Our schools have been on my mind lately. And this is not because of the gambling issue that has featured in the media recently; we can sort that out. Rather, I have been thinking of them because, this week and last, we are blessing three brand new schools and one recently renovated one. My thoughts have found their focus in an instruction given in the second reading for yesterday’s Sunday Mass: “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us” (2Timothy 1: 14).
That injunction was first made by St. Paul to his co-worker St. Timothy. The word “treasure” refers to the deposit of faith that Timothy had received from Paul, and which he was now charged, by the laying on of hands and attendant gift of the Holy Spirit, to preserve and hand on to others. This is an apt word to describe our faith. It is, indeed, a treasure. Nothing is more precious than the message of salvation that has been given to us by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Church in order that it may be transmitted to all generations.
The blessing ceremony for our schools reminds us that the treasure of our faith is the very heart of their mission. The Catholic school has as its ultimate goal the handing on of the faith to our children in order to help them become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ. This mission renders our schools, themselves, a great treasure to be preserved. The commitment of trustees, administration, faculty and support staff to this mission and its preservation has been on full display as we have gathered for the school blessings, and I have been blessed to witness it.
Among the many signs of this commitment is the choice of persons after whom the schools are named. The recently renovated school is named Archbishop MacDonald high school. It recalls one of my predecessors, Archbishop John Hugh MacDonald, who was known for his commitment to serving the needs of the poor. Two of the new schools were named after people who have committed their lives to the service of education, namely, Sister Annata Brockman and Monsignor Fee Otterson. The last school takes as its namesake Monsignor William Irwin, the founder of Catholic Social Services in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Of great significance is not only the distinctive contributions of these individuals, but also that which they share in common. Each of them is recognized as a disciple of the Lord. Each is known as someone who, out of love for Christ, listened for his voice in their own lives and was obedient to his call. This is precisely what we want to instil in the children entrusted to the care of our schools. Jesus is the Way that leads to the fullness of life. There is nothing more beautiful than knowing him and telling others of our friendship with him (Pope Benedict XVI). The most important way we preserve the faith in our schools is to lead them to an encounter with Christ and teach them to know, love and follow him, after the example of these four exemplary individuals whose names grace our schools.
One image in particular from these events has stayed with me. In the course of the blessing ceremony for Sister Annata Brockman school, Sister Annata herself gave a beautiful speech about the nature of Catholic education. As she spoke, a little child, probably about three or four years of age, came forward in an attempt to take her picture with an iPhone. It was an image that complemented her message beautifully. Our faith is a wondrous treasure, which, while forever unchanging, must be handed on in ever changing circumstances by faithful witnesses to future generations. Our schools are an essential part of that tradition.