From completing a Master of Arts degree to playing soccer in elementary school, the youth panel members who spoke at the CCSTA Catholic Education: A National Conversation conference had varied backgrounds but all had two things in common: a love for Jesus and an appreciation for Catholic education.
All hailing from the Eastern Ontario Catholic school system, the four panelists consisted of four young women, including Caitlin, a first-year St. Paul’s University Master of Arts student who graduated from St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Brockville, Ontario; Ava, a Grade 5 student attending St. Michael’s in Carp, Ontario; Emmanual, who is completing her Grade 12 year at L’Escale in Rockland, Ontario; and Emilie, a University of Ottawa graduate who is now a full-time lay missionary in Quebec.
Each youth shared her personal experience in the Catholic education system and how it played a role in her life and how it continues to do so going forward.
Caitlin’s awakening occurred when she was in the hospital during her first year at university. Her high school chaplain came to visit her in the hospital, which demonstrated the pastor’s compassion for the students.
“Catholic education does not stop at graduation,” she explained to the conference delegates. “Catholic education incorporates the whole person and it is my firm belief that we must continue to articulate our beliefs.”
As the youngest of eight children, Ava has been involved in Catholic education since she was a baby. While she’s grateful for her Catholic education experiences, she provided good feedback:
“Teachers should do more to help us in our faith,” she said. “We need a good foundation to help us as we get older. Having a strong faith has helped me make good decisions.”
Emmanual delivered her story in French and outlined how going on cultural exposure trips in high school has helped in her faith development.
Emilie explained that a Grade 10 retreat allowed her to discover Jesus for the first time. “Those teachers help me find God and I thank them every day,” she said, adding that students are thirsty for Christ. “Don’t quench the Holy Spirit away from your school.”
Instead, she encouraged the delegates to host retreats, youth conferences and dialogue within the classroom. “You do have a responsibility for the deposit of the faith of your students.”
Following each youth panel member’s introductions, the floor opened for questions from conference delegates.
“If there was one thing you’d like to change in the way Catholicity is offered in your school, what would it be?” asked one delegate.
Cailtin stated more students involved in liturgy while Emilie said schools need more role models available to the student body. Meanwhile, Ava said giving students more practical, hands-on examples of what Jesus did and how it relates to a student’s everyday life would be helpful.
The youth were also asked if they feel the delivery of Catholicity has been a failure within the Catholic school system. Emilie summed it up all well.
“It’s not a failure from teachers, but when we pass along Christ, the student is enlightened,” she said. “Our relationship with God is a constant life journey. We’re human beings and we want to explore. Being a Catholic role model for students has not been a failure, but an achievement.”