Education Minister Mike Bernier thanks school system for its passion, devotion
By Agnieszka Krawczynski
Photo: Father Tony Ricard gives a passionate address to 1,300 people at the Catholic Educators' Conference. (Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic).
B.C.’s education minister says he still has fond memories of attending Catholic schools, and he shared his experience at the Catholic Educators’ Conference Feb. 9 and 10.
Minister Mike Bernier told the gathering of 1,300 B.C. principals, teachers, and secretaries that education at Catholic schools “was not just about school. It was a sense of family. It was a safe place.”
Bernier attended Holy Trinity Elementary and St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary in North Vancouver. “It was an education second to none.”
He praised the massive crowd of educators, including his former principal, for “not only bringing your Catholic faith into the school,” but also “bringing your passion and devotion and making sure our students are educated.”
His remarks came at the start of the conference, which for 37 years has united more than 1,000 B.C. Catholic school staffers for professional development, prayer, and socializing. It was the first time a B.C. education minister addressed the conference.
Keynote speaker Father Tony Ricard told the educators and administrators gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre that they are all religion teachers.
“Regardless of what your academic discipline may be, regardless of what your role in the office might be: if you work in a Catholic school, you must see yourself as a religion teacher first,” he told the crowd.
“If you don’t think that you’re supposed to be about the business of God in your room, no matter what you teach, there is somewhere else you can go (to work).”
Father Ricard ministers to 600 African-American teens at an all-boys Catholic high school in New Orleans. He said parents choose Catholic schools over public or other private schools when they want their children to be free to talk about faith all day.
“They want them to talk about God. If you don’t want to be that person, you can find a job somewhere (else). Being a Catholic schoolteacher is a vocation,” he said.
That vocation doesn’t apply only to teachers, he said. Everyone from principal to teaching assistant in Catholic schools should be ready to field questions about faith.
“We know that our office staff, the ladies and gentlemen that answer that phone, they do more ministry than I ever do in a day,” he said.
“They answer that phone when Grandma passed away, and they have to call that girl out of the classroom and get her ready because Momma’s on her way to get her.
“They have to answer that phone and talk about that journey. Don’t forget, wherever you are at, that’s your role.”
He suggested that at the pearly gates God will ask every Catholic teacher if they lived their vocation well.
“The day’s going to come when you’re going to be standing before God, and he is going to ask you one simple question, the same question that Jesus asked Simon Peter at the end of the Gospel of John: ‘Do you love me?’”
Father Ricard asked the audience to imagine the door to heaven opening and an unexpected student walking out. “He’s going to say: ‘When I needed you, you didn’t see me ... When I needed you to tell me that when I get to heaven I’m going to put on a crown and walk all over God’s heaven, instead of telling me about my crown of gold, you decided to crown me with those thorns,” he said.
“When I needed you to realize that I have been hurt by so many adults in my early life, that I was so afraid to let you get close to my heart, that I built this shell around it to protect it, instead of trying to work through my shell, you decided to pierce me in my side.”
The room was silent as Father Ricard continued: “Better that you treat every child of God as if he or she is the Christ come back again, than to be standing at the judgment seat and find out you treated Jesus as if he or she was nobody.”
The speech inspired many educators, including Sister Mary Sabina Demuth, OP.
“It was heartening and encouraging and helped us have the zeal to go back,” said the Grade 5 teacher at Our Lady of Assumption School.
“We want to go back and be Christ to everybody.”