Canadian Jesuit Schools Respond to the Rio Action Statement

By Fr. Leonard Altilia, SJ
Oct 15th, 2018

In Canada there are currently five schools that come under the umbrella of Jesuit education.  Two of these, St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg, MB and Loyola High School in Montreal, QC, are traditional Jesuit high schools serving an all male population within the structure of their respective Canadian provinces.  The other three are quite different.  St. Bonaventure’s College in St. John’s, NL is a K – 12 independent Catholic school owned and directed by the laity, but endorsed by the Jesuit Province of Canada.  The other two, Mother Teresa Middle School in Regina, SK and Gonzaga Middle School in Winnipeg, MB, are both Nativity Schools serving a largely indigenous population in the poorest areas of their respective cities, and are also endorsed by the Jesuits.

In addition to these five schools, there are two more formerly Jesuit schools, Collège Brébeuf in Montreal, QC and Collège Garnier in Quebec, QC, which are in conversation with the Society about possibly re-connecting in some way with the network of Jesuit schools.

The leadership of these schools, together with the Provincial Assistant for Secondary and Pre-secondary Education and the Coordinator of Youth Outreach for Canadian Jesuits International, form the Canada Province’s Education of Youth Commission, which both oversees the work of Jesuit education in Canada and reports to the Provincial Superior on the state of this apostolic sector.

The most recent meeting of the Commission took place during the first week of October at Loyola in Montreal.  The primary, indeed exclusive focus of the meeting was on the Action Statement that resulted from the Rio Congress in October, 2017 (JESEDU-Rio2017), which stands as something of a watershed moment in the history of Jesuit education, much like the famous Man for Others talk of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ back in the 70’s.  The Action Statement presents challenges and directions for the future of Jesuit education that represent a new tack, a new perspective on the mission, a new and different emphasis, new priorities, just like Fr. Arrupe’s talk did.

So the Commission probed deeply into the Action Statement to try to understand more clearly what shape this new set of challenges might give to the work of Jesuit education in Canada.  The first conversation looked at the Congress in a sort of overview, taking not only the Action Statement but also the various statements and homilies of Fr. General Arturo Sosa and seeing what themes emerged that merited further reflection.  Then the Commission gave time to each Action Item, asking what it might mean in the real context of our schools, each in its unique setting and each with its particular challenges.

The conversation was enriched by the input of Eamonn McGuiness from Educate Magis, exploring what that platform makes possible for our schools, and of Dennis Kuzenko, an experienced and creative science teacher from Winnipeg, who shared his reflections on the blending of science, faith, and justice, using Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ and the on-line resource, Healing Earth.

Although there were no concrete strategic outcomes from this initial exploration of the Action Statement, there were three important decisions taken that will bear fruit in the future. 

First, the schools set for themselves a deadline of November 30 by which they will specify particular strategies in the short term that they will undertake over the course of this school year to begin the implementation of the Action Statement, and to report those to the group through a Dropbox file. 

Second, the schools agreed to participate in a follow-up on-line meeting in April to report on their progress in carrying through with their plans. 

The third decision was to return with renewed interest and energy to a plan that was formulated toward the end of last year to encourage students in the schools to prepare short videos reflecting on the question, What does reconciliation mean in our school?  These videos would be shared across the five schools with the hope that this will encourage connections among the schools.  With the same hope, but on an international level, these videos will eventually be shared on Educate Magis. 

The JESEDU-Rio2017 Action Statement is a powerful catalyst for innovation, growth, renewal and creativity in Jesuit education.  That catalyst has just been added to the chemistry of our Canadian schools.  Who knows what will result?  But one can safely assume that it will be something special.