Stefan Michniewski has a vision. From an early age his passion for sharing the faith with family and friends took the reins. A vocation to religious life found him spending 12 years in the seminary in England, then earning a degree to teach high school religion, and later led him towards being the executive director of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association for 16 years – a position from which he recently retired.
After leaving his office for the last time on July 31, 2012, Mr. Michniewski may now be known as the former executive director, but his accomplishments are not muted by his absence.
To celebrate those successes, he was recently awarded with the Benemerenti medal by the Catholic Bishops of Alberta in recognition for his work. “That meant more to me than I could explain,” Mr. Michniewski said. “It validated what I was trying to do with my life.”
Mr. Michniewski is quick to note that the achievements with the ACSTA were not only his, but the result of a collective effort of working with the board and its members. Even so, he said the major achievements during his time with the organization included four areas: advocacy, communications, faith development and governance.
Not only does advocacy cover legal work, but it’s also about building relationships with key people to promote and protect Catholic education, he said. Mr. Michniewski noted the importance the ACSTA has placed on developing positive, open, respectful and trusting relationships as well as working hard with its members, the Alberta bishops and with government. “In order to work effectively, you have to have solid relationships,” Mr. Michniewski said.
In terms of communication, he said he feels the association has made great strides. It produces a newspaper twice a year called the Catholic Dimension, which focuses on key issues in Catholic education. In addition, the ACSTA has developed a website with its communications officer, who also crafts media releases on pertinent issues and performs media tracking. Mr. Michniewski said the ACSTA has developed a commitment to social media and even hosted media training workshops.
Another area of success that Mr. Michniewski feels strongly about is faith development. He said the main push behind faith development is formation. “We need constantly to be helping ourselves deepen our formation and understanding of Jesus in our Church,” he said. To that end, twice a year, the ACSTA brings trustees together and also organizes a conference called Blue Prints which welcomes more than 180 administrators. In addition, the ACSTA hosts the SPICE conference, focusing on sharing purpose in Catholic education for its teachers and also holds Roots, a conference for parents, among other events.
Lastly, Mr. Michniewski said the ACSTA has a well-developed governance policy manual, which allows for delineation between trustees’ political visions, and the implementation done by administrators. The organization’s strategic plan is also worked out by administration every three years “to share collective vision and to allow members to be informed,” he said.
Mr. Michniewski said Catholic education has made vast contributions to Canada in the past – and continues to do so today. “Our faith in Jesus and the Church is life-giving to families, community, the province, the nation and indeed for the world,” he said. “The gospel is good news – to be lived and shared. The Catholic school is an essential instrument of the mission of our Church.”
CCSTA executive director, John Stunt, said Mr. Michniewski is a faith-filled man, who looked beyond his province as the executive director of ACSTA. “He saw the ‘big picture’ and was alert to issues in Alberta that could affect Catholic Education in other parts of Canada. He was a big supporter of CCSTA and our mission to promote and protect the right to Catholic education in Canada.”
But just because he’s retired, doesn’t mean Mr. Michniewski is ready to sit back and relax. He has plans to tackle renovations to his family home, assist his wife with her Irish dance wear business and keep himself in the ring by consulting, as needed. “I’ve been blessed with a rich education and maybe can continue to offer some help,” he said.