In late June of this year, I issued a letter to all staff here at the College. You will find some of it accompanying these introductory remarks intended for the parental community. The letter traces some of the events and concerns that led the Brothers to re-privatise the College in 1994. I believe it worth your time to read some of the letter as the decision to withdraw the College from the publicly-funded Catholic school system was done after much thought and reflection. It was not the result of a whim, financial considerations or solely on the basis of the quality of academic programme. The overriding preoccupation of the Brothers was to make, what might have proved, to be a last ditch attempt at ensuring that there was a genuine qualitative and quantitative Catholic mission being delivered at the school to its students and their families by committed and dedicated teachers and staff.
Over the last three years, I have written to our Administration and teachers on the following topics: Mission Slippage, Academic Rigour, Unity of Purpose, Liturgical Apathy, and Intentional Membership As Opposed to Incidental Convenience. Specific concerns were addressed in each. Upon some personal reflection I am of the opinion that much of what I have written can apply to some degree at least to the parental community. For this reason, I have included some excerpts from my June letter to teachers as an attachment. I hope you read it carefully and thoughtfully.
Another reason, I am inclined to bring to your attention some of the thoughts and intentions in this particular letter is that the parental community as well needs to be reminded of the obligation it has, individually and collectively, to support all aspects of the educational programme of the school but, first and foremost, the commitment to the truths of the Catholic Faith. As you know, you choose to send your children here. You have accepted an invitation to attend the school and all components of what comes with it. Just as we can not be shopping cart Catholics that pick and choose what we find agreeable to us from a faith perspective, you as parents cannot pick and choose what aspects of school life you like for your children and what rules and values you deem agreeable or acceptable for your children.
When we begin to go down this road too far, we all begin to lose sight of the real mission of the school. Just as was the case in the early 1990’s, the school would then require a realignment to ensure all stakeholders generously and willingly buy in to the mission in word and deed.
Today, we all but, especially your children, live in a world of rampant secularism and insidious relativism. My experience returning to teach a religion class this year has made me ever more grateful for what our religion teachers have to do in such a climate. Through no real fault of their own, our students are drowning in the false notions of our time and subtle and not-so-subtle treachery of a society that rejects any form of Christian faith.
St. John Baptist de La Salle reminds teachers, a reminder that applies just as much to parents, that you do have a sacred responsibility to be co-workers with God in His work… When you appear before the seat of Jesus Christ, each one of you (as mothers and fathers) will give an account to God of what you have done as ministers of God and an administrator of His mysteries for children. (Meditations)
The growing tendency of people to select what they will abide by and what they will discard is actually one of the most significant aspects of the overall crisis in which we find ourselves today. Membership in any community comes with a set of principles or ideals we are obliged to fulfill. Any covenant or agreement between two parties or individuals, for that matter, requires a substance which joins the parties together. The substance is not optional or discretionary. The substance must be there for the two entities to exist and relate to one another. When one or both parties fail in this regard, the covenant disintegrates and can actually perish.
Yes, the Catholic Church can and does expect certain beliefs to be followed to the best of our abilities as honest believers. Yes, the school can and does expect teachers, students and parents to embrace its expectations in an honest and genuine manner.
I realise that for some who haven’t yet developed the necessary perspective on how we are obligated to adhere to what we may claim to be this can seem like a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Not so. When adults make decisions, they are then required to follow through on the commitment they have made or decide they must move on to something else. Here too we must act honestly and honorably.
The Catholic Church has a very clear educational mission. It has been defined time and time again. Naturally, the Church’s educational vision must be adapted to certain realties but always without loss to eternal truths which are the fruits of Divine Revelation. Equally true and enduring is the Lasallian philosophical basis on which our own school has its foundation.
The occasion of the present crisis can, in my view, provide you with a good opportunity to reflect again and pray about the reasons you as parents have chosen to accept the invitation to send your children to this school. Our collective commitment to the mission of the Catholic Faith is absolutely indispensable now and for the future of our school community. It is my hope and prayer that you and your children will embrace this time of reflection in order to grow as people of faith with whatever talents and limitations you may have.
Brother Domenic, fsc
June 29, 2020
Intentional Membership or Incidental Convenience
* Intentional = planned, knowing, intended
* Incidental = subsidiary, peripheral, insignificant
During the 1992 & 1993 academic year a committee of the school, alumni, in collaboration with the District Council of the Legacy District of Toronto examined the feasibility of leaving the publicly-funded Catholic school board in favour of operating the College as an independent school as had been the previous tradition until full funding of Catholic schools in Ontario. The overriding principle for exploration of this discussion was the feasibility of offering a genuine Catholic education in the Lasallian tradition at a time when the number of Brothers had diminished significantly. The committee had to determine if it was possible to offer a program of excellence in all areas of school life in a discernible and visible Catholic environment.
Let us review the chief reasons for leaving the publicly-funded Catholic school board:
a. The inability of Administration to hire for Catholic and Lasallian mission.
b. A deterioration of the academic reputation of the College and a growing tendency to adopt an “all things to all people approach”.
c. The lack of interest fostering excellence in teacher professionalism.
d. The growing tendencies of promoting a more secular agenda by Board staff and OECTA.
e. The lack of upkeep of school facilities.
Although these were certainly the most significant discussion points for the feasibility committee, after more than a year of deliberations, the general consensus resulted in the view of leaving the publicly-funded Catholic school board and re-establishing the school once more as a private College. At the end of 1993, the District Council voted in favour of the re-privatisation of the College and the Director of the MSSB (TCDSB) was duly informed of the decision. A real leap of faith was taken when the school opened its doors in September 1994 as an independent co-educational school with 180 students and the rest, as it were, is history.
