By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
“Led by the Spirit” was the theme of the opening day celebration for teachers and staff of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) who gathered together Aug. 30, 2019 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon to launch the new school year.
The celebration is the one time during the year that all staff members gather as a community for inspiration.
The day began with an early-morning pipe ceremony in a tipi set up at the entrance of the diocesan cathedral.
Celebration of the Eucharist
Some 2,000 teachers and staff of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) then joined school trustees, special guests, priests from both the Eparchy and the Diocese of Saskatoon, and presider Bishop Mark Hagemoen for celebration of the Eucharist. Music ministry was provided by a choir of musicians, teachers and staff members
In his homily, the bishop noted how the cathedral building that morning was filled with “a powerhouse of gifted and dedicated people” who have been led by the Spirit.
“We are all gathered here today because God call us here, and God sends us forward,” Bishop Hagemoen said.
He shared insights from Pope Francis about Catholic education. Quoting the pontiff, the bishop said that education is always about teaching about humanity.
“Teaching what it means to be a full human being and a full human community is such a feature of Catholic education,” said Hagemoen. “We cease to thrive when we forget that we are in relationship, and that relationship is not static, it is dynamic.”
Teachers and pastors are called to be a “net of support” that helps make relationships trusting, healthy and well, he said. “There is so much doubt, and we need to renew what it means to be in relationship with each other, in relationship with the Lord, and in relationship with all of creation.”
The bishop added: “When we realize that we are led by the Spirit to the God of the universe, to all of creation, to all of humanity, there is a sense that ‘I do have a place in the world. I am not isolated. My truth is not just what I make up.’ What an exciting adventure ahead for young people and for those that support them… as we connect to what Pope Francis calls ‘God who is transcendent, who is Other, and who is among us.”
The Holy Father observes that students need values and hope, and he underscores the role of teachers, added Hagemoen. “He says that teaching is about giving young people – especially ‘trouble-makers’ — value and hope. But what he means by that, is that those ‘trouble-makers’ are treasures, opportunities, not to be rejected… but to be seen as Christ, as people who have rich gifts and goals – yes, with problems, but who need our support.”
“Finally, teachers are those who look in a special way for the little ones who most need our support and mentoring. Pope Francis says: ‘Among our tasks, as witnesses to the love of Christ, is giving a voice to the cry of the little ones, of the poor, so they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seem at times to treat people simply as mere consumers.’ People are treasures because they are made in God’s image and likeness.. The call is to look at those students and situations that need us the most.”
Bishop Hagemoen also reflected on what he heard from young people during a Youth Synod held early in 2019 at E.D. Feehan Catholic High School.
“I was amazed at the awareness of the students who participated in the Synod, and how they were very well aware of the challenges and issues that some students face, including in their community,” he said. “Our students struggle with very serious issues, including mental health and depression, sometimes addiction, family struggles, body image, self-shaming and a lack of self-confidence, and of course finding hope in the world.
“But the Spirit of the Lord is upon them, and it is upon us, because the Lord has anointed us to bring Good News to the little ones. He has sent us, as he sends Christ, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery and renewed sight to those who are blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. He is alive and well among us! And you give testimony and witness to this light. Thank you for that.”
Finally, the bishop stressed the need for ongoing healing and ongoing conversion, and pointed to the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a great assistance on this journey. “Let us be people who commit to our own life of healing,” he urged.
“May this be a year in which we allow the Spirit to lead us in a profound way,” Hagemoen said, wishing the GSCS community “a year of blessing, a year of adventure, a year of growth.”
Renewal of Commitment
The bishop was then joined by Fr. André Lalach of the Eparchy of Saskatoon to lead all those present in a “Renewal of Commitment.”
The renewal concluded with a shared statement: “Ours is a sacred task: to create Christ-centred, welcoming communities where we nurture faith, encourage excellence in learning, and inspire students to serve others. We renew our commitment to Catholic Education, trusting that the Holy Spirit will help us to walk in the light of the Lord. With confidence, we look forward to serving the students entrusted to us this year.”
After Mass, the opening day program continued with remarks from the Chair of the GSCS Board of Education, Diane Boyko, who introduced her fellow board members, before reflecting on this year’s theme “Led by the Spirit.”
“We find comfort that God is always with us,” she said. “God is not only with you, God led you here. The Holy Spirit led you here. He led you to Catholic education, to your role and to your vocation.”
The Spirit also helps all to use their gifts, she said. “He takes what we have and he super charges it,” Boyko described. “This should bring a sense of peace and joy deep within each of us… Will you let the Holy Spirit activate your gifts? Whatever your role, you are an important member of the GSCS family and it is important that you realize that.”
Boyko noted that the school division grew by more than 1,000 students last year, and is on its way to growing by over 650 students this year.
“It is so important that we all work together to serve students and families with our unique gifts,” she added. “We need to always be cognizant to the fact that these parents have a choice, a choice that we are thankful for, and we should not take for granted.” Many are choosing what is unique about Catholic schools, she said. “That difference is that we include God and our Catholic faith in all that we do.”
Director of Education Greg Chatlain also spoke, sharing some lessons learned over his 30 years as an educator: a time that has seen educational services change and methods evolve, while technology has transformed the way things are done in the classroom.
In that time, Chatlain says he has come to ever more deeply realize the significance and importance of what Catholic educators do to help develop the whole person. “What we do educating children in the Catholic tradition is really, really important, but also really complex,” he said. “Education is one of the most powerful forces for change in our society,” he added, pointing to one example: the hope in the impact that Treaty Education will have for how relationships in our communities unfold in the future.
Another lesson learned has been the realization that each role is vital and interconnected. “You are the most critical element in Catholic education,” he told staff and teachers. “You have enormous agency in this endeavour.”
At the same time, “we are not all on our own,” he added, stressing the lesson that relationships and collaboration are necessary.
Finally, Chatlain told the assembly that it is “faith that is the foundation and drives all that we do,” stressing the importance of personal faith journeys that are alive and growing. “Faith is our foundation and it needs our focus.”
GSCS Foundation Chair Laurie Karwacki also spoke, sharing a video of student views about what’s special about Catholic education.
The keynote speaker for the opening day was Dr. Ansel Augustine, a professor of pastoral leadership from New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. He shared anecdotes of his experiences growing up “in the projects,” of finding his way to faith through dedicated mentors, and of his experiences in ministry, working with youth.
“How is God using you in the lives of your students… and are we still allowing ourselves to be used by Christ?” he challenged. “Are we seeing Christ in our young people, and are they seeing Christ in us?”
He echoed Bishop Hagemoen in asserting that some of the most troubled young people “might be our greatest treasure,” adding: “We are called to be of service no matter where we go, no matter who we are… let us look at each other like the child of God we are, and the child of God they are.”
Augustine stressed: “It is not about us, it is about what God does through us” — even in times of struggle, or in times of disaster, like Hurricane Katrina. He shared his own journey, and emphasized to those gathered that each one of them is valued by God and greatly beloved: “If God had a refrigerator, you would be on it!”
At the conclusion of his talk, Augustine was presented with a star blanket, and honoured with a drum song by Delvin Kanewiyakiho, First Nations and Métis cultural consultant for GSCS.