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Canadian schools and stability in peril


In the Canadian province of Ontario, Catholic schools are funded by the provincial government as part of a “separate system.” Over the past year, Ontario has debated revisions in the system for funding schools proposed by Premier Mike Harris (NCR, Sept. 4, 1998). One consequence of the proposed changes is that some inner-city schools may face closure. Harris announced a one-year reprieve Nov. 6, but parents and school personnel remain concerned. In this edited version of a letter to various school system officials, originally published in the Catholic New Times, Holy Cross Fr. Andrew J. Morasse reflects on the possible closures.


As pastor of the St. Ann’s parish community, I feel compelled to write to you regarding the recent announcement of the closing of Catholic schools under the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Our school -- St. Ann -- is one of the 29 schools scheduled to close. ...

In the St. Ann’s community, our biggest concern is that the school be a relevant, effective and compassionate expression of the church and a way for the church to minister to people -- especially the poor and marginalized. For most of the students and their families over the last 20 years, St. Ann school with its ministry of compassion and Catholic socialization has been the church present to them. ...

What I say of St. Ann school, I am sure, applies as well to other schools in the center core of the city. ... The Catholic school has become the church -- the church welcoming, the church feeling, the church healing, the church affirming, the church organizing -- for many of the marginalized and poor in our Catholic community. To shut such schools is to side not with the poor but with the rich.

Schools like St. Ann feed students. Each day we serve breakfast to 50 percent of our students. The school has become a community center for daycare and refugees and strangers in our midst. The school is one point of stability for many young people whose lives are anything but stable.

It is ironic that, as we approach the Jubilee with its call to make concrete efforts to free the poor from enslavement, plans are afoot to disempower the poor even more, destroy their community supports and inconvenience them with greater travel and schooling in new communities. This is not in keeping with the option for the poor recently embraced again by the Synod for America. ...

This is a time for Catholic education to recommit to the center core, not abandon it by helplessly going along with the neoconservative strategies of the present government based on dollars as the bottom line for everything.

Perhaps the document that speaks to our concern most directly is the 1989 statement from the Vatican titled “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium.”

This reflection on Catholic education begins by addressing the widening gap between the rich and the poor, a question that can be seen so clearly in the schools scheduled to be closed. It speaks of the contribution of the school to the evangelizing mission of the church and material development of the less fortunate; underscores the point that the school is a sensitive meeting point; describes the school as an “ecclesial experience”; and highlights the special attention the school must give to those who are the weakest. ...

I find this theology of the Catholic school and Catholic education to be most pertinent to our discernment of the needs of Toronto’s Catholic school community and to the issue of school closings. It is clear that the Ministry of Education’s notions of square footage, available space and cost-cutting, and so on, while important, must ultimately be seen in light of the mission of Catholic education. ...

The parish will suffer greatly should St. Ann school cease to exist in the next year or two. The mission of the church in the downtown core is hard enough. It will become that much more difficult without our Catholic school.

Holy Cross Fr. Andrew J. Morasse is pastor of St. Ann Parish in Toronto. This article is reprinted with permission of the Catholic New Times.

National Catholic Reporter, January 29, 1999