The College is well into this leap of faith taken over twenty-five years ago. From time to time the stakeholders of the school community have reflected formally and informally on our commitment to the mission. Today, I believe it is necessary for us to revisit this decision in light of the changing circumstances of our days, the increasing confusion, opposition and indifference from outside and inside the Church, and our reality whereby many of the first generation of teachers after privatisation have or are quickly reaching the end of their careers here. Their contributions to making the school what is today cannot be underestimated. It is a simple fact that administrators and teachers, above all others, need to be fully committed and devoted to this work, if it is to continue.
It is time now to assess the degree to which staff in general are vested in the uniqueness of our Catholic mission in a world markedly different even from the one in 1994. Why do this now, you might ask? The answer is somewhat straightforward. It is incumbent upon the administration of the school to ensure that to whatever degree possible it takes seriously hiring for mission and ensuring proper continuing formation.
Our mission at De la Salle College “Oaklands” is in its very essence a Catholic mission entrusted to us by the Church. You have been reminded many times that the school exists only because we participate in the evangelical educational mission of the Universal Church. Our traditions and practices can be viewed within the history of the Brothers of the Christian Schools or what we would call today the Lasallian educational movement inspired by the educational vision of John Baptist de La Salle but there should be no confusion between the importance of the Catholic faith and what might be termed a historical perspective or flavour, that being our Lasallian heritage. De La Salle College “Oaklands” is a Catholic school in the Lasallian tradition. It is not a Lasallian school that happens for historical reasons to be Catholic. The Founder of the Institute, Saint John Baptist de La Salle is clear on this point. We are first and foremost a Catholic institution. The Catholic Church and all She is and represents, constitutes our primary, principle and ultimate point of reference.
The Last Testament of St. John Baptist de La Salle
I commend to God first of all my soul, and next, all the Brothers of the Society of the Christian Schools, to whom he has united me; and I recommend them, above all things, to be always entirely submissive to the Church and especially in these unhappy times; and, in order to give proof of this, never to be at variance in anything with our holy Father, the Pope and the Church of Rome, always remembering that I sent two Brothers to Rome to beg of God the grace that their Society may always be entirely submissive to the Holy See. I also recommend them to have a great devotion to Our Lord, to have great love for Holy Communion and mental prayer, and have a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to Saint Joseph, the Patron and Protector of their Society.
As a Catholic institution it is necessary and useful to re-examine our commitment and contribution to the Catholic educational community at the school, and how these contribute to the faith development of our students and their families who look to us for this dimension. The proper progress of the family is among the most significant issues of our day. A Catholic education has to take seriously the need for catechesis and evangelisation. Some of you may recall, I issued to you a message entitled “Mission Slippage” several years ago. Similar issues were addressed then. Now, in my opinion, the realities of our time require some further attention.
It is for this reason that it is my intention to invite you during the course of the first months of the new academic year to speak with me about your relationship with the Catholic faith. I consider this exercise, totally voluntary, but of extreme importance if we are to take seriously how we individually and by association further the Catholic mission of our school community. Here, as well, I cite for you your contractual obligation to the mission of the school community and to the wider Church.
I do understand that in today’s reality, the current generation of younger Catholics in particular have different degrees of involvement and attachment to the Church, if at all. We are all called to seek ways to deepen our appreciation of our witness as a Catholic faith community. However, the question is not so much where you are at the moment, the question is where and how you intend to grow in the Catholic faith and fuller participation in the faith dimension of our own community. We all need to ask ourselves what we are prepared to do to become more faithful members of the Church. Please understand though that it is an inadequate response to take the position that the school does not have the right to engage in this kind of assessment and evaluation. It does. Your work here is not simply the dispensing of the subject material or the job assignment you have been given by the Administration. It is much more and needs to be much more. No one is forced to be here. Once here though we must try, at least, to live up to the expectations of choosing to be a part of this educational mission. Opting out or engaging in noiseless or covert disdain or apathy do no one any good and in some cases can do much harm. As we would expect staff to participate in other forms of educational assessment and evaluation, such as those determined by the administration or the Ministry of Education, so we need to give at least equal or more time to our growth as people of faith and believers.
Understanding and assessing the degree to which members of staff identify and wish to collaborate in the mission of the Catholic Church is absolutely indispensable for the future of this school community. It is my hope that staff will embrace this opportunity in order to grow as people of faith with whatever talents and limitations you may have.
For those who find this a challenge, and some may, I ask you to consider your impact on our students in terms of their faith development as young Catholic persons or believers which is intimately joined to our witness as adult people of faith. They do not need us to be perfect but they do need to know we are believers. They need to know we make our best efforts on their behalf to impress on them love of God, love of neighbour, and love of our community. I ask you to think prayerfully about your impact on our students in terms of their faith development. The nurturing of their faith is intimately joined to the quality and generosity of our witness as adult people of faith.
I offer this thought from Pope Benedict XVI which has helped me focus on the essence of what it means to be a Christian and a Catholic educator. He writes that: We must keep in front of us at all times the Two Great Commandments – Love of God and love of neighbour. It is then that we can realise the sublime and liberating message of true love that is the sole and sufficient content of Christianity, and as such becomes something very demanding. It means committing ourselves to the way of Jesus Christ. In this way, we are no longer the centre of things, around which the (my) world and everyone else have to turn. No, we are one of many among God’s creatures, all of whom turn around God as their centre according to the law of superabundant love. (Credo for Today – Pope Benedict XVI paraphrased.)
You are co-workers with God in His work, says St. Paul, and the souls of the children whom you teach are the field that He cultivates through your labours. Since He is the One Who has given you the ministry you exercise, when all of you appear before the judgement seat of Jesus Christ, each of you will give an account to God of what you have done as ministers of God and an administrator of His mysteries for children. (Med. 13:1)
Brother Domenic Viggiani, FSC