. You’ve experimented with curriculum. Your students have excelled in public speaking, at science fairs, and with drama. You “March[ed] for Life” each year in Ottawa, visited Parliament, and had parliamentarians visit you. These have all been things to celebrate. They are constitutive of a truly catholic education.

3) On 28 December 2002, when his Holiness Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop De Angelis the eleventh bishop of Peterborough, your school was the first to contact him and congratulate him. You invited him to your school for a visit, which was then located in a small country hall on the edge of the city. He did so, and the warm reception he received inaugurated his close relationship with you over the last decade. Who could have foreseen the engagement of so many of Wayside’s high school students with diocesan youth ministries? Who could have foreseen the vocations that would come from your school—albeit mostly from your administration and staff! Your connection to the local Church in your diocese has also been a strength. The Church sees education as one of her ecclesial duties, something she does as a common undertaking with parents.[1]

4) Today, under the leadership of Adam Parker [school principal] and all of the parents and friends, you continue to move forward in exciting directions. You advance with great fidelity to the riches of the past, and at the same time, are open to new horizons. This is the kind of life a Catholic school should have: to live like all Christians in the hic et nunc, “the here and now,” while also maintaining the tension of living Christ’s promises in the paradox of the “already and not yet.” That already is the knowledge that Christ is with you, above all present in the Eucharist that you have made the heart of your school; and the not yet is the reality for which you are constantly working, teaching, watching, and waiting. It is the ultimate good that is to come, that which we call heaven. And the hallmark of living this “already and not yet” is joy. It is apparent to all of your friends, extended family, and any visitor to your school, that Wayside is a place where children can be children. They can form friendships with one another within their grades and across their grades. Wherever there is free laughter and music in the halls of any Christian community, it is a good sign that Jesus is present there and that a truly Catholic education is taking place. Your joy is rooted in your devotion to Christ. This joy will not, of course, exclude controversy, sacrifices, and human misunderstandings. But it is still the best barometer of your success.

* * *

Perhaps some of you have heard Pope Paul VI’s famous line: that today people no longer listen to teachers anymore. That they only listen to witnesses. And if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are also witnesses.[2] This is the great call for all of us in the twenty-first century, both as individual Christians and as a school: to become authentic witnesses of the message and person of Christ. The authenticity of any school will “shine forth” from its teachers and families, by the way they are living the Gospel. Before he was elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio made a statement in the same vein as that prophetic line from Paul VI. In the book-length interview of him and the rabbi of Buenos Aires, recently published in English and called On Heaven and Earth, Cardinal Bergoglio said,

“There is a difference between a professor and a teacher. The professor presents his material in a detached manner, while the teacher involves others; it is profoundly testimonial. There is also coherence between his conduct and his life. He is not merely a transmitter of science, as is a professor. We need to help men and women to become teachers, so that they can become witnesses; that is essential in education.”[3]

The future pope was not disillusioned with college professors. He did not intend, I am sure, to cause them any offence! But he is highlighting a particular quality of the Catholic educator: coherence between conduct and life, involved with the lives of the students. The ideal teacher is a living witness to faith, hope, and love. If these are the qualities of your teachers, which I believe they are, then you can be certain that the Pope’s intuition about Catholic education is being lived well in your school.

All of what I have said so far serves to illustrate, I hope, the various ways in which Wayside Academy is a school that actively pursues what Archbishop Michael Miller, when he was Secretary for the Congregation of Catholic Education, called “the Five Essential “Marks” of Catholic school.”[4] These are the “non-negotiables” of Catholic identity, the ideals that should animate any Catholic place of learning, which I will briefly summarize here, and recommend for your continuing discernment:

1) The first principle is that the school should be inspired by a supernatural vision. The purpose of a Catholic education is certainly the formation of boys and girls to be good citizens of this world, enriching society with the leaven of the Gospel. It is also preparation that will make them citizens of the world to come. It is to help them follow their destiny of becoming saints. Miller notes: If we fail to keep in mind this high supernatural vision, all our talk about Catholic schools will be no more than “a gong booming or a cymbal clashing” (I Cor 13:1).

