By Glen Argan
Bullying, disrespect, distrust, innuendo and attack. That was how a government appointed consultant characterized the relations among Edmonton’s Catholic school trustees in a report released in the summer of 2016.
Donald Cummings’ report drew attention to a scandalous situation – a scandal for the school district, a scandal for the entire Catholic community. Indeed, those Catholics with whom I spoke about the school board were universally appalled and embarrassed by its deportment.
Cummings wrote that, in his work with the board, he had to engage in “fire fighting” on an often-daily basis. Hired to write a report, he found himself in the role of a referee.
Catholic schools exist to carry out Jesus’ “new commandment”: “That you should love another; even as I have loved you, that you also should love one another” (John 13.34). How could a school district be seen as committed to Jesus’ commandment when the relations among those entrusted with overseeing the district were so contrary to that mandate?
The question is rhetorical. For a school system to be perceived as Catholic, its most public defenders must, at the very least, respect one another. Disagreements will exist; bullying, innuendo and attack should never be a part of how those disagreements are resolved.
The October 16 school board election is a crossroads for the Catholic community and Catholic schools in Edmonton. We can let the scandal continue or we can move into a new era where the fruits of the Holy Spirit are evident in our school board – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Those fruits are just that; they are not manufactured by human effort, but are the presence of God’s Spirit among those who park their egos and put their trust in God.
Rebuilding the credibility of the Catholic school board will be no easy task. It will not come automatically with a new set of faces. Replacing one group of egos with another will not lead to success. Trustees will be called to processes of prayer and discernment – as a group and as individuals.
Despite the board’s turmoil of recent years, Edmonton’s Catholic schools have a record of which to be proud. However, the board must take up its responsibility to lead, not by command and control, but through the development of listening hearts.
Listening hearts build bridges among those who formerly were at odds. They build bridges among trustees, with those in the school district itself and with the wider community which sometimes does not understand the mission or importance of Catholic education.
The period leading up to October 16 is a special time for Edmonton’s Catholic community. It is an election campaign. It should also be a time of preparation – a time to get ready for the building of bridges.
(Glen Argan is a candidate for the Catholic school board in Ward 75.)