Dear Parents & Colleagues:
Another school year spent in the midst of the pandemic has come to a conclusion. Despite the many challenges, I believe the Administration and Staff have done a good job of keeping students satisfactorily engaged. Much work has also been done by our support staff to keep facilities and operations in order and the building projects moving forward. The co-operation of the parent community has been extremely gratifying and appreciated. I must say that my observation is that our students rose to the challenges and did very well in less than perfect circumstances. We have all learned a lot that may be helpful in the future.
It does not appear, as I write, that we are not going to see a complete return to the normalcy we may want as fast as we would hope. There will be some difficult days ahead, it seems. Let us hope and pray the most challenging days are behind us. In the main, the community has come together as communities of faith should in times of difficulty. I remain concerned that the emotional and mental health of many has been affected adversely, and we would do well to keep this in mind as we gradually return to more normal conditions. Many children and the elderly have experienced significant isolation and a rather unnatural lifestyle these last sixteen months. It seems to me we need to be especially attentive to their needs, as they, and we, readjust to more regular routines. Here our faith life is indispensable in helping us readjust and set renewed priorities.
I want to let the school community know that I will pursue some important initiatives as we move into the next academic year.
The crisis presented by the pandemic has heightened the crises of faith and education. Here I quote His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto:
“Quite apart from the pandemic, these are indeed days of suffering, with so much conflict in the world, and so much contention in civil society. Across the globe, refugees flee oppressive regimes, and the blood of martyrs rebukes us in our comfortable Christianity. In our own country, social trends antagonistic to the Gospel gather strength. Anger mounts in social media, in political discourse and sometimes in the streets. Even in the Church, and especially in the Church, we cannot escape the tides of acrimony.” (Heart Speaks to Heart)
The “drama of atheistic humanism” described by the great French theologian Henri de Lubac which produced the evils of communism and national socialism, has in fact been accelerated by the current crisis. It is arguable that some modern ideological trends have exacerbated the gradual but inexorable move towards reducing human beings to objects of manipulation. In this world, even well-intentioned persons and Christians can be understanding and sympathetic but inadvertently unaware that their virtues, as G.K. Chesterton reminded us, can wander wildly and actually do much damage. Virtues, when modified and bargained by the standards of the world, result in a semblance of liberty divorced from moral truths from which, ultimately, desperation and chaos come.
Going along to get along is not always good. Real freedom disappears since freedom for people of faith is not a matter of doing what we want, but doing well and honestly what God has revealed to us that we ought to do, and God calls us to be. I think there is some reason to be concerned about the demise of democratic principles in our age and, tragically, the re-emergence of a strange form of authoritarianism. This authoritarianism proposes an unfamiliar species that exercises power indiscriminately over all life. This is happening at the same time as our Church appears to be disintegrating and splintering.
Yet, in all this, there are the small signs here and there that Catholic Christians continue to believe that we have been saved. Not by ourselves but by the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Yes, we continue to experience Good Friday, but we live and act in the hope of the Resurrection, our Redemption from the corruption of this world and our membership in God’s Kingdom, which is in this world but not of it.
In this world, Catholics must try to proclaim the Gospel. There are many risks. However, we must be careful not to engage in either narrowness or accommodation. In the Kingdom, there are many rooms. This is not to say that God, who embraces and cares for us all, is indifferent to truth and justice. Jesus, the Affirmer of God’s Kingdom, does not tell us that everything is acceptable. God’s love and mercy are for all, but it is God who claims what is right and what is wrong. These have been given to his Church, and continue today, despite the imperfections of those who have always been the members of Christ’s Body.
In the weeks ahead, I will be asking the Administration, Staff and Families to reflect on the importance of faith in their lives and their commitment to the school. As a school community, our primary responsibility is to view the school, as St. La Salle instructs us, as a means to salvation. Some may find this a challenge if the sole reason for working here or sending your children here is not related to this imperative. Catholic institutions, especially schools, can no longer be lukewarm and must embrace the total meaning of what it is to be founded on Christ and His Church. A refoundation is needed in our hearts and our actions. This need applies to all stakeholders: students, teachers, and parents. We cannot teach or form in others what we do not have ourselves.
Next, we must endeavour to intensify and expand our commitment to the poor and disadvantaged. All Lasallian schools must, if they wish to be faithful to their mission, be concerned about the educational needs of the poor. This ideal is not a secondary component; it is the most integral one. To this end, I will be exploring ways and means to reach a minimum of 25% of the overall student population that will be on full financial assistance. This endeavour will help accomplish several desirable objectives. Greater socioeconomic diversity brings with it a more diverse community in general. This goal serves the needs of those who would not have access to quality education in the Catholic faith and Lasallian traditions. At the same time, it also serves as a reminder to all of the moral obligations we have as Catholics and those who support the Catholic sense of mission that we must open our hearts constantly to the needs of others. Last month in The Atlantic magazine there was an article on private schools. Although I disagree with the premise of the article, an element of it needs to be taken seriously. Private or independent education should not be used as an armoured vehicle to protect or shield the young in a manner which is contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.
In these days of heightened ideological polarisation and unyielding fundamentalism, we must distinguish between justifiable anger and abject hatred. As hard as it may be for some, we must love the Church as She is our Mother. We do not always appreciate the firm love of mothers, but we must not limit ourselves exclusively to the gentle dispositions of mothers that appeal to our sensibilities. However, we can try to learn from the errors in judgement that our mothers, even when well-intentioned, may have made, but always without rancour and descending to hate, as this is the pathway to despair. Hatred destroys and justifiable anger repairs and can lead to reconciliation.
Pope Pius XI once posed a challenge to Catholics, a challenge as valid today as it was then. He posited that Catholics and, in my view, all believers, thank God that he makes us live amid the present problems as it is no longer permitted to be mediocre. Among our students, there are many faithful and courageous young people who strive for Christian excellence and a deeper fidelity to Christ. It is our task to assist them along this journey. A goodly number of young have rediscovered the transcendence of the Divine and the need humans have to be connected to this beatitude, as St. Thomas Aquinas concluded centuries ago, in order to experience life more fully and abundantly.
Finally, I hope that these precious summer months will be ones of rest and enjoyment for your families. Let us all be safe and wise. Try your best to renew your faith and not forget your obligations.
Above all, we pray that our young will fully experience the benefits of school life once again in September. Always a place where they can find the strength and support to be courageous, compassionate and competent.
Brother Domenic, fsc