2) Second, a Catholic school is founded on a Christian anthropology, that is to say, on a sound understanding on what the human person isAnd how do we understand the human person? “It is a concept which includes a defence of human rights, but also attributes to the human person the dignity of a child of God … It establishes the strictest possible relationship of solidarity among all persons; through mutual love and an ecclesial community. It calls for the fullest development of all that is human, because we have been made masters of the world by its Creator. Finally, it proposes Christ, Incarnate Son of God and perfect Man, as both model and means; to imitate him, is, for all men and women, the inexhaustible source of personal and communal perfection.”[5]

3) Third, that the school be animated by Communion and Community. Primary schools especially “should try to create a community school climate that reproduces, as far as possible, the warm and intimate atmosphere of family life. Those responsible for these schools will, therefore, do everything they can to promote a common spirit of trust and spontaneity.”[6]

4) Fourth, Catholic schools should be imbued with a Catholic worldview. As Archbishop Miller said, “we might be tempted to think that the identity and distinctiveness of Catholic education lies in the quality of its religious instruction, catechesis and pastoral activities,” but it is not so. Rather, a Catholic education is Catholic “because it provides an education in the intellectual and moral virtues, because it prepares for a fully human life at the service of others and for the life of the world to come.”[7] In other words, a particularly Catholic “take” on reality should permeate the whole life of a school, every subject, every activity, and every interaction.

5) Finally, there is a constant search for wisdom and truth. We do not want our students to say, “we had the experience but missed the meaning.” T. S. Eliot puts it right when he asks, “where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” Today, especially, schools are increasingly seen as merely the means of transmitting information for professional use. This is training at the expense of education. We believe we can reach the knowledge of the truth of things. We have the wisdom to integrate it into our lives as souls created and called to fullness in God. Let your intellectual curiosity animate and permeate your school. Pray that the Holy Spirit imparts his gifts to your young charges. Trust that holy wisdom is a manifestation of God.

Be inspired by a supernatural vision. Be founded on a Christian anthropology. Be animated by communion and community. Be imbued with a Catholic worldview. Keep up a constant search for wisdom and truth. These five pillars of a Catholic school, drawn from the Holy See’s teaching on Catholic education, should be the guiding principles of a school that intentionally wishes to be Catholic.

Today, we are honouring Dr. Janine Langan for her many contributions to Catholic education in our country. We celebrate her as a teacher and a witness for so many and for so long, and for this service to God’s people. May I add my salutation and those of the Church in Canada to you, Janine? Thank you for what you have done for us, often under conditions of adversity and suffering. You always served with great grace and an unabashed spirit of Christian hope. You inspire the Church to move forward with the vision of a vital and integral Christian education in Canada. You are an example that I am certain was an inspiration to Bishop de Angelis, as he tirelessly promoted the founding of Sacred Heart College here in the Peterborough Diocese.

Bishop de Angelis, some of you may know, is a good friend as well as a fellow bishop. In fact, he was helpful to me, as a religious order priest, in making the adjustment to the episcopal brotherhood. He often gave me good advice when we served as auxiliary bishops in Toronto. Later, when I moved to Halifax and then Ottawa, he cheerily welcomed me to his diocese to preside and preach at the parish and mission near Huntsville, Ontario where my sister and her husband have a cottage. He was pleased to know that I encouraged the parishioners of St. Mary’s, Huntsville and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Baysville—and the many cottagers from Toronto—to contribute to reducing the diocese’s deficit and to take up new initiatives. These included the Office of Youth, Evangelization and Vocations and Sacred Heart College. I salute you, Bishop Nick … and not only for helping me keep up my Italian, telling me corny jokes, and regaling me with your run-ins with the OPP for speeding or erratic driving. I salute you for the wonderful example of being a true shepherd after the Heart of Christ to your flock here in Peterborough. May the Sacred Heart, whose solemnity we celebrated yesterday, draw you close to Himself as you prepare to hand over the reins of office to your successor in the near future.

In closing, dear friends, I remind you that we must work and pray that Catholic centres of learning continue to flourish, and send forth new workers into the harvest. It is encouraging to witness the fidelity of schools like Wayside Academy, and new institutions of higher learning, like Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay and Sacred Heart College, to the stringent ideals of growing faithful subjects of God’s kingdom and responsible citizens of Ontario.

To the Wayside Academy community, its friends and benefactors, I wish you courage and blessing as you continue your God-given mission of forming Christian souls in the world and for our time.

God bless you all.


[1] Gravissimum Educationis.

[2] Paraphrased from Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41.

[3] Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka, On Heaven and Earth (New York: Image, 2013), 132.

[4] J. Michael Miller, The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools, link.

[5] Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith.

[6] Gravissimum Educationis.

[7] Miller, ibid.

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