Hope, Compassion & Catholic Education

Hope, Compassion & Catholic Education
Posted on 01/08/2024
We are a people of hope. As Christians, Christmas of course is the guiding light of our liturgical year. But what truly puts the wind in our sails is Easter. It is the season where we celebrate the victory of life over death, goodness over hatred, and hope over despair. It is that hope of Easter that serves as a constant source of inspiration, resilience, and purpose throughout the entire year.

It influences how believers see and deal with life's challenges, nurturing a strong and lasting faith that motivates us with courage, love, and a feeling of everlasting hope. To some extent, it serves as a guide for Catholic education.

Faith-based education isn't just about principles in textbooks. It's about living our values and morals in everyday life, in relationship with others—especially with Christ. In this way, students learn to be thoughtful believers, effective communicators, deep thinkers, and caring family members. This brings a positive and hopeful perspective to their journey that goes beyond academics.

In fact, almost 25 years ago, these elements became the Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations (OCSGEs). They are meant to reflect what makes Catholic education in Ontario special. Mixing subject-specific skills with important values, they show how learning and believing go hand in hand in our Catholic schools. It's not just about facts and abilities, but also about teaching values and encouraging meaningful actions.

Students are given a supportive start on their learning journey - building hope for a future where what they learn, the values they pick up, and the good things they do come together to make the world a better place.

In the latest episode of Beyond the Bell, we meet Murray Watson, Adult Faith Formation Animator at the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB). Murray's journey led him to Catholicism at age 16. With a background in theology and biblical studies, he's been supporting spiritual growth and the Catholic identity of the school board since 2017 and strongly believes that faith and education have a lot to say to each other and a lot to learn from each other.

Chantelle: What makes faith-based education distinct? Why is it so special and important in the context of Ontario's publicly funded Catholic education system? 

  Distinctive is a really good way to describe it because I know sometimes the temptation can be for us to talk as if Catholic schools are somehow morally superior or better than other schools, which is not the case. That's not how we describe ourselves. That's not how we understand ourselves. But I think faith provides a really unique lens to think about how we educate and why we educate and what we are educating for.

Faith is that big framework within which we live, that helps us to think about what's going on in our world even amidst its challenges. It tells us that we are part of a bigger story - the story of God's love for this world. It's an invitation for us to be partners in this story where our daily actions, choices, and words contribute to building a better world.

As Christians, we've been involved in education almost since the beginning, so we bring a wealth of ideas about the ways that faith can enrich education, and ways that education can enrich faith. There's a wonderful back-and-forth dialogue that happens every day in Catholic schools, and I think it is a wonderful gift that we bring to society.

Chantelle:  What does that actually look like in Catholic schools?  From your perspective, how are some of these values fostered within Catholic education? We've heard of the Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations (OCSGEs). What does that look like? 

Murray: Well, the OCSGEs are a set of seven guiding visions that we try to embody in everything that we do, everything that we say, and everything that happens in our schools, and every day is geared in that direction. Who are the learners that we are trying to grow in our schools? What is the vision that we want for our students to aspire to? We have all kinds of relationships and we're trying to foster young people to have a sense of that connectedness, a sense of that responsibility and to see how they can use their gifts and their talents for good in the world as they grow up and take on more and more responsibility.

Chantelle:  There's a sense of community...  We think about connections and the importance of relationships and the well-being of a community as well as the individual. 

Murray: I think at the heart of it is relationship. We try to nurture a network of relationships and in every school that happens on many different levels, it's not just what happens in the classroom. It's relationships with custodians, with educational assistants. It's relationships with office administrators. It's with everybody in the school.  Everybody in the school is responsible for that kind of climate for our young people.

Chantelle: Thanks for that, Murray. Do you have any final thoughts on today’s topic? 

Murray: I guess for me, the importance of faith in education, from a Christian perspective - Jesus says that he came so that people would have abundant life, overflowing life, flourishing life. And that ultimately is what we want our Catholic schools to be… There's a great Catholic medieval saint that I love, Saint Catherine of Siena, and she said, “If you are who God made you to be, you will set the world on fire,” and I really believe that's what Catholic education is about - making it possible for our young people to become the best version of themselves. To live out the potential God has given them so that they can go out and make our world a better place through their own contributions and their gifts.

Nurturing individuals to understand and embrace their unique gifts and purpose can lead to a positive and transformative impact on the world. Catholic education emphasizes the development of character, moral values, and a sense of purpose aligned with one's faith. Encouraging students to be true to themselves, live virtuously, and contribute positively to society reflects the hopeful belief that, grounded in their faith, they can ignite positive change and make a meaningful difference in the world.

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