In front of a full house at the Four Point Sheridan Hotel in Kingston, Ontario, Kevin Feehan graciously accepted the 2014 Justice James Higgins Award.
The CCSTA’s Higgins Award is presented annually in memory of Canadian Catholic school trustee and jurist, the Honourable Justice James Higgins. It reflects recognition of an exceptional contribution to Catholic education in Canada.
An Edmonton-based lawyer, Mr. Feehan has provided his legal expertise to a range of circumstances and organizations within the Catholic education community in Alberta and nationwide. The award was officially handed to Mr. Feehan at the 2014 CCSTA AGM in Kingston on Saturday, June 7. Nominated by the Calgary Catholic School District, Mr.Feehan first thanked the board and CCSTA for the accolade during his acceptance speech.
Mr. Feehan then focused on what he knows best about Catholic education in Canada: its historic role within the Canadian legal system. He provided a history lesson on the Canadian court’s perspective about denominational education and the role Catholic schools have played in major decision-making moments in the courthouse.
“It has been legally accepted since the earliest consideration of Catholic School Rights that Catholic schools should operate on a distinctly Catholic denominational philosophy,” he explained. “The British House of Lords in the Brophy case coming out of Manitoba in 1895 found that it was essential that Catholic education should be in accordance with the teaching of the Church.”
Mr. Feehan continued to provide further examples of Supreme Court of Canada and provincial court decisions that demonstrate the link between denominational education and its respective religious affiliation.
“It is a fundamental tenet of the Church that Christ founded the Church to continue His work of salvation. The Church employs various means to carry out his purpose, one of which is the establishment of its own schools which have as their object the formation of the whole person, including education in the Catholic faith.”
Mr. Feehan concluded by connecting the lines between these legal decisions and how they play a role in Catholic education in Canada today.
“This is the heritage which you hold in your hands today. This is the educational imperative that sends you back to your school jurisdictions on Monday,” he said. “This is the gift of the Holy Spirit which is left in your trust.”
Mr. Feehan says the experience of receiving the Justice Jame Higgins award and delivering the acceptance speech was both humbling and exciting.
“The evening was fun, the fellowship exceptional, and the presentation by (CCSTA President) Ted Paszek was quite personal, given our long history together,” he says. “I hope that my remarks were thoughtful and inspiring to the assembled members of CCSTA. I continue to be passionate about Catholic education and will continue to strive to help preserve and enhance it for the future.”